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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 3:6; The Letter Kills, The Spirit Makes Alive

05/20_2 Corinthians 3:6; The Letter Kills; The Spirit Makes Alive ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180520_2cor3_6.mp3

What we want to be about, what we must be about as followers of Jesus, is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. We have seen in 2 Corinthians 3 that the sufficiency, the competence for this kind of ministry comes through Christ and toward or in the presence of God. We must recognize we are not competent in ourselves. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. Anything. Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’ But then Paul says we are competent, because of God,

2 Corinthians 3:6 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.

This raises some questions. What does it mean to be a minister? What is the new covenant? How do we minister not by the letter, but by the Spirit? What is the role of the letter and the role of the Spirit?

Ministers

As we saw last time, a minister is simply a servant. One who serves others for their good. If we are all called to be ministers of a new covenant, we need to know what this means.

Covenant

Paul introduces this concept of a new covenant here. He says that he has been made sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant. What is the new covenant? We began to look at this when we were exploring the contrast between letters on tablets of stone with letters written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of fleshly hearts.

A covenant is a binding contract, an agreement between two parties. God made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, after he freed them out of slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 24:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

Deuteronomy says:

Deuteronomy 4:13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.

God gave Israel his covenant, his commands, his requirements. This was a binding agreement written on stone. He says in Leviticus:

Leviticus 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

If a person does them, by them he shall live. Obedience equals life. Jesus affirmed this. When he was asked by a lawyer ‘what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus responds ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it? The lawyer summarized the law by the two great commands; love God and love neighbor as yourself. Jesus said:

Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Do this and you will live. The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked ‘and who is my neighbor?’ He wanted to check off a box to show that he was good enough. Jesus gave him the parable of the good Samaritan. Everyone you come in contact with is your neighbor. Keep the law and you will live. Obedience to the law equals life.

The Letter Kills

The flip side of that, of course, is disobedience equals death. And that’s what we see if we look back to the giving of the law. Exodus 19-31 record the giving of the law to Moses. It is interesting to look back and see the difference before and after the giving of the law.

-In Exodus 14:6-14, at the Red Sea, before Sinai, Israel cried out to the Lord and complained that they would die in the wilderness; God parted the sea and rescued them. In Numbers 11:1-3, immediately after leaving Sinai, the people complained about misfortunes and the fire of the Lord burned among them. In Numbers 16:41-50 the people grumbled against their leaders, and 14,700 died in plague. In Numbers 21:4-9 the people become impatient and discontent; and the LORD sent fiery serpents to kill many.

-In Exodus 15:22-27, before the law, the people grumbled because the water was bitter; and the bitter water was made sweet. In Exodus 17:1-7 people grumbled and quarreled because they had no water; God instructed Moses to strike the rock and water came out from the rock for the people. But in Numbers 20:2-13, after the law was given, when there was no water and people quarreled, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, he disobeyed and struck the rock. Water came out, but because of their disobedience, Moses and Aaron would die in the wilderness and not enter the land.

-In Exodus 16:1-18, before the law, the people grumbled because of hunger; God provides manna and quail for them to eat. But in Numbers 11, after the law came, the people grumble about no meat, and God sent quail until it came out their nostrils, and he sent a very great plague to destroy them.

– In Exodus 16:19-30, before the law, the people are instructed to rest and not go out looking for manna on the Sabbath, but they disobey. Nothing happens. But in Numbers 15:32-36, a person caught gathering sticks on the sabbath is stoned to death for breaking the law.

– In Exodus 17:8-14, before Sinai, God defeats Amalek before Israel. In Numbers 14:39-45, after Sinai, Israel is defeated before the Amalekites and Canaanites.

Some of the very same things that had no consequences before the law, after the law brought death. The history of Israel after the giving of the law is a chronicle of disobedience and death. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter kills. This is very literally true.

Romans and the Law/Letter

Paul gives us more systematic teaching on the role and purpose of the law in the book of Romans. It will serve us well to look there to fill out our understanding of what he means when he says that ‘the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.’

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

The Jews prided themselves on having the law. But as we have seen, unless the law is obeyed, it brings death.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law was given to shut every mouth and hold all people accountable to God. The law shows us our sin; it does not make us righteous. This is made even more clear in chapter 4.

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

The law brings wrath. We see this graphically displayed in the history of Israel after Sinai. Romans 5 tells us

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass…

The law did not create righteousness; it actually did the opposite; it served to increase trespass. Romans 7 tells us how.

Romans 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

The law actually stirred up our sinful passions. Paul gives a personal example:

Romans 7:7 … if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

He is describing what he said in 3:20 that ‘through the law comes the knowledge of sin.’ The commandment that promised life; the law says ‘do this and you shall live’ proved in his own experience to deliver death.

If the law produces death, does this mean that the law is bad? Paul answers:

Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 … It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

The law is holy, righteous, good, even spiritual. But the law puts on display the sinfulness of sin. The law’s good purpose is to show us our sin, to stop our mouths, to hold us accountable to God, and to put us to death. I said that is the law’s good purpose. How is that good? Good is not determined by what is good for me. It’s not all about me! Good is what is good absolutely. It is good and right for God to display his justice and to punish sin. But this is good for me. It is good for the law to show me my sin, because only sinners who confess their sin can be forgiven. It is good for the law to put me to death, because only those who are dead can be raised to newness of life. Only those who are shown their desperate need will cry out to God for rescue. Jesus said

Mark 2:17 …“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The law plays a vital role in showing us God’s justice and our need. This is what makes the good news so very very good! The law brings us to the end of ourselves, and that is very good. The letter kills but the Spirit makes alive.

A New Covenant

This is where the new covenant promises come in. As we looked a few weeks ago, God promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant different from the covenant he made with the fathers, not like the covenant that they broke.

Jeremiah 31:33 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.”

This is the contrast Paul draws in 2 Corinthians; They old covenant was written on tablets of stone, and the result was disobedience and death. The new covenant of which he is a minster, is a heart agreement. No longer is it an external standard, which we may even agree is good, but our competing desires and inclination to disobedience thwart our best efforts to keep it. Now in the new covenant God writes his instruction on our hearts. It is part of us. It is internalized. It is who we are. It now defines us.

forgiveness

A critical component of this new covenant that God works in us is that he says ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more. This is powerful. This is so powerful for obedience. If we feel like a failure, if we feel like we have already disappointed him, we feel defeated. The guilt and shame are disabling. It’s like an overwhelming record of debt that stands against us. When you’re in debt and really see no way out, it’s easy to just give up and spend even more, run the credit card again, dig the hole deeper, We feel crippled to ever be good enough, to ever measure up. But in the context of forgiveness; this is so beautiful, so powerful, let this sink in an saturate your soul and transform everything; God says he remembers your sin no more. If you are in Christ, you always, always have a clean slate. You are always accepted. You are always good enough. You can’t sin fast enough to make the record stick. Do you see how powerful this is? Try to fight when you are all tied up and ensnared and weighed down. You can hardly even move. But God cuts the cords and sets you free and keeps you free so that you can fight.

This is so powerful, and I pray it shapes the way we relate to each other, to our spouse, to our children. Shame and guilt can be a motivating factor, but it is disabling. Forgiveness is so much more powerful.

they shall all know me

Notice another key aspect of this new covenant in Jeremiah 31. it says ‘they shall all know me.’ Paul is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. The new covenant is built on relationship. Intimacy. This is not second-hand knowledge. I know God and I have to tell you, God says what you’re doing is wrong. Someone stands between. You’re not hearing it first hand. It’s not direct. Someone is in between. That’s exactly the way it was at Sinai with the law. The people said ‘don’t let God speak to us directly. Moses, you go listen to God and then come tell us what he said.’ When I send one of my kids to pass along instruction to one of their siblings (and this happens a lot in our house) it doesn’t carry much weight. They say ‘hey, you need to do this’ and it’s easy to ignore. They might even say ‘hey, dad said you should do this’ and that carries a little more weight, but it’s still easy to ignore. Sometimes something gets lost in the delivery. The messenger got sidetracked and never delivered my message. Something got lost in the communication and something different than what I asked gets done. Is it the messenger who failed or the one who was supposed to receive the message who didn’t listen? It’s easy to shift blame. But when I show up personally, that’s completely different. It’s no longer someone passing along second hand information about what I said. Now it’s me, in relationship, really present, it’s direct. That’s what the new covenant does. It brings each of us into direct relationship with God. It’s no longer someone else telling you what you ought to be doing. It’s no longer mediated. It’s God himself communicating directly.

