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2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Receiving Grace in Vain

03/03_2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Receiving Grace in Vain; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190303_2cor6_1-2.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul communicates the good news of reconciliation and implores us to be reconciled to God.

Paul makes his plea to be reconciled to God urgent in chapter 6, quoting a passage from Isaiah, saying ‘look, now is the favorable time; look, now is the day of salvation.’ and he again appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Working Together With Him

Paul says that he is ‘working together’; ‘with him’ is implied by the context; as he said in 1 Corinthians 3:9;

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is working together with God. He is God’s apostle (1:1); he proclaimed Jesus among them (1:19); he doesn’t lord it over their faith but works with them for their joy (1:24); he spreads the fragrance of knowledge of Christ everywhere – among both those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2:15-16); he has been commissioned by God (2:17); he has been made competent to be a minister of the new covenant (3:4-6); he has this ministry by the mercy of God (4:1); he proclaims Christ as Lord and himself as their servant for Jesus’ sake (4:5); knowing the fear of the Lord he persuades others (5:11); he has been entrusted with the ministry and message of reconciliation (5:18-19); he is an ambassador for Christ (5:20). These are some of the varied ways Paul is working together with God.

As the apostle, as Christ’s ambassador speaking on behalf of Christ, as a minister entrusted with the message and ministry of reconciliation, he implores them ‘be reconciled to God’; and here he exhorts them ‘not to receive the grace of God in vain.’

The Gospel of Reconciliation

In the heart of this letter, Paul has laid out the gospel, the good news of reconciliation; that Christ expressed his love for sinners by laying down his life as a substitute; he took my name, he died my death, and was raised to new life; and in him I am part of the new creation; made new in Christ. God through Christ reconciled us to himself; in Christ God no longer counts my sin as against me; he counted my sins against Jesus, and he credits me with the perfect righteousness of Christ.

It is in this context he makes his appeal to his readers, or actually God’s appeal through him:

2 Corinthians 5:20 …God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

And he reiterates in this verse:

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

How To Receive the Grace of God in Vain

What does he mean by imploring the church to be reconciled to God? And what is the danger he warns us of, ‘not to receive the grace of God in vain’?

If we look only at the immediate context, Paul is laying out the gospel of God reconciling us to himself through the finished work of Christ. It seems by putting these two appeals together that ‘receiving the grace of God in vain’ would be equivalent to not being reconciled to God, or failing to take advantage of the reconciliation that God has secured for us through Christ. Those who are reconciled are those who died with Christ (5:14), who no longer live for themselves but for him (5:15), those against whom God no longer counts their sin (5:19), those who are made new in Christ (5:20), who have become the righteousness of God in him (5:21). We experience the grace of God when we are reconciled to God through simple dependence on his Son.

If we look just a bit earlier in chapter 5, he mentions the necessity of every man to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give account for what he has done in the body, good or evil, and that this fear of the Lord is a motivator for him to persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. …

The motivation to persuade people is the reality of Christ’s judgment, before whose eyes everything false will be exposed and only that which is genuine will stand. According to Jesus himself, some who claim to follow Jesus will be shown to be false on that day (Mt.7:23).

If we look at the wider context, in chapters two and four he mentions that his ministry addresses two distinct groups; those who are being saved, and those who are perishing. Implicit in this is a warning; it seems his appeal would be to make sure you are part of the first group and not the second. Make sure that the gospel is to you a fragrance from life to life, not from death to death (2:15-16; 4:3; cf. 1Cor.1:18; 2Thes.2:10).

After warning in chapter 11(:4) of those who proclaim another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel, he urges in chapter 13

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

He does not assume that because someone is part of a visible church, that they have truly been reconciled to God, that they have received the grace of God in a fruitful, effective way. He challenges believers to examine themselves, to be sure they are not receiving God’s grace in vain.

What Genuine Faith Looks Like

This fits with what he said about the gospel in his first letter.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

He acknowledges the possibility of believing in such a way that the gospel profits nothing; that it is empty or worthless to you. This passage in 1 Corinthians is helpful, because it spells out what a genuine faith looks like in contrast to believing in vain. Genuine faith, according to 1 Corinthians 15 is that when the good news is preached, it is received. But it doesn’t end there. It is not something that sounds good, and you say ‘I like that, I receive that’ and then you move on. This is a word of caution to those who at one point prayed a prayer or walked the aisle or raised their hand or did whatever they were asked to do in response to the gospel, but there has been no transformation. As he said in 3:18 “ beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 he goes on to describe what genuine faith looks like. Not only do you receive the truth of the gospel, you stand in it. You plant your feet on it. You remain in it. You are established in it. It is not some passing thing, some emotional experience that you had that you move on from. He says you are being saved by it. It is at work in you, saving you, transforming you. You are being delivered, being rescued by the gospel, day by day. And you hold fast to the word he preached. You hold on and don’t let go, you seize it, you cling to it, you don’t move on from it to other things. Receiving the word, standing in it, being saved by it, holding fast to it, this is what belief that is not in vain looks like.

This fits with what James says in his letter. He warns of a kind of faith that cannot save (2:14); he warns that there is a kind of belief in God that the demons have (2:19) and it does them no good; it is in vain, it does not save. They believe that God exists, they likely even understand the gospel, but they have not received it, they are not standing in it, they are not being transformed by it, they are not clinging to it.

Those Who Walk Away

No doubt we all can think of people we have known who said they believed, who claimed to trust in Jesus, who even seemed at first to be ‘on fire for Jesus’ who didn’t last, who over time turned away.

Jesus taught us to expect this, not to be surprised by it. He taught in the parable of the soils that

Mark 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

Jesus said

Mark 4:16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

They initially received the grace of God with joy, but it did not take root, it was in vain. He also spoke of:

Mark 4:7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

He said

Mark 4:18 …They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Jesus alerts us to the possibility that some hear and immediately respond to the word, even with joy, but they fail to endure; it proves unfruitful because of a lack of root, it withers because of tribulation and persecution, or it is choked by the cares of the world, desires for other things. It proves to be empty, in vain.

This is a warning to be on guard against the things that choke the word; to cling tenaciously to the word; to receive it not superficially, but to ask God to drive it down deep in our souls, to be regularly under the teaching of the word, so that it takes firm root and bears much fruit.

John in 1 John 2 tells us

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Not remaining, not clinging to the simplicity of the gospel, is one evidence of a faith that is in vain, of receiving the grace of God in an empty manner. Paul is concerned with the Corinthians that they are entertaining a different gospel, and he is urging them to ‘be reconciled to God’, and ‘not to receive the grace of God in vain’.

The Day of Grace and Salvation

He urges them that this is not something that can wait.

2 Corinthians 6:2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

He quotes Isaiah 49:8 to press them to respond immediately. Paul has already taken up the themes of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 at the end of chapter 5. Now he makes a direct quotation from chapter 49. This section of Isaiah is where YHWH is speaking to his Servant, who in verse 4 says

Isaiah 49:4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”

The Servant of the Lord sees the unbelief of the people he was sent to; he is concerned that his labor is in vain. the The Lord responds:

Isaiah 49:6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

This is looking forward not only to the future hope of the restoration of Israel, but that this Servant of the Lord will bring salvation to the nations, to the end of the earth, to all the world! The work of the Servant of the Lord will by no means be in vain. God is reconciling the world to himself through him!

The Lord continues:

Isaiah 49:7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” 8 Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

The Lord says that he will give his Servant as a covenant to the people. This Servant of the Lord is the promised salvation, who makes a new covenant in his blood, who through his rejection brings salvation to the nations. Exactly how the suffering Servant brings salvation is spelled out in Isaiah 53, where he who knew no sin is made sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

This is God’s answer to the need of his people. In a time of favor God answers. In the day of salvation he helps. Jesus, the suffering Servant, has shown the favor of the Lord, the salvation of the Lord.

This is the passage Paul quotes to highlight the urgency of the time. Through Isaiah, God was pointing ahead, promising a future deliverance for his people. Now, looking back to the cross, the day of salvation has arrived. The time of God’s favor is now. The promised suffering Servant has suffered for the sins of his people. The day of his promised salvation has arrived. It is here!

Do you feel the urgency of this? For thousands of years, God’s people anticipated the coming of the promised rescuer. He has arrived. Jesus has come. He has opened the way for sinners to be reconciled to God. But this day will not last forever. A day is coming when the time of God’s favor will end.

2 Thessalonians 1:7 …when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

You have heard the word, the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus paid the price for all who would believe in him. And Jesus himself warns those who have seen his grace in greater clarity:

Matthew 11:24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Be careful not to receive the grace of God in vain!

Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Look! Now is the favorable time; Look! Now is the day of salvation. God [is] making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!

***

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

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March 4, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation

02/17_2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190217_2cor5_18-20.mp3

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Intro:

Last time we began to look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, this magnificent passage on reconciliation.

What I want to do today is to look back at what we learned last time about reconciliation, and then we will look at the ministry of reconciliation, and what it means for us to be ambassadors for Christ, and some of the implications of that reconciliation.

Recap:

Last time we saw that reconciliation is a personal word; that we were created to enjoy relationship with our personal Creator God.

But a need for reconciliation indicates that the relationship has been broken. Where there ought to be peace and unity, there is enmity and hostility. We are described as enemies; this could refer to our attitudes toward God, that we harbor feelings of resentment and ill will toward him, although he has done nothing to deserve such hostility. But the central focus of the biblical concept of reconciliation is not our subjective feelings of hostility toward God, however real they seem to be to us, though completely unfounded. Rather the focus of reconciliation is on overcoming God’s objective and justly founded hostility toward us. We rebelled. We sinned. And God is rightly angry with us. It is his just anger that must be justly overcome in order to reconcile the relationship.