And it’s within the context of loving relationship. It can try to tell someone else’s kids what to do, but if the relationship isn’t there, if the accountability and love and respect in relationship hasn’t been established, it isn’t very effective. They run to mom or dad and say ‘that weird guy just told me what to do.’ In the new covenant, God brings us into relationship with himself. They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

a new heart and God’s Spirit

Another piece of this transforming power of the new covenant we see in Ezekiel.

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

God gives us a heart transplant. Our hard rebellious heart needs to be removed, and replaced by a soft, tender heart, a heart capable of love, a heart receptive to the Lord. But he doesn’t stop there. In the New covenant he puts his Holy Spirit in us. This is the aspect that Paul highlights in 2 Corinthians. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. O hear this! Let the truth of this sink in! The Holy Spirit of the living God; God the Holy Spirit, comes in, takes up residence in us. He lives in us and makes us alive. He transforms us from the inside. He will never leave!

Romans 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We are released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit.

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This is the message we are called to minister! This is the good news of the gospel! Through the cross there is forgiveness, no matter what you have done. You can know God yourself, you can enjoy relationship. God the Spirit comes to live inside and make you alive, truly alive, eternally alive! So walk in the Spirit and spread the knowledge of Jesus everywhere!

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

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May 23, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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 1:21-22; Established by God in Christ through the Spirit

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

Summary of 2 Corinthians 1:1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen = Established

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Us With You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ongoing Establish-ing

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

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

God Establishes

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

Anointed

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

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

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

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

Jesus says in Luke 4:18

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

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

Sealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given the Deposit of His Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer and Unity (Ephesians 5-6)

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

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

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

Being Filled with the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Warfare

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

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

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

Praying in The Spirit

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

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

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

Access through Jesus in the Spirit to the Father

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

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

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

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

Into One Body In One Spirit

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

1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

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

Paul alludes to this in Ephesians 4.

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

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

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

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

For All the Saints

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

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

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

Can you sincerely ask God to bless them?

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

Always,

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

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

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

But I Can’t

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

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

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

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

…18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

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

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

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

The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control like Jesus

08/20 The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control Like Jesus Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170820_self-control-like-jesus.mp3

Self Control. The Fruit of the Spirit is self control. What is self control? Why do we need it? Do we need it? How do we get it?

What is self control? The Greek word is engkratia [ἐγκράτεια ]. It is a compound of two words [ἔν] which means ‘in’ and [κράτος ] which means power or strength. Engkratia points to an inner strength, an inner mastery, a command or control of self.

The Problem of Powerlessness

There is a negative of this word in the New Testament with the negative ‘a’ prefix [ἀκρασία] that means a lack of power or mastery, lack of self control. This opposite word shows up in places like Matthew 23:25, where Jesus says:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Self indulgence is this word powerlessness or lack of self-control. The Pharisees looked good on the outside, but they lacked this inner strength of character.

It shows up in 1 Corinthians 7:5 warning married couples not to deprive one another of marital intimacy

1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive one another, …so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

He says a few verses later

1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

This inner strength word often but not always refers to the power to overcome sexual temptation. In a 2016 Barna research study, nearly half of young adults said they come across porn at least once a week—even when they aren’t seeking it out. Temptation is real, and it is more available than ever before. About 27% of Christian men and 6% of Christian women said they seek out porn at least once or twice a month. 14% of pastors and 21% of youth pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. We desperately need this inner power, this fruit of self control which is produced by the Holy Spirit.

The negative adjective [ἀκράτης] shows up in the list of evils in 2 Timothy 3 that characterize so much of our society.

2 Timothy 3:2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

This lack of inner strength, this problem of powerlessness, is part of our society, and sadly is part of the experience of too many followers of Jesus.

The Hope of Victory

The Bible is clear.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

First, the Bible is clear that pride is precarious and no one should think of himself as exempt from or above temptation. Spiritual pride is lethal.

Second, temptation is common. Everybody experiences temptation. It is part of the human experience. This takes away one of our favorite excuses, that my struggle is extraordinary and unique. You are clearly not tempted as intensely or as frequently as I am. If you were, you would fall too. No, temptation is common to us all.

And third, God is faithful. Notice where the Apostle goes for hope in the face of temptation? He doesn’t go inside. He doesn’t say ‘You’re not that kind of person that falls like that. You shouldn’t stoop to that kind of behavior. You’re better than this – don’t let yourself give in because you’re better than that. No, in fact, that’s the kind of spiritual pride he warns against. He says everybody faces temptation, and nobody is above failure, but God is faithful. He turns us away from confidence in self and points us to the unfailing character of God. By the way, self control is not the same thing as self confidence or being self sufficient or self reliant. In another place Paul says ‘we put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil.3:3). Don’t believe in yourself. You will fail. Put your confidence in God who will never fail.

1 Corinthians 10:13 …God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will not permit testing above your ability. Are you being severely tempted? You have access to the power that can overcome that temptation. God is faithful. With the trial he will make the escape so that you have the ability to endure. The power is not within you. God is faithful. God provides the escape and the ability to endure. It is yours to resist, to stand firm, to endure, but it is God who supplies you with all the power necessary to successfully stand.

Idols and What We Treasure

Let’s understand this verse in its context; this is the conclusion of an argument, not against sexual temptation, but against idolatry. The next verse gives the conclusion:

1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Paul speaks to sexual temptation in chapters 6-7. Chapters 8-10 deal with idolatry. In Corinth the idolatry was literal pagan temples and restaurants that served meat sacrificed to the idols in these temples. There was tremendous social pressure to do what everyone else was doing, to be invited, to be included, to show up and feel part of things. We all are tempted to idolatry. Idolatry can be anything we value, anything we honor. Our idol is whatever we treasure most. The Corinthians were tempted to treasure social status, acceptance, a sense of belonging; they were tempted to value these things above Jesus. They prized their knowledge, their theological understanding more than a relationship with God. They treasured their God given freedoms more than they treasured the God who gave them these freedoms.

In Chapter 9 Paul uses himself as an example of surrendering rights, God given rights, good things, for the sake of the gospel. Paul is willing to sacrifice his rights, his freedoms.

1 Corinthians 9:12 …Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul understood that even rights and freedoms and good things can become idols if they are held too tightly. What Paul treasured as the one thing of surpassing worth was Jesus, knowing him, being found in him, seeing him glorified as others enter into a relationship with Jesus. In verse 22 he says:

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Then he uses an athletic metaphor to help us understand what he is getting at.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In the Isthmian games held near Corinth, all the Greek city-states competed. There was great pressure to take home the honor of a victory for one’s city. There was a goal. There was a prize. There was one thing. And here Paul brings in this idea of self-control. Every contestant exercises self control in all things. There is inner strength. There is discipline. The one thing is rigorously maintained as the one thing, and that means denying competing desires. Athletes love ice cream and lounging around in fuzzy slippers and jammies all day as much as the next person. But the athlete has his eyes on the prize, and that means letting go of lesser desires. Winning athletes exercise amazing levels of discipline and inner strength to keep the main thing the main thing and to set aside those lesser things that would entangle and get in the way of the prize. But we look forward to hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ from the King of kings. How much more should we use this inner strength to keep focus and move toward the goal? I do not run aimlessly. I keep the prize always in view. I do not waste punches. I specifically target those things that would compete with the primary desire. My body is my slave that I lead around to pursue the one thing. This is what inner strength looks like. The ability to set aside competing desires so that we can focus on the primary desire.

Then he concludes in chapter 10 by saying that we must be on guard against pride and temptation. God will supply the strength to endure. So flee idolatry.

Temptation, Opportunity and Desire

For temptation to be successful, there are three things that must come together. The temptation must combine with desire and opportunity to be effective. I have a deep love for cookies, In the middle of the night it suddenly comes to me that I need a cookie. I am tempted to sneak down to the kitchen to steal a cookie. But if I find there are no cookies in the cookie jar, the temptation is empty. There is desire and temptation but no opportunity. If the next day, there are cookies in the jar, and I walk through the kitchen and see them, the desire is still there; I love cookies, and the opportunity is there, the cookie jar is full, but I’m busy with other things and it doesn’t cross my mind to take one, I have desire and opportunity, but I am not tempted to steal a cookie. On the other hand, I might walk by the cookie jar and see the cookies and be tempted to steal one; The temptation and the opportunity is there, but if my desires have changed, I won’t steal a cookie. If last week I ate so many cookies that I threw them all up, I may no longer have a taste or desire for cookies. Temptation we have little control over. Jesus encourages us to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ (Mat.6:13)

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We have little control over the urge or inclination. We have little control over the opportunity. I can go around asking everyone to stop baking cookies because I have a cookie problem. But at some point the opportunity will be there and I will be tempted. I believe the key to victory is in our desires. It is true that people do what they want. People will do what they want when presented with the opportunity. If I love cookies, if I want to eat cookies, then when I have the opportunity to eat a cookie I will do what I want. If I want to sleep in, I will sleep in. If I want to not be fired or fail my classes, then I will drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed and go to school or work. What is it that I want more? That is what I will do.

Jesus taught us to go after our desires. Jesus said to the religious:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and [without inner strength].

The focus of law is on conformity to measurable standards. But Jesus is after our hearts. The law says do not murder, but Jesus says do not be angry with your brother (Mt.5:21-22; 1Jn.3:15). The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus attacks our desires and says do not lust in your heart (Mt.5:27-28). Jesus says

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

If we only put locks on our phones and computers that keep us from looking at certain things, but our desire is still for those things, at some point we will be presented with the opportunity, and we will fall to temptation. People do what they want to do. We can lock up a criminal and remove his opportunity, but if his desires have not changed, when he gets out he will do what he wants.

Changing Desires

So how do desires change? How do we gain this inner strength to set aside lesser desires to pursue the one desire? The one thing must outweigh everything else. All our desires must be overshadowed by a superior desire. What is that one thing? This is where it gets dangerous. We must replace our desires with the right thing.

Lets say I have a problem with anger. I blow up, lose it, get out of control, and verbally and maybe even physically hurt the people around me. I begin to see I have a problem and I go to get counsel. The counselor tells me to identify the triggers, the things that make me angry and avoid them. Don’t put yourself in those situations where you get angry. That’s great. Remove the opportunity. But what if it’s my wife that makes me angry? ‘Get a divorce.’ What if its my kids that make me angry? Do I get rid of them? That’s bad advice. I will never be able to avoid every situation that might trigger my anger. So I go back to the counselor. She gets my wife to take a video of me the next time I get angry and lose it, and the counselor plays it back to me and says ‘look at what a fool you made of yourself. See how idiotic you are acting? And your outburst doesn’t stop the person from pushing your buttons. In fact they may be pushing your buttons intentionally just to see you blow.’ It works. I don’t want to look like a fool. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. So I change. I have replaced my anger with a different desire. But its the wrong desire. Now I want to have the upper hand. I don’t want anyone to control me. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. I want to be perceived as better. I change, I have less outbursts of anger, but I become proud, condescending, aloof, spiteful, vengeful. I don’t get mad, I get even. You see, it matters what you replace your desires with. If they are replaced with wrong desires you may go from bad to worse.

Desiring God

How do we change in a healthy way? How do we get mastery over our desires and what is the one thing that pushes out all lesser desires?

Look at Jesus. In Matthew 4, he was in the wilderness, and he had been fasting for 40 days and nights. He was literally starving.

Matthew 4:3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Jesus had the desire. He was hungry. He had the opportunity – as the Son of God he had the ability to speak anything he wanted into existence. He was tempted. Satan himself was doing the tempting. But Jesus has true inner strength. Look at what he says:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Do you see what he does? He has a legitimate desire. In his case he had a desperate need. He was hungry. But Jesus says “I have something better. I delight in the voice of my Father more than my taste buds delight in food. He has a greater treasure than food; a greater treasure than life itself. Jesus treasured his relationship with his Father more than life itself. He desired his Father’s glory more than his own.

When temptation, desire and opportunity combine (and they will), you must have the weapon of a superior desire sharpened and ready. Jesus is treasuring his Father. He has been spending time meditating on his Word. He has been enjoying communion with his Father in prayer. He has been tasting and seeing that the LORD is good, so that when temptation came, he was able to compare it with what he had already been enjoying and turn it down flat. God is faithful.

Hebrews 12 tells us:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

What competing desires, what sins, what good things, are getting in the way of the one thing? Do you want the one thing enough that you are willing to lay secondary desires aside? If you don’t think you have the strength, cry out to Jesus for help. God is faithful. He will perfect your faith.

What is your one thing? If you don’t have the one thing clear, you will be aimless and make little progress. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Look to Jesus, who endured the cross, who rejoiced to obey his Father, who lived (and died) to bring him glory. Fix your eyes on Jesus, taste and see that he is good, experience that he is better, allow him to be your one desire.

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

August 22, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spirit’s Fruit: Joy Like Jesus

06/04 The Spirit’s Fruit: Joy Like Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170604_joy-like-jesus.mp3

The fruit of the Spirit is joy. It is interesting that joy is mentioned second. In a list of nine aspects of the Christian life, love tops the list and joy comes right after it. I don’t want to make too big a deal about the order, because as we’ve seen, every aspect is essential. This is one indivisible fruit produced by the Holy Spirit. All these characteristics together make up the genuine fruit. I think people would agree that the most important character trait of a Christian is love. But what would you choose next? After love, what is the next attribute or characteristic you think of when you think of a Jesus follower? Do you think of someone who is patient or kind? Someone who is faithful? Self-controlled? What do you see most evident in the followers of Jesus you know? What do you see being produced in your own heart? Do you see joy? Would others look at you and say ‘I see love there, and I see joy’?

Remember, this is not a list of moral virtues like those other lists we find in ancient Greek literature, where it is agreed that a good citizen will be upright and honest and generous and chaste, because that is what is best for society. It is true, a Christian who has the fruit of the Spirit growing in his life will be the best citizen, and will do what is best for society, but that is not the point here. The point is not to produce outward conformity to a standard that is agreed upon as best for everyone. No, this is fruit, changed heart, changed desires, transformed affections. This is not ‘look at the areas where you fall short and with self-discipline and force of will improve yourself so that you can stay out of jail and make a positive contribution to society.’ No. this is fruit. Paul says it comes by faith; by believing; It is organically produced by God the Holy Spirit living in you. It comes by looking with faith to Jesus, falling in love with Jesus. It is a change at the very core of your being. It is a change of your identity. It is a change in who you are. You were a selfish person; now you are a loving person. You were a grumpy irritable angry sour dour down person; now you are joyful. This is something that can’t be explained naturally; this is supernatural change – Holy Spirit change. This is something you can’t change by trying. This happens by faith; trusting God to work this in you by his power. This is what we mean when we talk about being ‘born again.’ The Holy Spirit of God comes in and begins to change and re-arrange things, he creates new things and puts to death old things. The new birth is inward transformation that results in a changed way of viewing life, changed attitudes, changed patterns of thinking, changed responses to circumstances.

Now remember, this is fruit; it grows. Organically. Slowly. Often imperceptibly. But inevitably.

Joy Defined

So what is this joy we are after? What does it look like? What does it act like? To define biblical joy, which is Spirit produced supernatural fruit, I want to look at something Jesus said in the beatitudes in Luke 6. Typically when we talk about the beatitudes of Jesus you might turn to Matthew 5, where Jesus says ‘blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek…’ But did you know Luke also records Jesus’ beatitudes?