And this shows us our utter inability to effect reconciliation. We can’t fix our sin problem. We can’t undo or make up for the offense. If God is justly angry, then for reconciliation to take place, my sin must be paid for. This is why we saw that reconciliation is founded on the great truths of justification and imputation; that God justifies sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, and that he imputes or credits our sin to Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness to our account.

We saw that reconciliation is God’s work; that God is active in reconciliation. ‘All this is from God’ God is the one who sent Jesus to take my name and die my death. God is the one who unites me to Christ. God is the one who justifies me, who puts my sin on his Son, who considers the old me to have died with Christ, paying my price in full. God is the one who creates me new in Christ, who causes regeneration or the new birth. God is the one who brings about substitution, justification, new creation, reconciliation.

Our Role in Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

This is absolutely amazing! Not only has God reconciled us to himself, but he has given us the ministry of reconciliation! He entrusts to us the message of reconciliation! He calls us ambassadors! He makes his appeal through us to the world! I want us to be amazed together at this truth, to feel the weight of this responsibility, and with the power and passion of the indwelling Spirit to step up to the task.

The ‘us’ and the ‘we’ in this passage refers first to Paul and the other apostles, and the ‘you’ refers directly to the church in Corinth, the recipients of this letter. God reconciled Paul and the other apostles to himself and entrusted to them the ministry, the message, and the role of ambassador. And Paul calls those in Corinth to be reconciled. But by extension, now that God has reconciled us, you and me, we too are called to this ministry, entrusted with this message, invested with this authority. We, the reconciled, implore others to be reconciled to God.

The Gift of the Ministry of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

First of all, we need to note that this ministry is a gift that God himself gives. Ministry, service to others is a gift, a God given good gift. It is gracious, undeserved. We don’t qualify or merit this great privilege. We are not worthy. It is God’s gracious gift to those he has reconciled to himself. We get to serve others. I get week by week to proclaim the good news of reconciliation. I have the inestimable privilege of calling people to be reconciled to God. Ministry is a gift, and ministry is service. I serve you for your good. You have the great privilege of loving and serving others for their eternal good. This is simply astounding! If you look back to verse 17, the goal of gospel ministry is bringing about the new creation. Everywhere someone comes to Christ, new creation! There is an instance of God’s new creation! This gift, this responsibility to serve others by proclaiming reconciliation is bringing about new creation here and now!

Entrusted with the Message of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

God goes global with the gospel. No longer limited to one tribe or race or ethnicity, God is at work reconciling the world to himself, and he is entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a ministry, a service to others; and reconciliation primarily consists in a message, a word a declaration. It is the simple message of the gospel.

Romans 10 tells us that:

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

We proclaim a message, the gospel message; the good news that God is reconciling sinners to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. What amazing news we have to declare. The King you disobeyed, the King you rebelled against, the King whose wrath you deserve – the King no longer counts your trespasses against you; he loves you and has accomplished everything necessary to reconcile you to himself. Call on him! Entrust yourself to him! Believe the good news of reconciliation!

God has placed this message in us. We have been entrusted with the good word of reconciliation. He has placed this message in us by working his reconciliation out in us; through Christ God has reconciled us to himself. We must have experienced the message personally before we are equipped to relay the message to others. And as those who know first hand what it is to be reconciled to God, who have experienced his reconciling love, who enjoy daily the benefits of reconciliation, we are equipped to call others to be reconciled.

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.

We have been graciously given the ministry of reconciliation. We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

We are Ambassadors for Christ

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

We carry the authority of an ambassador. We act as ambassadors; the word translated ‘we are ambassadors’ is actually a verb; it is what we do; we serve as ambassadors; we represent in place of Christ. In Luke 14, Jesus describes an outnumbered king who ‘sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace’ (Lk.14:32). This embassy or ‘delegation’ is a noun form of this word. The ambassador carries the king’s authority and speaks on behalf of the king. In 2 Kings 18, while Sennacherib king of Assyria was laying siege to Lachish he sent some of his key military leaders with a great army ahead to king Hezekiah in Jerusalem demanding surrender and laying out his terms for peace.

This is the role of ambassador, to speak on behalf of the king, demanding surrender and declaring terms of peace. Give up. Give up your efforts to make yourself acceptable to God. Accept his terms; that he has already reconciled you to himself in Christ. He is not counting your trespasses against you.

Begging on Behalf of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The language of this verse is startling. Ambassadors speak with the authority of the king, they set terms, make demands. But the language here is to implore, entreat, exhort, call near; even to beg. A weak, powerless, outnumbered king might send an ambassador begging for peace. But we don’t expect the omnipotent King of the universe, at whose disposal are the countless armies of heaven, to appeal, to implore, to beg. But this is the language, and this is the posture.

In Jesus’ parable in Mark 12 a man planted a vineyard and leased it out to tenants. He sent his servant to get his share of the fruit.

Mark 12:3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ (cf. Luke 20:9-16)

The only Son was sent as a representative. And he was killed. Now the Lord is sending us. We are to come in the same posture. If we represent Christ, we must expect not to be served but to serve, to be willing to lay down our lives for others. If we are following Jesus, we must take up the cross.

The only other place in the New Testament this word ‘ambassador’ shows up is in Ephesians 6; Paul says:

Ephesians 6:19 and [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

An ambassador in chains. In need of prayer for boldness.

Be Reconciled to God

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The content of our message, the summary of our plea is ‘be reconciled to God’. What does it mean to be reconciled?

This is the first time in this passage that the passive form of the verb is used. It does not say reconcile yourself to God; it says ‘be reconciled to God’, meaning that someone else is doing the reconciling. This is consistent with everything we have seen so far. ‘All this is from God.’ In verse 18 ‘reconciled’ is active; God through Christ reconciled us to himself. In verse 19 ‘reconciling’ is active; in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Only here in verse 20 is the passive ‘be reconciled’ used, and it is a command directed toward us. Do not attempt to put away your own hostility toward God. Do not attempt to appease God’s hostility toward you. Do not attempt to reconcile yourself to God – that would be active; rather ‘be reconciled to God’. Receive his accomplished reconciliation. Surrender to his terms and take him up on his offer of peace. God has made peace through the blood of his cross (Col.1:20). Will your receive his terms of peace?

Reconciling the Church

There is an important question this text raises. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, and he says

2 Corinthians 5:20 …We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

‘Be reconciled to God’ is addressed to the church! This would make sense if he were relaying what he preaches to unbelievers; this is what I say to them ‘be reconciled to God.’ But that is not what he is doing. He addresses the church and says ‘we implore you’

Why preach reconciliation to Christians in the church? Why implore believers to be reconciled to God? Aren’t they already reconciled to God? But this is exactly what Paul does. He says you, you whom God in Christ has already reconciled to himself, you be reconciled to God. Why does he talk like this?

I can think of two reasons why he might do this. First, there are some who attach themselves to church who are not believers. I believe this is what Jesus was getting at in some of his parables; (Mt.13) weeds growing up among the wheat; the mustard seed that grows abnormally large so that even the birds, messengers of Satan, roost in its branches.

Paul will say in chapter 13 to the members of the church in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

It would be wrong to assume that because someone attends church regularly, they are a genuine believer. Jesus himself warns:

Matthew 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There are doubtless many who are connected with the church in some way who are not at peace with God, who are not reconciled; whom the Lord does not know. You today need to hear the gospel and trust. Receive his reconciliation.

The second reason that even genuine believers need to hear the plea ‘be reconciled to God’ is that although we may be reconciled to God, we often don’t act like it. We fail to live consistent with who we are in Christ. God has done all the work of reconciliation; ours is only to receive it by faith and walk in it. It is this walking in it that we struggle with. What does it look like to live consistent with reconciliation? John tells us in 1 John 4 that you can’t say that you love God and hate your brother. That’s not consistent. If you think back to Jesus’ parable of the vineyard rented out to tenants, you can’t claim that you are at peace with the lord of the vineyard while you are rejecting his messengers. That is what was happening in Corinth. Divisive party spirit; I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Christ. They claimed have a right relationship with Jesus, but they were rejecting his appointed ambassador. That’s not consistent. You can’t claim to have accepted God’s terms of peace while you are rejecting the very one who brought you those terms of peace. God has done all the reconciling work. We must receive his terms of peace. Be reconciled to God. Bring everything into submission to him. Surrender fully to his terms of peace. God has reconciled you to himself through Christ; now act like it!

***

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

February 18, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plan Before Creation

12/16 The Plan Before Creation ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181216_plan-before-creation.mp3

Christmas. The Incarnation. We looked at Jesus, the Son before the manger, the eternal only Son of God, who was sent to rescue us, made flesh to be with us. We looked at Jesus the light of the world, who entered into our darkness, who went under the shadow of death for us, who took into himself all our darkness, so we could enjoy the light of his presence.

All this was necessary, the incarnation was necessary, as a result of our sin, our rejection of God’s good rule, because we went astray, we went our own way. We created the need. We caused this. He made everything very good, and we messed it all up. What if…? Was the incarnation God’s response to our rejection? Was this God’s attempt to fix what we broke? Was Christmas an afterthought? Was this God’s plan B, the fallback plan just in case we blew it? Was God uncertain (as some teach) what would happen when he created man in his image to rule over his creation and placed them in the garden with but one restriction? Should we view this as a kind of insurance? We take out an insurance policy against something terrible that we hope never happens, but is possible. Should we imagine that the Father sat down with the Son and said ‘this whole creation thing could go terribly wrong. I hope not, but we need to be prepared, this is what it will cost us if it does. Was Christmas a contingency in case things didn’t go according to plan?

Christmas is a great time to recapture our wonder. Look at who God is, what he has done, and let your jaw drop. Stand in awe. Worship. Rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory (1Pet.1:8).