What Joy is Not

In Luke 6, Jesus is declaring blessings on his followers. Actually blessings and curses. There are two ways to live. There is the way of blessing, the way of happiness, the way of joy; and there is the way of woe, the way of cursing, the way of pain, the wide road that leads to destruction. Jesus is warning us that there is a counterfeit happiness that is temporary and leads to destruction. We need to hear this, because there are so many false teachers selling a false gospel that if you follow Jesus he will bless you and prosper you and meet all your needs. You are a child of the king; so you should live like a king. Circumstances will go well for you. You will be healthy and wealthy and wise, and people will like you.

I want to start down in verse 24 with the curses, and then we will go back to the blessings to see what real joy looks like. We need to hear these warnings and guard ourselves against the counterfeit.

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Notice the temporary nature of the counterfeit. There is the ‘now’ and the ‘you shall’. Woe to you who are rich now, who are full now, who laugh now, who are well spoken of by all now. As followers of Jesus, there is no promise of those things now. Those who have it all now have all the comfort they will ever have now. They shall not be comforted then. They shall be hungry, they shall mourn and weep. They will be condemned like the false prophets.

Joy that Coexists with Suffering

So true joy is not connected with popularity or prosperity or plenty. Let’s look back at verse 20 to see what Jesus says about real joy.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Happy are the poor. Happy are the hungry. Happy are the sorrowful. Happy are the hated. This sounds contradictory. Remember this is not natural joy; this is fruit – supernatural joy. Notice there is an enduring character to the blessedness. There is a present circumstance; poverty, hunger, sorrow, persecution. There is a future hope; the kingdom, satisfaction, laughter, reward in heaven. But there is a permanent blessedness. They are blessed. There is a future hope, but there is a present and enduring blessedness. There is definitely a future aspect of joy, but this joy overlaps with the present persecution and suffering. In the day that you are excluded and slandered and hated, in that very day leap for joy! The future hope bleeds over into a present experience of joy.

So does this passage mean that we should we bankrupt ourselves and starve ourselves and become obnoxious so people hate us? Is that the path to blessing? Jesus did not tell everyone with possessions to give away all that they have, but he did tell the rich young man “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk.10:21) because Jesus loved him and perceived he was treasuring temporal things more than God himself. In Matthew 5 Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Happy are the ones who are aware of their poverty, their own spiritual need, and look to Jesus to rescue them. This rich man came to Jesus asking ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life’ (Mk.10:17). Jesus was showing him that it wasn’t what he could do; he had a heart problem. He loved the wrong things. He needed someone to transform his desires.

How is hunger a blessing? The Matthew passage says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The ones who are happy are those who understand their desperate lack of the righteousness that God requires and turn to him alone to meet their need.

What about persecution? We are not excluded and slandered and hated because we are obnoxious and rude and socially inappropriate; Matthew 5 says ‘blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” We are hated only because of our relationship with Jesus.

Joy Untouched by Circumstances

Notice this joy is a joy that is untouched by circumstances. How often is our joy a product of circumstances. Things are going well at work or in my relationships or with my finances and I have joy. But when money is tight and things are out of control and I’m facing frustrations, I experience fear and anxiety and become irritable. That is natural. But this joy is unaffected by circumstances. It actually thrives in adversity. It can coexist with grief and pain and loss.

In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples to stay connected to him, to abide in him. He says in verse 11:

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

Then he commands them to love, and goes on to warn them that the world will hate you like it hated me. In chapter 16 he informs them that he is leaving, but promises the presence of the Holy Spirit. In 16:20 he says:

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

Notice what he does not say. He does not say ‘you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will be removed and replaced by joy.’ He does not say that when you are done being sorrowful and circumstances change, then you will have joy.’ What he says is ‘your sorrow will turn into joy.’ Then he gives an illustration of what he is talking about.

John 16:21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

Childbirth, I have been told, is painful. There is sorrow. You might even say anguish. Unless she has been medicated enough so that she cannot feel. The word there is affliction, persecution, tribulation; literally it means pressure. When the hour comes, there is pressure. So much pressure it is extremely painful. Then the birth happens. If all goes well, the room that was just moments ago a place of great agony is suddenly filled with joy. But the pain is not gone. She still hurts, and she will continue to experience pain for a long time after. But that pain is now overwhelmed by something else, something greater than the pain. The pain had purpose. The pain was worth it. The pain is overcome by the joy. It is not that the sorrow is removed and replaced with joy; the sorrow remains, but it is overwhelmed by joy. Jesus says:

John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

This is a joy that is unconquerable. This is a joy that is greater than all the sorrows we could face. This is not joy because you get to escape from sorrow. Remember, Jesus is saying this to his apostles. Have you ever read some of the stories of how the apostles were martyred? Jesus knew exactly what his followers would experience, the suffering they would endure, and yet he promises that no one could take their joy from them. He tells them ‘Your joy will be full, because it is my joy in you. No one will take your joy from you.’ This is Jesus’ joy in us.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…

Joy in Trials

This joy is a joy that can even rejoice in trials and suffering. James 1 says:

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

We see this also in 1 Peter and many other places. Romans 5 says

Romans 5:3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…

C.H. Spurgeon commented about trials

trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart—he finds it full—he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it.” [C.H.Spurgeon, M&E, Morning Feb 12, 2 Cor.1:5]

In 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul speaks of his affliction and persecution, he says:

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul says that the affliction we endure is actually working in us, preparing for us an eternal weight of glory. He says in Romans 8:

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Paul also uses the metaphor of labor pains. He calls them light and momentary. Not worth comparing. Really Paul? Countless beatings? Scourgings? Being stoned and left for dead? Shipwreck? Abandoned? Betrayal? Lack of basic needs? Light momentary affliction that is working in us an eternal weight of glory; not affliction that will be replaced by glory; but affliction that is accomplishing for us – that is digging deep my capacity for joy. In proper perspective the affliction is seen as light, momentary, transient. The glory, the joy is weighty beyond all comparison. The joy will overwhelm any sorrow and make it as if it were nothing at all.

But you don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know what has been done to me. No, I don’t. And I don’t want to undermine or invalidate anything you have experienced. What I do want you to see, is that this is true for you. The joy promised us is greater, more immense, more weighty, more substantial than any suffering you have experienced. The wrongs done to you can be swallowed up in unquenchable joy.

I have tried to show you from the scripture that this joy is an enjoyment, a deep satisfying happiness, a weighty delight that is not grounded in outward circumstances. A joy that is not only not affected by circumstances, but can even thrive in the midst of and even because of adverse circumstances. A joy that is so weighty it can swallow up all sorrow. What is this joy and how do we get it?

Joy Linked to Love

Back in Luke 6, our passage on rejoicing and leaping for joy, even in the midst of suffering, Jesus links this kind of joy to love.

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Every aspect of the fruit is linked to all the others. Rejoicing and leaping for joy while being persecuted is linked to love for enemies. Love is willingly, even joyfully self-giving for the good of the other. Joy accompanies this kind of love.

Jesus loved the rich man. He wanted him to experience real lasting joy. He wanted him to have the joy that moth and rust could not destroy, that thieves could not break in and steal. He wanted him to have joy in following Jesus. This man went away sorrowful, because of unbelief. He did not believe that the treasure in heaven was greater than his treasure on earth.

Fight for Joy with Joy

In love, Jesus calls us to make war against our fleshly desires. Do not settle for all those things that do not satisfy; insist on having the true joy that Jesus offers. We must fight for joy and we must fight with joy. We can overcome temptation only because we have something better. Are you enticed by the dollar store trinket when you are already in possession of the real thing? Yes! Yes we are, because our desires are deceitful (Eph.4:22). They lie to us and tell us that the plastic imitation is better than the genuine article. The rich fool went away sorrowful because he felt the change in his pocket was more weighty than an eternity following Jesus.

Joy in the Giver above the Gift

Contrast him to the man in Jesus’ story who found treasure hidden in a field and for joy sold all that he had and went and bought that field (Mt.13:44). He was not sorrowful over all he was losing. He was filled with joy because he knew that what he was giving up was nothing compared to what he was gaining. This is the joy of the Christian.