God’s Unfailing Purpose

We could look at verses that tell us that God’s purposes are never frustrated, scriptures like:

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

And:

Isaiah 46:9 …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

God always accomplishes his plans. God’s purpose is unchangeable (Heb.6:17).

2 Timothy 1:8-10; God’s Gift Before The Ages Began

Let’s look this morning at a passage that pulls together God’s unchangeable purpose and connects it with Christmas, and creates wonder.

In 2 Timothy, Paul is encouraging Timothy not to be afraid but to have courage even in the face of suffering because it puts God’s power and his purpose on display.

2 Timothy 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of 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,

Listen to Paul’s logic of courage in the face of suffering. Let’s just walk through this text together. Don’t be ashamed of me when I face suffering, and don’t be afraid to suffer yourself for the gospel. Share in suffering by the power of God, (because you can’t do it yourself; you need God’s power, and God’s power is available to you).

It is God who saved you and called you to a holy calling. God saved you. God saved you for this, and he called you to this. It is a holy calling to suffer for the sake of the gospel. God saved us, he called us, not because of anything he saw in us, not because of anything we did, not anything we would do; not because of our works.

If not because of anything in us, then why? God saved us and God called us because of his own purpose and grace. It is God’s own purpose. Not of the will of flesh or of the will of man (Jn.1:13). God’s purpose for us is gracious; we don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. It was nothing in us. God freely chooses to give it. Our salvation, our calling is rooted in God’s will, God’s purpose and is God’s gift to us. It is unearned, freely given; it is grace.

Notice where we get God’s gracious gift of salvation? Every good gift comes to us in Christ Jesus. We have no good outside of him. God’s purpose, God’s grace, God’s salvation, God’s holy calling come to us as a gift packaged in Christ Jesus. ‘I want salvation, but I’m not sure I want Jesus.’ There is no salvation outside of Jesus. All God’s blessings come to us only in Christ Jesus.

Notice when this gift comes to us? This will blow your mind. God gave us his own purpose and grace, this salvation, this holy calling before the ages began, before time eternal. How are we given grace before we need it? How are we given God’s grace before we even exist? But that is what this text says! Do you see what this means? Before God created man, before God created anything, he had a purpose. He had a plan. And that purpose had you in mind. This was no insurance policy! This was the plan, his purpose. God intended all along to give you grace! Revelation (13:8) tells us that before the foundation of the world, our names have been written in the book of life of the lamb who was slain. The lamb slain will be the focal point of our worship for eternity! And that means that you would need grace. You would be undeserving. You would forfeit all your rights. God would have no obligation to you whatsoever, and yet he would freely give you grace. The salvation of sinners by grace in Christ Jesus was no plan B. God’s purpose to graciously save sinners in Christ Jesus was established before the eternal ages. This simply boggles our finite human brains! Before God created, before we rebelled, God who is rich in mercy, gave us his own grace.

Do you see Christmas in verse 10? God’s purpose, God’s grace, this salvation purposed and given before time began has now appeared. It is now put on display in the appearing, the advent, literally the epiphany of our Savior Christ Jesus. The gift that God gave before the ages began, the gift of his only Son was brought to light, put on display, made manifest at a point in time in history, when Jesus appeared.

Look at what this gift accomplished. This gift of God in Jesus abolished death. Death has been rendered impotent for those who are saved by Jesus. He has taken the sting out of death. He took sin, our sin into himself. Eternal life, incorruptibility is brought to light through the gospel. The gospel, the good news of Messiah Jesus, God’s eternal Son, become flesh to take our death and give us life is now on display, being proclaimed. God’s eternal purpose has now unfolded before our eyes.

Paul says all this to Timothy to give him courage in the face of suffering. God has saved us. He has called us to a holy calling. Our performance didn’t earn it, and our failure to perform can’t take it away. It was given to us according to God’s eternal purpose, before we existed, and it is now put on display. By God’s grace, the death we earned has been rendered impotent to harm us. We can take courage, even in the face of suffering, because Jesus took our ultimate suffering, and now nothing, not even physical death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:39).

This is a holy calling, and we can be confident even in the face of suffering because it is ours as a gift from before eternity began.

2 Timothy 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of 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,

In chapter 2 Paul says:

2 Timothy 2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, …3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

This grace that God gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began is able to strengthen you to endure. In verse 10 he holds up his own suffering as an example.

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Paul is in chains, but the word of God is not bound. Paul is willing to endure anything so that God’s elect may obtain this salvation.

Christmas was the public display of God’s gracious plan before creation. God’s eternal gift was put on display in a manger, and then on a cross. And we are invited to participate in passing this good news on.

Ephesians 1; God’s Purpose to Bring Praise to His Glorious Grace

I’d like to look at another passage that points us to God’s plan before creation, and gives us insight into his aim, his end goal. In Ephesians 1, Paul gives extended praise to God for his gracious eternal purpose to bless us in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Do you hear God’s purpose, God’s plan for the fullness of time? God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. In his great love, God predestined us for adoption according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace. We have redemption, forgiveness, according to the riches of his grace lavished on us. He made known the mystery of his will according to his purpose, his plan for the fullness of time, (there is his plan before the ages began); and this plan he set forth in Christ (there again is Christmas). All this is according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. God’s purpose is never thwarted. He works all things according to the counsel of his will.

We see in many places that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of everything. All creation is meant to bring glory to God.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, ‘the glory of the Lord shone around them’ (Lk.2:9) and a multitude of the heavenly host were praising God, saying ‘glory to God in the highest’ (Lk.2:14). The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God’ (Lk.2:20).

We were created for his glory. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But Ephesians is even more specific. The eternal purpose of God in our rescue is ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’. Not just the praise of his glory, but the praise of his glorious grace. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to be to the praise of his glorious grace. Before God created anything, God purposed in himself to save sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus. Does that blow your mind? Before man was ever created, long before man sinned in the garden, God purposed to become one of us and to pay for our sins with his own blood! O the riches of his glorious grace! Undeserved kindness toward undeserving sinners.

Moses and Glory and Grace

When Moses boldly asked the Lord ‘please show me your glory,

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

God’s glory is seen in the riches of his grace and in his freedom to extend it to whomever he will. In the next chapter,

Exodus 34:6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s glory is displayed in his mercy and grace, his abundant love and faithfulness, his forgiveness of sinners who deserve his wrath.

God’s plan A was to display the glory of his grace according to the riches of his grace. The righteous older brother didn’t need grace; the wayward prodigal’s only hope was undeserved grace. Our sin provided the stage on which the glory of God could be seen most clearly.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

God gave us his grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and now, in the fullness of time, he has has put on display his glorious grace through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. God has sent to us his only Son. This was the plan even before sin entered the world through one man. This was his purpose even before creation. This was his desire, to put on display his glorious grace.

It is one thing to know this. Have you received it? Have you received his grace? Have you welcomed his grace, his gift, have you allowed it in, to shape you, to make you new? Have you allowed his grace to capture your wonder, your amazement? Receive it!

Let your jaw drop. Wonder. Be amazed. Worship. Allow his grace to sustain you.

***

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

December 17, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving and One Another

11/25 Thanksgiving and One Another; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181125_thanksgiving-one-another.mp3

The Necessity of Giving Thanks Always

Last time we talked about thanksgiving, the necessity of giving thanks, our obligation to give thanks to the Lord; we owe it to him because he is worthy, because every good gift comes from him, because we were made to give him praise. Romans 1 says:

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

…21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

A failure to honor God as God and give thanks to him is sin deserving of the wrath of God.

We looked at the positive command in 1 Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

God’s will is that we rejoice, we pray, we give thanks always and for everything. To fail to give God thanks is to quench the Spirit who lives in every believer.

So how are you doing? How did you do this thanksgiving week at rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances?

I hope you did better than I did. I had some great moments of thanksgiving. But I also got annoyed, frustrated, irritated, impatient, discouraged. I yelled at the kids. I said unkind words to my computer. I was short with my wife. My week was not characterized by rejoicing always. It was not ceaselessly prayerful. I failed to give thanks in all circumstances. And this was thanksgiving week!

I wish I could stand before you as a model of the perfect Christian. I want to do better. I want to be better. But here’s the problem. If I could tell you all about how wondrously thankful and joyful and prayerful I was this week, that wouldn’t encourage you, it would likely discourage you. And (if it were true) I would be able to feel pretty good about myself. I would feel successful. Maybe I could even look down on some of you who clearly weren’t as spiritual as I was this week. And that’s not the gospel. That’s not in line with the gospel. The gospel reads that I can’t. I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough. But if I lean into Jesus, he is good enough, and he will carry me. In him I am good enough, yet it is not I but Christ living in me.

So how do we genuinely seek to honor God and give him thanks? How do we seek to obey the commands to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances? How do we take these commands seriously and not use the gospel as an excuse for our own laziness; if my failure puts the grace of God on display, then let us ‘continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be!’ And how do we pursue obedience in such a way that it does not result in pride?

Abounding In Thanksgiving Through The Gospel

I found some help in the letter to the Colossians. Colossians 2:6-7 says:

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Here we find more thanksgiving language; we are to abound in thanksgiving. I want my life to be characterized by abundant thanksgiving. How do we abound in thanksgiving?

In these verses, Paul explicitly points us back to the gospel. He points us to what we were taught, he points to the faith, what we believe, the content of the gospel. He brings us back to our receiving Christ Jesus the Lord. In the previous verse he rejoiced in ‘the firmness of your faith in Christ.’

The gospel, the faith is what I am depending on to rescue me from the consequences of my own rebellion. The gospel tells me that I am not good enough, that I am actually worse than I ever would have imagined, but that Jesus bore the wages of my sin in his body on the tree, that he takes me as his own, that he clothes me in his righteousness, that I am accepted, not because of anything I have done, but because of everything he has done for me. We receive Jesus as a gift undeserved, freely given. Colossians 2:6 tells us we are to walk in him in the same way we received him. We live the Christian life depending completely on his work on our behalf, receiving it as a gift undeserved, freely given. We receive Jesus by faith; depending completely on him. We walk the Christian walk by faith, depending completely on him. We must be rooted in Jesus. He must be the source we draw life from. We must be built upon Jesus. He must be be our only foundation. We must be established in our dependence on Jesus. This is the good news we were taught. This is the gospel we were given. And this is the gospel air we breathe. This is the grace in which we live and move and have our being. We received Jesus as a gift undeserved, depending completely on him. We live the Christian life in total dependence on him, receiving everything we need freely from him.

Obligation and Gratitude

And we say thank you in response to a gift we have been given. I say thank you to the waiter who fills my water at the restaurant as a courtesy. But I don’t have to say thank you. It’s his job. He is not doing me a favor, he gets paid to keep my water full. If he doesn’t, I could complain to the manager, and he could lose his job. I am under no obligation to thank him. He hasn’t really given me anything.

But when we really get the gospel, that we are undeserving, that God is under no obligation to us, and yet God is overwhelmingly generous to us in Jesus Christ, we understand we are truly in his debt and under obligation to gratitude. Abounding in thanksgiving is the right response to the gospel.

Our English word ‘thank’ is related to the word ‘to think,’ thought or thoughtfulness, to think well of. This fails to capture the depth of the original. There was an expression I remember hearing when I was growing up, that I haven’t heard in a while. It was used as an exclamation of surprise or amazement, but taken literally, it captures the essence of the Biblical concept of thanksgiving. It was ‘Good gracious! or ‘Goodness gracious!’ That would be a good literal translation of the Greek word ‘εὐχάριστος‘ – good gracious. It is good that God is gracious to me. God’s grace is good, it is pleasant, it is enjoyable. I see that I am undeserving, and he is under no obligation, and yet he freely gives. That is grace, and I am grateful for his good grace.

So what does this look like practically? How do I abound in gratitude? First, receive Jesus as a gift. He is God’s grace to you. Be rooted in him; draw day by day your life sustenance from him. Be built on him as your only foundation. Be established in dependence on him. Walk day to day in dependence on him. And remember, you will never deserve what he has freely given, so even your failures are a reminder of the goodness of his grace. So receive his grace, and let your heart overflow with gratitude.

Gratitude is a Community Project

I understand this, but still I struggle to apply it, to do it, to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. I tend to lose sight of the grace of God, to let other things cloud my view. Paul understands this, and so he gives us more help in the next chapter. Colossians 3 begins by reminding us that we have been raised with Christ, and so we ought to set our minds on the things that are above. We are to put to death our earthly passions and desires, and to put on our new self which is being renewed. Because we are chosen by God, because we are holy, because we are beloved, we are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love. In verse 15 he says:

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

If you notice, all these things have to do with body life, interacting with others. We are to bear with one another. We are to forgive one another. We are called to love one another, be at peace with one another, live in harmony with one another. We were called in one body. We are called into the body of Christ, the church which he purchased with his own blood. Thankfulness is a community project.

And it is rooted in God’s gracious forgiveness. Verse 13 tells us “…if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” The word ‘forgive’ here is ‘χαρίζομαι‘ to freely, graciously give or forgive. It is part of the root of the word thankful ‘εὐχάριστος‘, good gracious. The way we deal with one another, especially when we are wronged by another is determined by how the Lord has forgiven you. And our gracious forgiveness of one another is an expression of God’s forgiveness to us.

So when we are wronged, we are reminded of how we have wronged God, and how he graciously forgave us. And we are stirred to gratitude. And when we have wronged a brother or sister, and they extend us grace and forgiveness, we are reminded of the gracious forgiveness God has given to us, and we are stirred to gratitude. We might respond ‘good gracious!’

You see how being rooted in the gospel works itself out in community life and reminds us to gratitude.

Thankfulness and Singing

But Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes further to describe what church life, life in the body of Christ should look like.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,

The word is central. We must have Christ’s words, the words about Christ, the gospel living in us. Copiously. Abundantly. Richly. Read, meditate, memorize, let it saturate and spill out. And we are to use the gospel living in us to remind each other. To to teach one another, to correct or reprove one another. We need each other!

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Part of what we do as a body of believers in Jesus is sing together. One way we teach and admonish one another is by psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. We sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God.

It is interesting (we don’t have time to do it now) to trace out thanksgiving in the Psalms. Of course, the Psalms themselves are songs, but repeatedly in the Psalms, we are told that thanksgiving and singing go together.

Psalm 57:9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

One way to express gratitude to the Lord for his good gifts is to sing together to him. This is public proclamation of God’s goodness; among the peoples, among the nations, among generations, to the children, in the assembly. There is something about singing that is participatory; it includes people, draws them in. There is something powerful about gathering together with other people and singing truth aloud together that is powerful. It’s memorable. It sticks with you in ways the spoken word doesn’t. It reminds us to be thankful. We need each other!

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thanksgiving and the Spirit

I’d like to look at one more thing before we pull this all together.

We started by looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, which put giving thanks together with the work of the Spirit of God, indicating that a failure to give thanks is to quench the Spirit who lives in every believer.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

We could take this merely as a random collection of disconnected thoughts, or we could see a connection. I think Ephesians 5 helps us to see the connection. Ephesians 5:18-20 is a restatement of several of the themes we have been looking at in Colossians 3.

Ephesians 5:18 … but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

This rejoicing together in song, this praying, this giving thanks always and for everything is evidence of continually being filled with the Spirit.

Romans 8:9 (along with 1 Cor.2:12 and 6:19, among others) teach us that every believer has the Spirit of God living in them. But here in Ephesians 5 is a command to believers who have the Spirit living inside, who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph.1:3), to continually be being filled with the Spirit.

So although every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside, believers can quench that Holy Spirit, and they can seek to be filled with the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is Spirit empowering or Spirit enabling to do something. In the Old Testament, the craftsmen were filled with the Spirit and given wisdom and skill to create the tabernacle and its furnishings. In the New Testament, the filling of the Spirit is most often connected with speaking, celebrating or proclaiming the good news.

Here in Ephesians 5, the filling of the Spirit is directly connected with one another ministry and focused on giving thanks.

We recognize that gratitude that pleases the Lord must come from a heart filled with the Spirit of God. Gratitude is a response to God’s free and gracious forgiveness found in the good news. It is dependence, drawing life from and standing firmly on the Lord Jesus Christ. And it happens in and is encouraged by community, in the body, with one another.

This is Triune thanksgiving; being filled with the Spirit, we give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

***

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

November 27, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Necessity of Thanksgiving

11/18 Necessity of Thanksgiving ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181118_thanksgiving-necessity.mp3

The History of Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday, and not just because I like turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry jelly and pumpkin pie.

Our thanksgiving holiday has a rich history. After the surrender of the British army at Saratoga in October of 1777, the Continental Congress recommended that a national day of thanksgiving be observed. This is the text of that proclamation.

For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”

It was Abraham Lincoln’s thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 during the civil war that was the beginning of our annual thanksgiving holiday.

His proclamation points us to “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of Almighty God.

He invites us to observe it “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. …offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings…”

Thanksgiving and praise is “justly due to Him.” The earlier proclamation began by stating that “it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received.”

The authors of these proclamations recognized something very important. Thanksgiving is justly due to God. It is our indispensable duty to give thanks for benefits received. It is wrong to fail to give thanks to him.

Thanksgiving is Serious Business

You see, there are sins of commission and sins of omission. We commit sins like lying and stealing and cheating, slander and hatred and lust. But we also sin by omitting what we ought to do.

Romans 1 shows us just how serious this is.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

…21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Do you hear in these verses why the wrath of God is revealed from heaven? A failure to acknowledge God and give him thanks unleashes the wrath of God against humanity! Thanksgiving is our duty. And we are so prone to forget the source from which our blessings come. We are “habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of Almighty God.”

Official Thanksgiving

Because giving thanks to God is such an important duty, and because we are so prone to negligence in it, at pivotal moments in the history of the nation of Israel, its leaders appointed people to give thanks as their full time job.

When David brought the ark of the covenant in to Jerusalem, we are told:

1 Chronicles 16:4 Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. 5 Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. 7 Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers. 8 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 9 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

…36 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD. 37 So David left Asaph and his brothers there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister regularly before the ark as each day required,

…41 With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, whose ‘heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord,’ (2Chr.17:6) when a great multitude came against him in battle, he sought the Lord for help, and

2 Chronicles 20:21 …he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Hezekiah, king of Judah, who ‘did what was right in the eyes of the LORD’ (2Chr.29:2) restored the worship of God to the temple in Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 31:2 And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, division by division, each according to his service, the priests and the Levites, for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to minister in the gates of the camp of the LORD and to give thanks and praise.

After the Babylonian captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah were sent to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

Ezra 3:10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

When the walls of the city were rebuilt, Nehemiah appointed:

Nehemiah 12:24 And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch.

…27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.

…31 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. …

Thanksgiving was serious business, and it was taken seriously. But why the official appointment of people to thanksgiving? Shouldn’t all the people give thanks from the heart? Are they hiring paid professionals to do the thanksgiving for them so they don’t have to worry about it?

Clearly that was not the intent. They served as worship leaders, to lead all the people in giving thanks. This was a strategic way to ensure that the giving of thanks to God was never neglected. This was set in place as a reminder for all the people, because we are prone to forget.