What is the treasure? What is the substance of our joy? What is it that overwhelms all our sorrows and outweighs all our treasures? Paul says

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him… 10 that I may know him…

The thing that is better than all the gifts we could possibly enjoy is the giver himself. That I may know him. The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Being found in him. Abiding in him. Fullness of joy in relationship with him.

Psalm 16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” …5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; …8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. … 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

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

June 5, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Works vs Fruit; Galatians 5

05/21 The Work of the Spirit and the War Against the Flesh [Galatians 5:13-21; 24-26]; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170521_works-vs-fruit.mp3

Today we begin a series on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. I believe this will be very practical and helpful, and I would invite you to be praying with me that God the Holy Spirit would be at work through his word to produce his fruit in the lives of his people for his glory.

~prayer~

Paul is in anguish over the Galatians. He is astonished that they are deserting Jesus and turning to a different gospel. These Gentiles are being pressured to submit to the Jewish law. Paul is fighting to preserve the truth of the gospel, the good news that we are declared right before God not by keeping the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not me attempting to live up to some standard, but Christ living in me, a life lived “by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20). Paul is eager to embrace the freely given grace of God, and he understands that if righteousness could come through the law then Christ was crucified in vain.

Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ

He says in chapter 3

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

The Christian life is begun by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. I hear with desperate dependence the good news proclaimed that Christ was crucified for me. The Holy Spirit is at work in me so that as I hear the gospel I trust not my abilities but Christ alone. The Spirit works this in me. Having freely received the Spirit through faith, is it now up to my flesh to finish the work he began in me? Of course not! If the beginning of the Christian life is a work of the Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, so the continuance and completion of the Christian life is all a work of the Holy Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Sanctification by Grace through Faith in Christ

Paul says in Galatians 4

Galatians 4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Paul’s longing is that Christ would be formed in them. Christ – himself – formed in you. Christ – who lives in me. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This is no human effort. Paul’s heart is that they would live in complete daily dependence on the Spirit in them to produce the character of Christ in them.

In chapter 5 he warns not to fall away from grace, to turn from the freely given gift of God who is at work in us by his Spirit, in order to attempt to obtain righteousness by our own effort.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

We do not work, we eagerly wait. We wait for the hope of righteousness; a confident assurance of a righteousness that God will bring about in us. We trust. We depend. We believe. Through the Spirit. By faith. We wait. It is not our effort. Not what we do or don’t do that “counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” It is not me working, but faith working. Dependence on God is at work, and it expresses itself in love.

Freedom to Want

In verse 13, Paul warns against misusing this freedom we have in Christ, our freedom from the law, in a way that allows the flesh to gain traction.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are set free in Christ to fulfill the law by serving one another through love. So many misunderstand freedom as a freedom from any authority. Rather freedom in Christ is freedom from the tyranny of a cruel slave-master to be back under the good and right authority of the God who is love. It is a freedom at the heart level. We are no longer under debt and an obligation to live up to the standards of the law. Instead we are freed to do what we want. We are set free at the level of our desires. We are set free from the suicidal desires that compelled us to pursue things that destroy; we are set free at the heart level to hunger and thirst after the things that truly satisfy.

War of Desires

Paul warns:

Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Life by the Spirit is war. There is war outside and war within. Paul warns; if you bite and devour one another, watch out; our fleshly desires stir us up against one another. If we follow the flesh (and often we do) we will be biting and devouring each other.

But as believers in Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God. We still have the old nature, the flesh. And our sinful flesh will not just roll over and admit defeat. It will not go down without a fight. So we have a war on our hands; a war within. It will be long – lifelong. It will be messy – there will be casualties. But we are assured of victory – the outcome is certain. We battle a decisively defeated foe. The flesh was defeated at the cross. If we are in Christ, if we have identified with him in his death and resurrection, the victory has already been won. Jesus conquered sin and death and hell on the cross. And my flesh was crucified with him on that cross.

By flesh the Bible doesn’t mean physical bodies. Our bodies are not inherently evil. Our physical bodies will be resurrected glorified. We will enjoy a sinless existence in our physical bodies in the presence of God for eternity. God created Adam and Eve with physical bodies in the garden and he said it was all very good. Our bodies are not the problem. The flesh is the problem. By the flesh, the Bible means that fallen part of us that desires other things more than God. It is that part of us that wants to be our own master, determine our own destiny, live for our own glory, be our own god. As believers, we now have the Holy Spirit living within, and we now have competing desires. The flesh has its desires, and the Holy Spirit brings with him his desires, and these two are in conflict. The Holy Spirit desires to magnify Jesus above all.

These competing desires ‘keep you from doing the things you want to do.’ We are in a battle. But who is the you? You are either giving in to the flesh, biting and devouring one another, or you are led by the Holy Spirit, free from the law, through love serving one another. So who is the you? What is your identity? Do you embrace the flesh, with its passions and desires, or do you embrace the Spirit, and allow him to transform you? This is a big deal.

Works of the Flesh

In verse 19, he moves from talking about the desires of the flesh to the works of the flesh.

Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The flesh manifests itself. There are fifteen words that divide into four categories here. The first three words have to do with sexual sin; sexual immorality, sexual impurity, uncontrolled lust. Then there are two words dealing with religious pursuits; idolatry and sorcery. The flesh makes an idol out of just about anything; family, relationships, work, success, kids, power, reputation. Sorcery is an attempt to gain control by manipulating the spiritual realm. The next 8 are relationship words. And most of these are in the plural; they have multiple manifestations, they may take multiple forms. Enmity – hostile feelings and actions; strife- contention and discord; jealousy – an envious rivalry; fits of anger – bursts of temper; rivalries – selfish ambitions; dissensions – uprisings or controversies; divisions – creating factions; envy – ill will or spite. Most of these are inward attitudes and feelings, attitudes of the heart. The last two, drunkenness and orgies, have to do with excess; excessive drinking, excessive feasting or partying. The desires of the flesh display themselves in works of deviant and destructive sexuality, dark religious practices, self-centered and damaging relational dynamics, and excessive overindulgence.

Recognize, this is a big deal. This is a warning. Paul says ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ So this is a salvation issue. If you have embraced the desires of the flesh, if your life is characterized by the works of the flesh, if there is no battle between flesh and Spirit, then you may not know Jesus. But don’t be discouraged; if you are not winning the battle all the time, if you are still struggling against the same sins. The fact that there is a battle going on and you are convicted over your sins is a good sign.

We could look at Jesus’ story of the prodigal and see these fleshly desires manifesting themselves in the works of the flesh. The prodigal idolized money and freedom from all authority and sinful pleasure. He indulged in sexual immorality, excessive drinking and partying.

We could look at his unforgiving older brother and see enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.

These are the normal outworkings of the flesh. But when the Spirit comes in, then there is war.

Of course we could look at the father in the story and see the fruit of the Spirit on display; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We will look at these characteristics in the coming weeks.

How is the Fruit of the Spirit not a list of moral virtues? (070218)

We need to understand how the lifestyle of the morally upright around us fits in to this overall picture. We acknowledge that many that don’t know Christ personally live lives that we would describe as ‘good’; they are kind, patient, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, they exercise patience, they are peace loving, they show love to others, and they seem happy. Does this mean that the Spirit is at work in their lives? Is this evidence of the Holy Spirit, and should we conclude that people who live this way must be justified believers, because Jesus says ‘by their fruits you shall know them’? In fact we probably can think of people we know that do not follow Jesus that we would say have more of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives than we do. Do we have biblical categories in our minds to fit these facts into? Or does this confuse us and cause us to question and doubt?