Are there any reminders you have established in your life and routine to encourage you to give thanks? The weekly rhythm of gathering for worship is one simple way. Gather with God’s people week by week to acknowledge him, to give him thanks. Establish daily rhythms of thanksgiving together at meals, in the mornings, at bedtime. Write a note on the bathroom mirror. Set a reminder on your phone, or get a prayer app. Recognize the importance of giving thanks to God for all his good gifts, and find something that works for you to remind you regularly.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is a command.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

God’s will for you is that you give thanks. ‘But you don’t know what’s going on in my life right now. You don’t understand my struggles. I really don’t know if I have anything to be thankful for.’ Give thanks in all circumstances. In all circumstances. Regardless of your circumstances or mine, God is still God, and he deserves to be praised.

Psalm 9 says:

Psalm 9:1 I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

This is a choice, a decision. I choose to give thanks. God has given me the ability to determine to give thanks or to neglect giving thanks. I will give thanks.

I will give thanks with my whole heart. Not merely out of a sense of duty or obligation; it is that, but it must be more. My heart must be in it. Thanksgiving must flow out of a heart captured by the great beauty and worth of God. Thanksgiving is not to be half hearted, but whole hearted. Half hearted praise is not praise. I am to love the Lord with heart and soul and mind and strength. Understand, this is not something we can muster. ‘I’m not really feeling it, but it is my duty, so I will try really hard to give thanks with my whole heart.’ That doesn’t work. Stop looking at yourself. Remember, we are ‘habitually insensible; we are prone to forget’. Thanksgiving is the natural and normal response to perceiving the goodness of God to us. If you don’t see it, you won’t feel thankful. When you see it, when you perceive it, thanksgiving naturally and authentically flows out. More on how to to this in just a minute.

I will give thanks to the LORD. It matters who we direct our thanks to. It is not fate or fortune, it is not my lucky stars. There is a personal being, YHWH, who is sovereign over all circumstances. He is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, good. He is love. He is pursuing relationship with me. If I give you a gift, and you go thank Suzie, than just isn’t right. God is the giver of all good gifts, and he is the one we ought to thank.

Recounting God’s Wonderful Deeds

Here comes some really practical help: I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. It helps to count and recount. This is a simple discipline to increase our thanksgiving. If you want to grow in gratitude, try this.

I woke up. I am breathing. My heart is beating. Thank you Lord! I can get out of bed. I have food to eat. I had a safe place to sleep. I have friends, family, a community.

I have a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for me. My sins are all forgiven. He has given me his Spirit. He has given me new life, a new heart, new desires. I can walk with him today. I can talk to him. He listens. I can please him. I can enjoy his presence. All this is a gracious gift. Thank you Lord!

I have five senses through which I experience this world God created. Everything I see, hear, smell, taste, feel is a gift. Every sunrise, every symphony, every fragrance, every flavor, every sensation is a gift. Thank you Lord!

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

You could easily spend an hour just pausing to pay attention to the details that you have to be thankful for. And it will change your life. It will change your attitude! I will recount all your wonderful deeds.

And I don’t know about you, but I tend to be so self-focused. What do I personally have to be thankful for right now? But for the Israelite, they would start with creation. God made everything good for our enjoyment. He blessed us. But we rebelled against him, and in his great mercy he did not destroy us. He promised to rescue us. He promised to crush our enemy. When he destroyed the world with a flood he preserved Noah and his family. He chose Abraham. He was faithful to all his promises. Even after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, he did not forget his promises. He rescued his people with mighty acts of judgment. Even after 40 years of disobedience in the wilderness, he brought Joshua and his people into the promised land. He established his servant David and conquered their enemies. After their persistent disobedience, he sent them into captivity in Babylon, but even there he cared for them and preserved them, and brought them back to the land.

When you recount all the wonderful deeds of the Lord, you don’t have to limit it to only your experience or your lifetime. Thank you Lord that you have been faithful to your people and to your promises throughout history. Thank you that you have demonstrated yourself trustworthy and true, generous and good, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness.

Of course the gospel is our greatest source of gratitude.

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

That God himself would come in the flesh to take my sin and guilt and die in my place is unfathomable, unthinkable, incredible, overwhelmingly good. Thank you Father, for sending Jesus. Thank you that you pursued me even in my rebellion. Thank you that your Holy Spirit conquered my hard heart.

And think of what has been promised to us that is yet to come! God has given to us his precious and very great promises (2Pet.1:4). He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, and he has made us co-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord. You have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (1Pet.1:4).

1 Chronicles 16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

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

November 19, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Our Pleasure -His Pleasure

11/11_2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Our Pleasure – His Pleasure; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181111_2cor5_9-10.mp3

Paul is staring death in the face. Or rather he is looking through death fixing his eyes on the unseen. He is looking at the ultimate result of his suffering and sees that his present sufferings are preparing for him an exceedingly exceeding eternal weight of glory. He looks at death and says his first choice is to be alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus and be overclothed in his glorified resurrection body. His second choice is to depart and be with Christ even if that means being temporarily unclothed, without a body. And his last choice, he is willing if needed to continue on in the body in fruitful labor for others.

Paul’s desire, his groaning, his longing, is to be at home with the Lord, to be in the presence of Jesus. God has made him for this, and has given his Spirit as a guarantee. But part of being in the presence of Jesus for Paul brings up the issue of judgment.

2 Corinthians 5:6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Is this a category you think in? When you think of heaven, do you think of judgment? Most of the jokes I’ve heard picture Peter at the pearly gates, and if you answer the questions right, you get in. (It is wise to evaluate where you pick up your theology. If it comes mostly from jokes or cartoons, that’s probably not a reliable source.) Paul here tells us that we must all appear before the Lord to give account of what we have done in the body. Is this your expectation? Paul is leaning forward, longing to be in the presence of the Lord, and he knows that that means to appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

Is your primary desire to be with the Lord? And are you eagerly awaiting the judgment? Paul is.

How? How can the prospect of judgment be a desirable thing and not a fearful thing? Or can it be both? Today I want to explore what the bible says about this coming judgment, how it can be both an eager expectation and a fearful thing, and how we should live in light of this coming judgment.

The Gospel: No Condemnation

I want to start by looking at the gospel, because the gospel keeps everything in perspective. The good news of Jesus is that we are unworthy, lost in sin, enemies of God, hopeless. We cannot earn God’s favor no matter what we do. We deserve God’s wrath. Jesus, God the Son, came down to us to live as one of us. He came to take our sin, our our guilt, our condemnation, into himself and pay the price in full on the cross. Jesus said:

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

Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans lays out the good news message, that none are righteous, all have sinned and have earned God’s wrath (ch.1-3). But we are made righteous by grace as a gift through the wrath-satisfying sacrifice of Jesus (ch.3). This gift of forgiveness and righteousness comes not to those who work for it but who simply receive it, by faith; believing, trusting, depending (ch.4). We now have peace with God and strong hope for the future (ch.5). Even the continuing struggle with sin we experience will not win in the end (ch.6-7). In chapter 8 he reaches the climax: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation!

Romans 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that …[nothing, nothing, nothing!] 39 …will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are in Christ through faith, depending on him alone. The Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone to the glory of God alone. All who are in Christ through faith have no need to fear condemnation on judgment day.

Judging our Works and the Fear of the Lord

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

There is scholarly debate over who this passage applies to. Does ‘we all’ include all humanity or only believers? In the context Paul is talking about ‘we’ believers, we who have been given the Spirit as a guarantee, ‘we’ who have confidence in the face of death because we will be with the Lord. So whether he broadens the ‘we all’ here to include all humanity, or keeps his focus only on believers, there is no dispute that believers are not excluded. ‘We all’ either is believers or includes believers. We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Each one will receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul says in Romans 14, clearly talking to believers:

Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Each of us believers will stand before the judgment seat of God and give an account of himself to God. Each of us will receive what is due for what we have done in the body, good or bad.

Jesus said:

Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

People will give account for every careless word they speak.” Let that sink in. You will give account for every careless word you speak.

I’ll conceal the names to protect the guilty, but recently one of my children accidentally recorded themselves on my phone telling a friend that they had lied to their parents. I know some of you may be shocked to discover that my kids aren’t perfect. Let me shatter more of your imaginary world; neither are their parents.

I think Numbers 32:23 was one of my parent’s favorite verses:

Numbers 32:23 …be sure your sin will find you out.

We had some fun with that recording. I am tempted to play it back for you right now, but that would expose the guilty party. But imagine if someone was recording your entire life, every careless word you speak. (Some of you do that to yourselves already on Facebook!) But imagine every careless word recorded, and someone could play it back to you, so that ‘by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.’ That is a terrifying prospect. Remember, for the believer, there is now no condemnation because Jesus paid for it with his blood.

Jesus said:

Luke 12:2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Jesus is telling us to fear God, the judge of all the earth. Paul in the next verse (2Cor.5:11), concluding his thought on the judgment seat of Christ says “therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord.” In verse 1 he said ‘we know we have an eternal home in the heavens.’ In verse 6 ‘we know that to be at home in this body is to be away from the Lord.’ In verse 11 he says that we know the fear of the Lord, and it motivates us to action. ‘For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.’ It is necessary, mandatory that we appear, that we are exposed, made manifest, laid bare. This awareness of the coming judgment is meant to put the fear of God into us.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 25 describing the kingdom of God.

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

In Luke’s version of this story the master answers:

Luke 19:22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! …

Continuing in Matthew,

Matthew 25:26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus in this story holds out both the hope of reward and eternal joy, and the warning of eternal judgment. Many people struggle with passages of warning in the Bible because they sound like they contradict justification by faith alone. When we run into warnings in scripture, we shouldn’t try to explain them away. They are there to warn us. We should heed the warning. The scripture is clear that our works do not contribute to our salvation; that justification is a gift received by faith alone. But the scripture is also clear that the faith which justifies is never alone.