Let’s look at what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:16-20 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Now that sounds pretty clear-cut. If you can see the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life, then they must be O.K. with God, right? If they are loving, kind, good, gentle, patient and self-controlled, then they must be on the right track. Be careful not to jump to conclusions before you’ve read the whole passage. Let’s keep reading and see what Jesus says next:

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So, apparently there will be people who on the surface appear to have it all together; even people who sincerely feel that they have it all together, who will be very surprised on judgment day. They will say things like ‘but Jesus, we acknowledge you as Lord; we believe in you’. And Jesus says, ‘no, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’. They will say ‘but we did that; we prophesied, we even cast out demons in your name; we did many mighty works in your name’. So they were doing good works. They were performing great acts of love. And not just that; there were supernatural things going on. Prophecies were being given; people were being delivered from evil spirits. Obviously the Spirit was at work in their lives. But on this ground they were not welcome in heaven. What was it that they lacked? Jesus says the critical thing is not what you do; it’s who you know. Jesus says ‘I never knew you. You may have done some amazing things. You may be the most loving, kind, generous person around, you might have even done these things in the name of Jesus, but we had no relationship. I never knew you.’ And Jesus sends them away and calls them ‘workers of lawlessness’. How can he say that when they were doing good works? In God’s eyes all their love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control were filthy rags in his sight. Their good works were valueless because they didn’t stem from a relationship with Jesus.

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

Contrast Works and Fruit

Notice the flesh is always working, striving, exerting effort to attain its unwholesome desires. The Spirit grows fruit. It is an organic thing. It is not manufactured. If the right seed is planted, the right plant sprouts up. Whatever kind of tree it is, that is the kind of fruit that will be produced. There are ways to encourage and enhance fruitfulness; preparing the soil, watering, fertilizing, pruning. But ultimately the fruit is determined by the nature of the tree. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in keeping with his nature.

Notice also, the fruit of the Spirit is singular, where the works of the flesh are plural. There are various and disjointed manifestations of the fleshly desires. But the Spirit produces wholeness, integration, integrity. This is one fruit. It has different sides, different aspects; but it is one. It is one multifaceted fruit.

And take encouragement here. If you belong to Christ, you have the Spirit of the living God living within you.

Romans 8 tells us

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

And he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1Jn.4:4). And he who is in you is greater than your flesh. God wins! He will be victorious in your life. If the Spirit is there, he will produce his fruit in your life. He will not fail. If God could take the one who was crushed down under the weight of the sin of the world and raise him up to life again, he is fully able to overcome your fleshly desires and produce the satisfying fruit of the Spirit. Christ will be formed in you!

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

May 22, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Church and the Glory of God; Ephesians 1

01/15 The Church and the Glory of God [Ephesians 1]; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170115_church-glory-of-god.mp3

We have been looking for the last two weeks at the purpose of the church. We have seen from the book of Ephesians that the church is meant to be rooted and built on the astounding truths of our identity in Christ as believers totally dependent on the mercy and undeserved grace of a good God. We are to know together, “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph.3:17-19).

We as the church are to live in a manner consistent with the gospel and with our new identity as saints in Christ Jesus. We are to put off the old ways that are inconsistent with that, and to put on the new attitudes, new ways of thinking, new ways of feeling and living that are consistent with who we are in Christ Jesus. (Eph.4:17-6:9)

We as the church are to be diligent to guard our unity in the gospel (Eph.4:1-6).

We as the church are to use what we have been given in love to build one another up (Eph.4:7-16).

We are to be equipped for works of service. For building one another up. For unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. For maturity. For the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We are to be equipped against immaturity, against false doctrine, against human cunning and deceitful schemes (Eph.4:12-13).

We as the church are to stand firm, with prayer, in the gospel realities that belong to us in Christ (Eph.6:10-20)

Our focus for the last two weeks has been on who we are as the church, and what we are to be about. Today, I would like to take several long steps back and look at the big picture of why.

What is to be our ultimate goal? What is the reason we do everything we do? Through what lens should we view everything?

We find the answer in Ephesians 1. The very first thing Paul says after greeting the Ephesians is ‘Blessed be God.’ He begins with a benediction or eulogy. Literally a good word; eu means good and logos means word; to speak a good word of God, to praise, to adore. God is to be blessed. God is to be spoken well of. God is to be blessed because he has blessed us with every blessing. God is to be spoken well of because he has spoken well of us when there was nothing at all good to say, because in Christ he has made us good. God is to be blessed. God is to be glorified. Blessed be God.

To the Praise of his Glorious Grace

We could ask the question of our ultimate goal from a different perspective. Why does God do what he does? What is his ultimate goal? If we can understand what motivates God to do what he does, we would do well in adopting the same motive.What is the reason God does everything he does?

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.

Why does God do what he does? We bless God in response to his blessing us. He chose us so that we would be holy and blameless before him. He predestined us for adoption according to the purpose of his will. What was the purpose of his will? To the praise of his glorious grace. God chose us, God adopted us, God blesses us, not because we did anything to deserve it, but to the praise of his glorious grace. His grace, the outpouring of unmerited blessing and favor is astounding and worthy of all praise. His grace, the freely given unearned riches of goodness in Christ Jesus is glorious. God does what he does according to the good pleasure of his will, to put his own marvelous character on display. God’s choice of you, his purpose to make you holy and blameless in his presence, his adoption of you as his own sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, is moving toward a bigger purpose. It is all ‘to the praise of his glorious grace!’ It is not about me. It is not about you. We are blessed beyond measure in the process, we receive inestimable benefits; but it is all about God! We are trophies of his grace, ultimately to put his gracious character on display. It is all ‘to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us; literally ‘with which he has graced us in the Beloved’.

Grace Lavished

Ephesians 1:7 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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Jesus, God’s only Beloved Son, purchased us with his own blood, Jesus secured forgiveness for all our trespasses with his own precious blood. Our forgiveness, our redemption was “according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” God is rich in grace.

His love has no limits,

His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of his infinite riches in Jesus,

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. [Annie J. Flint, 1866-1932]

God’s grace is rich enough to forgive all our collective trespasses. God’s grace is made to superabound to us, the saints, the church, to put on display his great great grace. We live as forgiven, redeemed people to display his excessive grace.

To Unite All In Him

God makes to abound to us his grace,

Ephesians 1:8 …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.

What is the mystery of his will? What is his wise purpose? What is his plan for the fullness of time? To unite all things in him. It is not about us! It is all about Jesus! God’s good pleasure that he purposed in Christ, the mystery of his will made known is to sum up all things; heavenly things, earthly things, all things; nothing is excluded; his purpose is to bring all things together in Christ the head. All things without exception are purposed to bring Jesus glory.

To the Praise of The Glory of the Son

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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Our inheritance, our destiny is worked together by the one who works all things according to the purpose of his will. God’s will, God’s purpose, God’s counsel is that we be to the praise of his glory. We exist to the praise of his glory. We whose only hope is Christ, we the saints, we the church, exist to magnify his glory. This is a clear purpose statement. ‘So that we might be to the praise of his glory.’ God’s purpose for us is that we ultimately exist for the praise of his glory. Our purpose as a church must fall in line with God’s purpose for us; we exist for the praise of his glory.

To the Praise of The Glory of the Spirit

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

We heard the truth, the good news proclamation of our salvation. We believed in Jesus. Hearing and believing we were sealed. God placed his mark on us, he marked us out as belonging to him. The seal is no ouward mark, but he sent his Holy Spirit to live inside us. God the Holy Spirit is our security deposit guaranteeing the full possession of our inheritance. This Holy Spirit deposit guaranteeing the full possession our graciously promised inheritance is to the praise of his glory. God is praised as God who makes fully good on all his staggering promises.

Triune Glory

Look back over this passage. Three times we have seen this phrase ‘to the praise of his glory.’ God the Father has blessed us and purposed us to be in his presence, to the praise of his glorious grace. Our purpose as those who hope in Christ is that we might be to the praise of the glory of Jesus. We who believed were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit as we wait to take possession of our inheritance, to the praise of the glory of the Holy Spirit. This is trinitarian praise to the glory of our triune God!

The Glory of God in Ephesians

Look down at verses 15-23. Paul gives thanks and prays for the saints, that ‘the Father of glory’ would give us wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, that we would know the hope to which we are called, the riches of his glorious inheritance in us, the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us. And then he points us to Christ, whom God exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named. God gave Jesus as head over all things to the church, his body. We need spiritual strength to perceive the immeasurable greatness of God toward us who believe. The goal of it all is that Jesus be exalted over everything.