1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Works are never the grounds for justification. But works naturally flow out of the life of one who is forgiven by grace alone. Even in the story of the talents, it begins with the gift of the master, entrusting his own property to each one. I believe the warnings are there because there are some who claim to believe, but who will be revealed to be false on the final day. The possibility of hearing “I never knew you, depart from me” (Mt.7:23) is meant to put the fear of God in us. Jesus, and Peter and John and Paul and James and the author of Hebrews are warning us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2Cor.13:5), and they urge us to make adjustments now, before it is too late.

In Matthew 12, where Jesus says that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” he says that “a tree is known by its fruit,” (v.33) and it is “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v.34). Bearing fruit does not change the nature of the tree; it demonstrates the nature of the tree. Actions and words do not change the heart, they demonstrate what is in the heart. If the fruit is bad, we should take a careful look at the root and ask God by his grace to change our hearts.

When Our Pleasure is His Pleasure

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul is energized by the prospect of the judgment seat of Christ and being forever in the presence of the Lord, so that whether at home or away, he makes it his aim to please him. What he is most eager for, what he pursues with all his heart, what is of highest value for him is to please the Lord. This is truly amazing – did you know that we CAN please him? Now, in these fragile earthy bodies, we can bring pleasure to God! We know that ‘all our righteous deeds (when by them we seek to earn favor with God) are filthy rags’ (Is.64:6). ‘Anything that is not of faith is sin’ (Rom.14:23). But there are good works that flow out of faith that are pleasing to the Lord.

Colossians 1:9 …we …pray …that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will… 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

We can be fully pleasing to him. We can bear fruit that corresponds to the Spirit who lives inside us!

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How do we do this?

1 Peter 4:11 …whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ….

When our good works are a response of faith to the grace we have been freely given, they bring glory to the Father. When we serve in faith, in dependence on God who gives the strength, then God gets the glory.

1 Corinthians 15:10 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.

Because we have been freely forgiven, promised eternity with him, sealed with his Holy Spirit, our hearts naturally overflow with a desire to please him. We want to please him, not in order to get something from him, but because we have been freely given so much.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

November 12, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:15; Missions Fuels Worship

09/23_2 Corinthians 4:15; Missions Fuels Worship; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180923_2cor4_15.mp3

Paul is teaching the essence of authentic ministry. Here in 2 Corinthians 4 verse 15, Paul climaxes with his ultimate passion and aim; worship. The aim of christian ministry is worship.

Earthen Vessels Display Resurrection Power

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Paul is highlighting his own human frailty to put on display the superabundant resurrection power of God. He is a fragile earthenware container, carrying around in his death-susceptible body the glorious light of the good news of Jesus Christ. His suffering, his afflictions, his persecution puts on display the supreme power of God who accomplishes his purposes through the unlikely and unqualified. Death is at work in the messenger to bring about life in the ones to whom he brings the message.

Theology Fuels Missions

2 Corinthians 4:13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

He speaks out of a deep-rooted confidence in, a dependence on God who raises the dead. It is God who must give life, who must shine light in the sin-blinded hearts of unbelievers who cannot see Jesus for who he is. The god of this world has blinded minds, and the Lord of the universe must unblind them. Theology fuels his evangelism, his mission, his ministry. Knowing the truth of the resurrection, confident that the crucifixion of Jesus was a sufficient sacrifice to cleanse our sin-stained consciences and make us stand faultless in the presence of absolute holiness with great joy, dependent on the gospel to bring both he and those who receive his message into the very presence of almighty God, he speaks.

His confidence is not in his approach, his logic, his presentation. His confidence is not in his capable communication or his winsome wit and personality. His confidence is in God who raises the dead. He believes, so he speaks. Theology fuels missions.

And missions fuels worship. This is the goal of all Christian ministry.

Competing or Complementary?

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

It seems in this one verse he offers two competing goals; for your sake, and to the glory of God. Is his ultimate ministry aim to benefit believers or to bless God?

All this suffering, all this daily dying, all this carrying around in my body the dying of Jesus is on account of you; it is for your benefit. Death is at work in us, but life in you! Through my suffering, through my affliction, I am making plain that Jesus is more precious than any earthly comfort. See, Paul didn’t have to suffer. As we saw last time, his persecution was a direct result of his speaking. If he would just shut his mouth and stop talking about Jesus Christ and him crucified, he would not have to suffer. But he looked at the believers in Corinth, he looked at and Crispus and Gaius and Fortunatus and Achaicus and Stephanas and their families (1Cor.1:14-16; 16:17), and he said it is all for your sake. He looked forward through generations of believers who would believe because of his testimony, and he said it is worth it. You are worth it. It is a small price to pay for your eternal joy. He said back in 1:24 ‘we don’t lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy’. Paul is eager to see people blessed. He is eager to see grace abound through the many. He said in 1 Corinthians 9 that he presents the gospel free of charge; he made himself a servant to all that he might win the many. He was eager to win Jews and Gentiles; he met people where they were ‘that by all means I might save some’. All this is for your sake.

But we have to take ‘all this is for your sake’ in light of verse 11, which says that we ‘are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake’ and verse 5 where he says we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord with ourselves as servants of the church ‘for Jesus’ sake’. How is he serving churches in his speaking and in his sacrifices ‘for Jesus’ sake’, and also all this is ‘for your sake’? Is he contradicting himself? Are these two competing goals, or are they somehow complementary?

Through and To

Grace superabounds through the many. Literally translated this verse reads ‘for all these things for your sake in order that the grace increases through the many the gratitude abounds to the glory of God. It is not to the many; as if they were the end goal and final recipients; it is through the many; through their agency gratitude abounds to the glory of God. Paul is passionate to see the gospel reach more and more people, and it is genuinely for their benefit. But he has a greater end in view. It is to the glory of God.

The Glory of God

We see this passion for God’s glory throughout the scriptures, from Psalm 8 where God set his name and his glory above the heavens; Psalm 19 where the heavens were created to declare the glory of God; Psalm 24, where he is called ‘the King of glory’; Psalm 29, where glory is due to his name, where the heavenly beings ascribe glory to the Lord; and ‘all in his temple cry ‘Glory!’; Psalm 86 where ‘all the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name’. Isaiah 6 where the angelic beings cry ‘the whole earth is full of his glory’; Isaiah 43, where he created everyone ‘for his glory’; In Isaiah 42 and 48 God says that he does not give his glory to another, nor his praise to carved idols.

In Romans 1 and 3 our sin is exchanging the glory of God for images, and we fall short of glorifying God. In Romans 5 we ‘obtain access by faith into grace and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’. In Romans 15 we are to welcome one another ‘for the glory of God’ and ‘with one voice glorify God’; the Gentiles will ‘glorify God for his mercy’.

1 Corinthians 6 tells us we are to glorify God in our bodies; 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that eating, drinking, whatever we do is to be done to the glory of God. In 2 Corinthians 1 in response to the faithfulness of God ‘we utter our Amen to the glory of God.’ In chapter 3, our beholding the glory of the Lord brings transformation. In chapter 4 Satan wants to keep us from seeing the glory of Christ, but God shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In chapters 8 and 9, their gospel generosity is meant to cause the recipients to glorify God.

3 times in Ephesians 1, our manifold salvation is ‘to the praise of his glory’. In Philippians 1 our righteousness through Christ is to the glory and praise of God. In Philippians 2 we confess Jesus Christ as Lord ‘to the glory of God the Father’.

In 1 Peter 2 our good deeds are to cause even evildoers to glorify God. In 1 Peter 4 we are to ‘serve in the strength that God supplies so that God gets the glory’ and even when we suffer for the name of Christ ‘we glorify God in that name’.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, 1 Peter 5 and 2 Peter 1 we are ‘called to his own glory.’

In 1 Timothy 1 the good news is described as ‘the gospel of the glory of the blessed God’

The glory of God is the central theme of the Bible. The Westminster Shorter Catechism got it right in declaring that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

God Glorified by Gratitude

We get that. We want to bring God glory. But how? What does that look like? What does that even mean? This verse helps.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Paul endures suffering in gospel ministry so that as the grace increases through the many the gratitude abounds to the glory of God. Grace abounds. Grace is multiplied through the many. Grace is God’s kindness, God’s favor that is unearned, undeserved. It is God’s gift given freely. Salvation is a gift; forgiveness, a right standing with God, inner transformation; all gifts of God’s grace. As Paul proclaims Jesus, God’s grace is abounds to more people. As Paul suffers for the gospel, more people take notice, pay attention, and receive God’s grace. God is infinitely gracious. But the experience of God’s grace is multiplied as more people lean into God’s grace, depend on his grace, receive it.

And what is the natural response when you experience grace? I ran in to the grocery store the other day just to get a handful of things for dinner. I get to the checkout, and the lady in front of me has about half a shopping cart of groceries. She looks up and says, ‘you go ahead’. She didn’t have to do that. I don’t deserve special treatment at the grocery store. I am not more important than her. She was there first. And it will cost her; if she lets me go first, it will take her longer. That is grace. How do you respond? My first inclination is not to receive the grace. No, it’s OK. I don’t need it. I can wait. Of course I only came to get three things, so I didn’t get a cart, but there were a couple other things on a good sale, so I ended up with five things, and I should have got a cart, but I’m trying to manage to hold on to them all. She smiles and says, no really, you go ahead. What is the response to grace? I feel humbled and grateful. She noticed my situation and extended a small kindness to me that I didn’t deserve.

God’s grace is infinitely greater, deeper, richer.

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

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Grace results in gratitude. These words are connected. The Greek word for grace is charis [χάρις]; the word for thanksgiving is eucharistian [εὐχαριστίαν]. Eu-charis-tian is built on the root charis. John Piper suggests an English translation that retains this root word connection; grace and gratitude. Gratitude is a response to grace; gratis. As grace extends to more people, more people are moved to be profoundly grateful.

So how does this help us understand what it means to glorify God? An increase in gratitude gives glory to God. God is recognized as the giver. The gift he gives is a gift; it is unearned, undeserved. He is under no obligation; he is free to give or to not give, and he chooses to give. When I receive his gifts, the normal response of a healthy soul is gratitude. I am humbled (because I did nothing to deserve it) and I feel grateful (because I see his character that he is gracious and generous and kind). This brings glory to God, because I am seeing and enjoying him, who he is. I am recognizing his character, and I am blessed by him. He is the kind of person I want to be around.

These two things, gratitude and glorifying God are linked in Romans 1, where our healthy response is broken.

Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him,

Although God had revealed his character, we did not honor, literally glorify him as God, and we were not grateful. This is what sin is. A failure to respond to God’s gracious character with gratitude; a failure to glorify him.

When we fail to receive his grace, when we reject his generosity we don’t enjoy him and we won’t be grateful; we won’t glorify God.

This is how ‘all this is for your sake’ and it is ‘for Jesus’ sake’ to the glory of God. The experience of God’s grace that overflows in gratitude is the enjoyment of God as good and it is this that glorifies God. We are benefited, and God is glorified as the giver.

Our theology, what we believe, fuels missions. What we believe ignites us to go, to love, to serve others in the name of Jesus, even in the face of persecution and death, because we believe in the God who raises the dead. We believe, therefore we speak. And missions fuels worship. As we risk to proclaim Jesus to more and more people, as we invite more people to experience God’s grace, we multiply gratitude, and gratitude overflows in worship. Paul is looking forward to that day when God will ‘raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.’ He is looking to that day when those he has proclaimed Jesus to are gathered with him to enjoy the presence of God.

So what about you? Are you experiencing God’s grace? Are you enjoying him as the ultimate giver of every good? Are you getting to know him? Are you humbled and overwhelmed with joy that he would give you what you don’t deserve? Can you say that God is enjoyable? That is what glorifies God.

And are you passionately pursuing the advance of God’s glory? This too is the natural response of a healthy soul to God’s grace. When we truly enjoy something, we want others to enjoy it with us. I will go out of my way to get you to see how good it is, to try it, to enjoy it. I may even make sacrifices to get you to experience it for yourself. What are you willing to endure to see others experiencing God’s grace?

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

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

September 24, 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 2:10-11; How Not To Be Outsmarted By Satan

03/11_2Corinthians 2:10-11; How Not To Be Outsmarted by Satan ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180311_2cor2_10-11.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11. Paul is talking about why he did not come as planned, why he wrote them a letter instead. He defends his clear conscience, how he is working with them in everything to pursue their joy. He wrote a letter that caused them sorrow, but even in that he is pursing their joy, and it was an expression of his abundant love for them. The context here is an issue of church discipline. Back in 1 Corinthians 5, he addressed a situation of immorality in the church that rather than dealing with the church was priding itself in. He demanded that the guilty party who refused to receive correction be expelled from the church.

Last time we looked at church discipline for your joy; we looked at Jesus’ teaching on church discipline, the process of, the heart behind and the goal of church discipline. Jesus and Paul both teach that church discipline is for joy; for the joy of the one disciplined, for the joy of the church, for the joy of God. He is pursuing our greatest good; so that we will find joy not in the counterfeit pleasures of sin, but in the genuine and eternal enjoyment of God himself.

In this passage we will see that we have an enemy, an enemy to our joy.

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

This passage tells us some really important things. It tells us that we have an enemy. It tells us that he has an agenda. And it tells us how to defeat him.

We Have an Enemy

Jesus warned of an enemy. He told Peter “behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Lk.22:31). Jesus warned his disciples to watch and “pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Lk.22.40, cf. Mt.26:41). Later, Peter wrote

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Peter understood he had an adversary. And this adversary is bent on our destruction. He demanded to have Peter, to thresh him out. Peter knew from first hand experience that he had an enemy, the power of his enemy, the ferocity and intent of his enemy. The name Satan is a Hebrew word that means adversary; and devil means accuser or slanderer. Revelation 12:10 celebrates the day when “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” Satan, the chief prosecuting attorney, stands day and night accusing us before the throne of God. He seeks our eternal destruction. Jesus thought it was important for Peter to know that he had an enemy, and who his enemy was.

We understand from places like Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, that Satan was an angel, a personal created being of the highest order, who became proud and rebelled against God, seeking to become equal to God. From places like Revelation 12 we understand that he led a third of God’s angels astray in his rebellion, who are commonly referred to as demons.

It is important to keep in mind that while God is the triune uncreated creator of everything, all powerful and unrestrained by time or place, Satan is a single created being, who is limited by both time and space, and who is limited in knowledge. Charles Simeon, who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 49 years until his death in 1836, put it this way; “It must not be forgotten, that, though we speak of Satan as one, he has millions of other spirits at his command, all cooperating with him with an activity inconceivable, and an energy incessant. …Hence, though Satan is limited both as to space and knowledge, he is, by his agents, in every part of the globe, receiving information from them, and exercising rule by means of them: and hence his devices, founded on such a combination of wisdom, and carried into effect by such an union of power, become so manifold as to exceed what on any other supposition would have been within the power of any finite creature to devise and execute.” [Charles Simeon, Horae Homiliticae; Vol.16, Disc.2003]

We have an enemy; an enemy so powerful that even “the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, …did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (Jude 9).

Satan’s Designs

And this enemy is bent on our destruction. Paul’s goal in naming our adversary in this passage is ‘so that we would not be outwitted by Satan’ This word translated ‘outwitted‘ is a verb derived from the noun ‘covetousness‘ or ‘greed.’ This word shows up 4 other times in the New Testament, three in 2 Corinthians (2Cor.7:2; 12:17,18), each translated ‘take advantage of,’ in the sense of financial defrauding or ripping someone off. This word also shows up in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 in the context of sexual immorality; that we are not to sin against or take advantage of a brother. We are not to use one another as objects to satisfy our cravings. This is what Satan seeks to do; to defraud us, to rip us off, to take advantage of us, to use us at our expense for his own pleasure.

Jesus warned in John 10, in the context of vulnerable sheep and the danger of false shepherds and wolves and thieves, himself being the good shepherd,

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus came for our joy, to give us life, abundant life. He came to give us life at the cost of his own. The enemy comes to rip us off, to defraud us, to take advantage of us, to use us and then throw us away.

The word in 1 Peter 5:8 translated ‘devour,’ “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” is the same word used in 2 Corinthians 2:7 “or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” This is a graphic word; literally it means to drink down, to gulp down, to be swallowed up by. We see a vivid illustration of this in Korah’s rebellion against Moses’ authority.

Numbers 16:31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!”

This is what our enemy is out to do. He is out to swallow us up. And Paul warns that if the congregation doesn’t turn and forgive and comfort the repentant sinner, he might be swallowed up by excessive sorrow.

Satan is crafty. Later in this book (11:14) we learn that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” He tricks us into thinking we are doing what is best. The church was reluctant to take action on this matter of sin in the church. No doubt they were celebrating God’s amazing grace, which has the power to overcome even the darkest sin. They had been tricked into thinking that by tolerating sin they were highlighting God’s grace. Now finally, they had zealously obeyed. They were displaying God’s justice. And they were looking for Paul’s confirmation or affirmation of their disciplinary action. Rather Paul says ‘confirm’ or ‘reaffirm’ your love for him.

Simeon again says: “whole Churches are often grievously distracted by this powerful adversary. Where Christ is sowing wheat, he will be active in sowing tares. …If we neglect to purge out the old leaven, the whole lump will soon be leavened: and if with too indiscriminate a hand we attempt to pluck up the tares, we may root up also much of the wheat along with it. We are in danger on every side… ” [Charles Simeon, Horae Homiliticae; Vol.16, Disc.2003]

How Not to Be Defrauded by Satan

We have an enemy. He is real, he is personal, he is powerful. And he is out to swallow us up, to steal our joy, to destroy us. What do we do? How can we guard against being ripped off and taken advantage of by our accuser and adversary? Look at Paul’s instruction here.

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

How are we not outsmarted by Satan? There are two extremes to avoid. The first, which he addresses in 1 Corinthians 5, is to not take sin seriously. He confronts them over their boast of being accepting and non-judgmental; their tolerance of sin; their failure to call sin sin and confront it. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Are we willing to confess, to say what God says about our sin? Are we willing to take it seriously? Sin will send you to hell; sin is why Jesus had to die; sin is what Jesus came to rescue us out of. To say to Jesus, ‘no, we actually like it here’ is to reject his salvation.

The second extreme is what he deals with here in 2 Corinthians. Do we uproot the wheat with the tares? We may come down hard on sin, but is it with the Shepherd’s heart of restoration? Do we know how to forgive? To reaffirm our love?

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul says to hand the unrepentant sinner over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Satan there is instrument of judgment to bring about his ultimate salvation on the day of the Lord.

Here in 2 Corinthians, unforgiveness allows Satan to rip off the body of Christ. The one who is being corrected is in danger of being swallowed up by excessive sorrow if he is not welcomed back in.

I have to ask here, what does this tell us about the body of Christ? Is this an understanding we have? Would it be devastating for you if you were disconnected from the body of believers? Are you overwhelmed by excessive sorrow if you are unable to gather with the saints for a few Sundays? Is your connection with your brothers and sisters your lifeline? This whole passage seems a bit foreign and obscure to us because of how so many view the church. It’s just a casual take it or leave it acquaintance. ‘I was up a little late last night; I had a busy week; I needed a down day; I just wasn’t feeling it.’