Look at chapter 2 verse 7. Paul lays out our utterly hopeless condition and God’s rich mercy, great love, and amazing grace,

Ephesians 2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

God saved us in the way that he did, in order to eliminate any potential of boasting on our part, and in order to display for eternity the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us. God brought about our salvation in the way that he did, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, in order that all glory would go to God alone. We are indeed put on display as his workmanship!

He goes on in chapter 2 to describe the unity that God brought about through the gospel of the cross between Jews and Gentiles. We grow up in Christ Jesus, joined together as a holy temple to the Lord, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. God is glorified in his temple, as we the temple are knit together in unexpected unity.

In chapter 3, Paul speaks of his being a minister of the gospel as the gift of God’s grace, given to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light this mystery that Gentiles are members of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel. The purpose of displaying the inexplicable unity of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ is given in verse 10.

Ephesians 3:10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

In the church, the many faceted wisdom of God is put on display for all the angelic hosts to see. In 3:14-19 he again prays to the Father that we would be strengthend by the Spirit to comprehend together the immeasurable love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and he closes his prayer with a doxology;

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever. The glory of God is the church’s great aim.

In chapter 4, he encourages our unity, humility and love, and points us to the “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (v.6) and to Jesus, “the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (v.10). We as the church are to grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, grow up into Christ the head who joins us all together in love.

He concludes some practical exhortation in chapter 5 the will of the Lord, being filled with the Spirit,

Ephesians 5:19 …singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The will of God for the church is Spirit filled worship and thanksgiving. At the end of chapter 5, he talks about marriage, but his attention is still on Christ and the church. Christ’s goal in the salvation of the church is

Ephesians 5:27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Jesus is looking to that great day when we the church will be presented as a pure virgin to Christ.

In chapter 6, we are to fight the good fight of faith in the strength of the Lord with the power he gives, and in all dependence of prayer, to demonstrate that the victory belongs to the Lord, so that the Lord alone gets the glory.

Romans 15; Glorify with One Voice

I’d like to look as we close at a very practical passage in Romans 15. Paul is dealing with our tendency to pass judgment on others in the body over secondary issues. He says:

Romans 15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

We are not to please ourselves. We are to bear with the failings of others. We are to seek to please others for their good, to build them up. We are to live in harmony with one another, in tune with Christ. Our ultimate purpose?

Romans 15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

This is a gift of God. God grant us encurance and encouragement to live in such harmony with one another. Glorifying God together with one voice. Not in monotone unity all singing the same note, but in a beautiful multifaceted harmony, all in tune with our one Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s glory is primary. God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of the church. Why do we as the church do what we do? To the praise of his gloryious grace. Why do we not do what we don’t do? To the praise of his glory. The glory of God must define all that we do. What can we use to filter every decision? Will this bring glory to God in the church? God’s glory is the purpose of creation, of redemption, of everything. We as the church must seek to fulfill God’s purpose that we sing his praises and enjoy the supreme glory of our triune God in his presence for all eternity.

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

January 16, 2017 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Communion With the Spirit

11/15 Communion With The Spirit ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151115_communion-with-spirit.mp3

We are looking at the primary thing that sets Christianity apart from all other religions, and that is who God is. God in the Bible reveals himself as Father, Son and Spirit, three distinct someones; yet the Bible is just as clear that there is only one true God who eternally exists. Christians have coined the word ‘trinity’ or ‘tri-unity’ to summarize this biblical teaching.

1 John 1:3 tells us:

1 John 1:3 …and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

And the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13 prays that:

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

We have looked at our fellowship with the person of the Father, the person of Jesus the Son, and today we will be looking at our particular communion or fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit, why is he called that, and what is our unique relationship with him?

Again, this will be a broad overview. Entire volumes have been written on this subject, so think of this as a kind of primer to stimulate you to do your own study as you enjoy your relationship with this third person of the triune God.

The Holy Spirit

Why is the third person of the triune God called the Holy Spirit? First, we must say that the name ‘Spirit’ does not refer to his essence. The Spirit is not spirit in contrast to the Father and Son, who are material beings. No, the Bible teaches that God in his essence is spiritual, he is not physical, not subject to the limitations and confines of matter. The name ‘Spirit’ applied to the third person refers not to his essence (because all three share the same spiritual essence), but to his relation to the Father and the Son. The word ‘Spirit’ comes from the term ‘spirare’ to breathe; we recognize the root in the words ‘aspirate’ or ‘respiration’. The Old Testament Hebrew word Ruach means breath or wind. The New Testament Greek word for Spirit is Pneuma, which also means breath or wind. Jesus symbolized this when in John 20 he breathed on his disciples and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’

John 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Just as we say that the Son is begotten or eternally generated by the Father, so the Spirit is eternally spirated or breathed out or proceeds from the Father and the Son. More on this later.

In a similar way, the Spirit is called Holy, not because he is holy and the Father and the Son are not (because God in his essence is perfectly holy), but the Spirit is called Holy because his person is particularly responsible for producing holiness in us. Again, more on that later.

A Distinct Divine Person

In the Bible, the Spirit is called the Spirit of God (Gen.1:2; Mt.3:16), the Spirit of the Father (Mt.10:20), the Spirit of Christ (Rom.8:9, Gal.4:6; Phil.1:19), and the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7). Why do we believe that he is his own distinct person and not merely the spirit of another person?

There are several passages where the Holy Spirit is listed alongside the Father and the Son in a way that would be awkward and misleading if they were not three distinct but equal persons. We already looked at the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, which lists the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. Look also at the baptismal formula Jesus gives us in Matthew 28.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

This is one singular name, yet it is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We can illustrate how significant this is by trying to insert something else in the place of one of the three. ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the archangel Michael and of the Holy Spirit’, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Or ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the force or the power of God’. No, an angel or an impersonal force would be entirely out of place in this threefold name. The Holy Spirit is just as personally distinct and fully divine as are the Father and the Son. We see the same think at Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, and a voice came from heaven addressing Jesus as ‘my beloved Son’.

Luke 3:21 …when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In Luke 4, we see Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, and in verse 14

Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee..

If the Spirit is merely the impersonal power of God, this statement is redundant. He is not saying that Jesus returned in the power of the power.

When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the apostles about their giving, Peter confronted them.

Acts 5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … 4 …You have not lied to man but to God.” …9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? …

The Holy Spirit is a person who can be lied to, and to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God. The Holy Spirit is God. Throughout the book of Acts we see the Spirit active in the daily life of the believers. In Acts 13,

Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

…4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

The Holy Spirit responds to the worship of the Lord, and gives direction. He speaks, and he refers to himself as ‘me’ and ‘I’. He calls. He sends. He is a person.

John 14-16; The Spirit Sent

When we look at what Jesus says in John 14-16, we begin to see his relationship with the Holy Spirit.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Here we see Jesus asking his Father to send the Helper, the Comforter or Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls him another Helper. Jesus is about to leave his disciples. But he promises another Comforter, another of the same kind as himself. Jesus tells his followers that they know the Holy Spirit because he dwells with them. He will dwell in them.

John 14:24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Jesus has taught his followers the words his Father gave him to teach. The Father sent Jesus, and the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The Spirit will bring Jesus’ words to remembrance. And the Holy Spirit will teach you all things. As Jesus was a teacher, so the Spirit will be a teacher.

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

When we get to chapter 15, we see something different. Where in chapter 14, Jesus asked his Father to send the Spirit, Here in chapter 15 Jesus says ‘I will send the Spirit to you from the Father’. The Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Spirit is sent by both Jesus and his Father. The Spirit is here called the Spirit of truth, and he will testify or bear witness about Jesus.

In John 16 Jesus says:

John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

Jesus again claims that he will send the Spirit to his followers. But they are filled with sorrow because Jesus is leaving them. Most followers of Jesus would trade anything to have the physical presence of their Lord Jesus with them. But Jesus says ‘it is to your advantage that I go away’. It is better, it is more profitable, it is preferable that Jesus go away. It is to your advantage. How can this be? The way Jesus would go away is to die on the cross as a substitute for our sins. As a result of his finished work for us, he would send the Spirit into his followers, not just to be with them, but to be in them. It was prophesied of Jesus that he would baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit (Jn.1:33). Listen to how Jesus describes the work of the Spirit.

John 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Spirit will convict the world. Jesus taught the multitudes, but very few believed in him. There will be an inward work of the Spirit that far surpasses even the preaching of Jesus himself. In the book of Acts, after the Spirit had come, Peter preached to the crowds, and ‘they were cut to the heart’ (Acts 2:37). They responded ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ and about three thousand received his word and were added to the church.

Jesus goes on:

John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The Spirit will guide the apostles into all the truth. Just as Jesus claimed to speak not on his own authority, but only what the Father told him to speak, so he says the Spirit will not speak on his own authority, but only what he hears. He will declare things that are to come. He will glorify Jesus, by taking what belongs to Jesus and declaring it to you.

So we learn from John 14-16 that the Spirit is a Comforter or Advocate, he will dwell in believers forever. He is the Spirit of truth, who will teach us all things, remind us of what Jesus taught, and guide us into truth. He will bring inward conviction to the world. He will bear witness to Jesus and glorify Jesus.

Communion With the Spirit

What else does the bible tell us about our particular relationship with the Holy Spirit?

We are invited to ask for the Holy Spirit.

Luke 11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Spirit is given to us freely.

John 3:34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

The Spirit is poured out on us richly.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

The Spirit sanctifies or sets us apart to belong to God.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

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

The Spirit gives life

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” … 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

2 Corinthians 3:6 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.

The Spirit seals every believer in Jesus as his own.

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

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

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

The Spirit communicates God’s love to us

Romans 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 8 is packed with precious truth about the Spirit. The Spirit brings life and freedom.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Believers walk according to the Spirit, live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit, and life in the Spirit brings about life and peace.

The Spirit dwells in every believer.

Romans 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

By the Spirit we are able to put to death the deeds of the body.

Romans 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We are led by the Spirit.

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

We have received the Spirit of adoption as sons. The Spirit bears witness that we are children of God. God’s glory is about to be revealed in us!

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We have the firstfruits of the Spirit. We have a deep inward longing for the consummation of our adoption, when our bodies are redeemed.

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Spirit helps us to pray. The Spirit himself prays for us.

The Spirit illumines God’s truth to us.

1 Corinthians 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

The Spirit gives gifts to the church.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The Spirit produces fruit in our lives and makes us holy.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Resisting, Quenching and Grieving

Although as believers the Holy Spirit will never leave us, there are some clear warnings against thwarting his work in our lives. Acts 7 is actually addressed to unbelievers.

Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Unbelievers resist the Holy Spirit by not taking to heart the Spirit breathed words of Scripture.

1 Thessalonians is addressed to believers.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

We can quench the Spirit by despising his truth. With that there is a warning to test the spirits to see if they are from God.

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

Ephesians 4:30 comes in the context of corrupting talk and bitterness among believers. These things grieve the Holy Spirit.

Worshiping the Spirit

Should we direct our worship toward the Holy Spirit? Is it appropriate to pray to the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is fully God, and therefore worthy of our worship and adoration. He is no less God than the Father or the Son, and no less worthy of honor and praise. We ought to recognize his unique work in us and thank him for it. We should take to heart warning from Jesus that we not blaspheme or speak against the Holy Spirit (Mt.12:31-32). This would imply that we are to honor the Holy Spirit just as we honor Christ. However, we should also take caution from the fact that nowhere in Scripture do we see worship clearly directed toward the Spirit. This is likely because the role of the Spirit is to bring us to Christ and to glorify Christ.

Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

We worship by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God sets us apart and makes us new and regenerates us and awakens in us a heart to worship God. We most honor the Spirit by responding to his conviction, by believing in Jesus, by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and walking with him in the freedom of righteousness that Jesus has purchased for us, by following his desire to draw attention to Jesus and glorify Jesus.

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

November 15, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trinity in the Old Testament

10/25 Trinity in the Old Testament; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151025_trinity-old-testament.mp3

We saw last time that the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct someones, that Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, yet there is only one true God. This is what we mean when we use the word ‘trinity’ or tri-unity. The one God eternally exists in three distinct someones in relationship with one another. One common accusation is that the trinity is an invention of the church councils. While the word ‘trinity’ is not found in Scripture, the understanding that there are three distinct persons who are each fully divine, yet there is only one God is the only thing that makes sense of a multitude of New Testament passages. Another accusation is that the doctrine of the trinity is a deviation of the New Testament authors from strict monotheism of the Old Testament.

What can we say to this? Does the understanding of God as triune contradict the teaching of the Old Testament? While there is much in the New Testament that unfolds things that were hidden and brings into focus things that were not clear in the Old Testament, if something taught by the apostles flat out contradicts what the Old Testament teaches, we must not accept it.

One thing we should make clear at the outset is that when the New Testament teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, it does not ever teach that there are consequently three Gods. That would be a flat contradiction. Instead the fact that there is exactly and only one true God is affirmed right alongside the teaching that there are three distinct someones in relationship with one another who equally share the divine essence.

What we will look at today, we should not call proofs of the trinity in the Old Testament. Rather, the consistent teaching of the Old Testament leaves open the possibility of understanding the one God as a triune being. Throughout the Old Testament, there are clues, hints, foreshadowings, pointers that there is more to be said about God than merely that he is one solitary being. Some of these pointers are understood differently by different interpreters, but taken together we can at minimum say with confidence that the Old Testament makes good sense when read with a New Testament understanding of the triune God in mind, and indeed Jesus invites us to see him throughout the Old Testament.

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

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

Creation

We will begin at the beginning. The opening words of Scripture state:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Here in the creation narrative, we see the one God creating. But we also see the Spirit of God brooding over the formless deep. Is the Spirit of God another way of describing the divine essence, or is the Spirit spoken of as a distinct someone? We also see the Word of God. God spoke. “The Word spoken by God is not a mere sound but a power so great that the universe is thereby created and upheld” [H.Bavinck].

Psalm 33 tells us:

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

We see the LORD, his Word, and his breath or Spirit. John’s gospel teaches that this Word was not mere sound but someone distinct who was both fully divine, and also in relationship with God.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word is a ‘he, a ‘him’, a someone.

Elohim

Notice what the text of Genesis 1:26 says.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

This is a fascinating passage. The word translated ‘God’ is the Hebrew ‘Elohim’. Elohim is the plural form of which Eloah is the singular. Eloah is used in some passages to refer to God. But violating the standard rules of grammar, the plural noun Elohim is most often used in the bible with a singular verb. Singular pronouns are most frequently used with this plural noun, also violating the rules of grammar, so our translators have chosen to use the singular ‘God’ rather than the plural ‘Gods’ to make it agree with the singular verbs and pronouns. It would be awkward to say that ‘the LORD he is Gods; there is no other besides him’ (Deut.4:35) or ‘the LORD our Gods is one LORD’ (Deut.6:4). Some scholars believe that the plural form is a plural of majesty, indicating the richness and fullness of the divine being. And this is probably correct. Although the use of the plural ‘Elohim’ with singular pronouns and verbs may not clearly teach the plurality of someones in the one divine essence, the awkward grammar seems to intentionally leave itself open to that possibility.

Let Us

But the honorific plural is seen only with nouns, not with verbs or pronouns. Here in Genesis 1, and also in chapters 3 and 11 and Isaiah 6 we have the plural pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ used with ‘Elohim’. The question is who is the ‘we’? To whom does the ‘us’ refer?

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

One suggestion that has been proposed is that he refers to himself and the creation he has just made, but this would make man in the image of God and the earth, and it would include the earth in the creative process. Another is that God refers to the angels or the heavenly court, but this would leave man in the image of God and the angels, and employ the help of the angels in creation, when we are explicitly told that God alone by himself created (Is.44:24). Some have suggested that this is an inner deliberation of God, a kind of self talk, as one might say to himself ‘now what am I going to do?’ This may come closer to the truth. Developing this idea in the context of Genesis 1, we could envision this inner dialogue of God between himself and