If you were told that because of your persistence in sin and refusal to listen to loving correction that you couldn’t come to church, would you be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow? Or would you say ‘good riddance, I don’t want to be around you judgmental types anyway’ and after a few scathing posts on social media you go find a church that is more ‘accepting’?

Why are we not desperate for fellowship, hungry to hear God’s word, longing to worship together with the saints, eager to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters? What are we missing?

There is danger of being defrauded by Satan. There is danger for the one being corrected. The danger of being swallowed up by excessive sorrow.

There is danger for the Apostle and each individual in the church. If anyone refuses to forgive, if anyone harbors bitterness, that bitterness will eat you alive, and Satan wins.

There is danger for the entire church body. Satan seeks to divide and conquer. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. If we make the sinner out to be the enemy, we lose.

And there is danger for our community, that they would miss hearing the message of the gospel. That comes up in the next verses, and I plan to look at that next week.

Forgiveness and Grace

What is Paul’s remedy? How do we avoid being taken advantage of by Satan? Forgive. This is fascinating. There are two main word groups for forgiveness in the New Testament. The most common word group is ἀφίημι (v.) or ἄφεσις (n.). This word group has a range of meanings from ‘release, allow, permit, let’ (35x) to ‘leave’ (58x), even ‘divorce, forsake, abandon’ (5x), and ‘forgive’ (62x). From this range of meanings, we see it carries the meaning of forgiveness in the sense of releasing from a debt or obligation. It is a more passive term; let it go. That is not the term used here.

The word for forgiveness here in 2 Corinthians 2 is the word χαρίζομαι (v.) from the noun χάρις which is the common New Testament word for grace. This word is used 11 times for ‘give, grant, freely give’ and a dozen times for ‘forgive’. It is a much more active, positive term; extend grace, positive favor. One commentator says: “forgiveness must give, not merely take away. God has extended grace toward us, so forgiveness must be a fundamental aspect of our relationships with one another in the body of Christ, the extension of grace to one another” [Guthrie, BECNT, p.134].

Back in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul said he had already passed judgment as if he were present. Here in 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he had already forgiven; that he had already extended grace.

How do we escape being ripped off by Satan? Forgive. Extend God’s grace, undeserved grace toward others, even toward those who have wronged you.

Do we have the heart of the Father toward his prodigal son? Are we watching, eagerly looking for, expectantly and prayerfully awaiting his return? Do we run out to meet him and embrace him with forgiveness, with God’s grace? Are we quick to clothe him, restore him, kill the fatted calf and celebrate? When that which is lost is found it is a time for rejoicing!

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

March 12, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:17-19; Making Plans and the Promises of God

11/19 2 Corinthians 1:17-19; Making Plans and the Promises of God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171119_2cor1_17-19.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:14 …—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Paul had changed his travel plans more than once. Paul is answering the accusation that he makes his plans lightly, according to the flesh. How does Paul make his plans? How should we make plans? And how ought we to answer those who seek to discredit us?

How Paul Makes Plans

In verse 15, Paul speaks of his will or his purpose; ‘I wanted,’ or ‘I purposed to come to you first.’ Here in verse 17, he uses forms of this word purpose three more times; ‘This my purpose therefore was not in lightness or fickleness toward you; or what I purpose is it according to the flesh that I purpose?’ Paul’s purpose, his will, his resolve is being questioned. He answers that his purpose was not by the lightness toward you. He uses the definite article ‘the‘ probably referring to the word he had heard they had used of him. Paul is fickle; he vacillates. My plans toward you are not by the vacillation you accuse me of. This word translated ‘vacillating’ literally means light as opposed to weighty. We might say his plans are up in the air, being tossed back and forth. Paul starts by addressing the alleged lightness of his plans, and he brings us back around at the end of verse 20 to the glory of God, glory in the Old Testament being weightiness or heaviness; gravity. Paul’s plans are not unsubstantial or fluffy; rather they are designed to draw attention to the weightiness of God.

Jesus and James and Oaths

‘Or what I purpose is it according to the flesh that I purpose?’ In Paul, the flesh is frequently contrasted to the Spirit. Are plans made according to fleshly human wisdom, or are they made by the guidance of God’s Spirit? Numbers 23 says:

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

It would be merely human wisdom that would make plans and say yes, yes, and then change to no, no.

Why the double yes and the double no? This is actually an echo of what Jesus said in Matthew 5.

Matthew 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Literally, Jesus says ‘let your word be Yes, yes; No, no.’ Jesus is not teaching that we can never take oaths; rather he is saying we ought to be plain and straightforward with what we say. In Matthew 23:16-22 Jesus gives us a clue as to the background of what he says. He lets us know that the Pharisees were saying:

Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’

This was a way to make it sound like you were taking an oath but to leave yourself an out. It is this kind of oath taking that was intended to deceive that Jesus is against. A simple yes should suffice. To make it emphatic, he allows a ‘yes, yes.’ James picks this up.

James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Paul’s words match James here exactly; ‘the yes, yes and the no, no.’ It seems that Paul is being accused of making a firm promise, He spoke the ‘yes, yes I am coming to visit’ and turned that into the ‘no no.’ ‘Yes, yes I care about you; No, no you’re not important to me.’ Paul says the Yes, yes and the No, no. His words sound strong, but they are wind. He doesn’t mean what he says. We can’t believe what he says. He’s not to be trusted. He’s fleshly.

How do you answer an accusation like that? His character is being undermined. It was true that he changed his plans. How do you defend the sincerity of your words, in a letter, with words?

God’s Faithfulness and God’s Son

Paul points them to the faithfulness of God. ‘As surely as God is faithful.’ Paul swears by the faithfulness of God; he draws attention to God’s faithfulness, he puts God’s faithfulness on center stage. His own faithfulness is derivative and dependent on God’s own prior faithfulness. He can be faithful only because God has been unwaveringly faithful to him.

‘But faithful is God, because the word of us to you is not yes and no.’ Paul here makes a play on words. He refers to the Logos, the Word from John 1:1. The content of Paul’s preaching, Paul’s word is the Word made flesh; Jesus Christ and him crucified. ‘The word from us to you is not yes and no, because Jesus was not yes and no’

He makes this explicit in the next verse; ‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed.’ Our word is not yes and no, because Jesus, the incarnate Word is not yes and no. Our proclamation, our word is the Word, and our proclamation of the Word must match the character of the divine Word made flesh.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed.’ The emphasis here is on God; ‘For the of God Son Jesus Christ.’ Jesus is God’s Son.

This is the only time in 2 Corinthians that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. And packed into this little phrase is the gospel. In Romans 1:9, Paul can summarize the gospel as ‘the gospel of his Son.’ When Saul was converted, according to Acts 9,

Acts 9:20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

God made this promise to David:

2 Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

God promised David that he would be a Father to one of David’s sons, who would be a king forever. Jesus, son of David is the only begotten Son of God. God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son; he sent his preexistent Son into the world; we must believe in the only Son of God (Jn.3:16-18)

Romans 8:3 For God … By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

This identity as the Son, we see is connected with something troubling if we look back to 2 Samuel 7

2 Samuel 7:14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

This coming Son of God is a suffering servant, we learn from Isaiah, who suffers for our iniquities, not his own. Jesus was the Son who always did what pleased the Father (Jn.8:29); “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.17:5; cf.3:17). The beloved son imagery is a thread that runs through the story of the Old Testament, from the righteous Abel killed by his brother, the promised son Isaac to be offered as a sacrifice, Jacob who must flee for his life, the favored son Joseph sold by his brothers into slavery, even to chosen Israel, who suffered in bondage before being rescued. This all points to Jesus, the beloved Son, well pleasing to his Father, who is betrayed, rejected, crucified, made to be sin for us. In Corinth, Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1Cor.2:2).

Paul’s Plans and the Grace of God

Paul had said back in verse 12 that he conducted himself with the simplicity and sincerity that comes from God; that he conducted himself not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God. Here he unpacks what it means to live and make plans by the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.

‘God’s Son Jesus Christ, who in you through us was proclaimed, through me and Silvanus and Timothy’. The Corinthians heard the message of the Son of God through the testimony of these three witnesses; Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Christ came to be in them, dwelling in their hearts through faith because Christ was proclaimed through these faithful servants. They did not come in power and persuasive speech, but their lives were shaped like Jesus, suffering, rejected, imprisoned, mistreated, beaten. This is what it looked like to live by the grace of God. God’s grace comes to us in the form of a crucified Jesus. God’s grace is communicated to us through the proclamation of his suffering servants.

1 Corinthians 1:20 …Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. …23 but we preach Christ crucified, …25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The Corinthians wanted strength and poise. But God’s grace comes in apparent weakness and foolishness. Yes I am coming to you in strength; no I am weak; yes I have a powerful message; no it is the foolishness of Christ crucified.

The Yes of God

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

Jesus did not become yes and no. In him the Yes has come to be. God’s yes has come into existence in Jesus. Things are not always as they seem. Jesus was despised and rejected. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn.1:11). Is there any room for him in the inn? No. He was betrayed by a friend, arrested, falsely accused, mistreated, condemned, crucified. Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews? NO! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? A resounding ‘NO!’ But it is in this No that God’s yes to us is concealed. God said no to Jesus so he could say yes to us. Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me. God said No to Jesus, so he would never have to say No to us! Jesus took the no, the disapproval, the wrath of God for us. Jesus endured the no of his Father so that we could enjoy his yes. In him the Yes has come to be! As many promises of God as there are, the Yes is in him!

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

November 19, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment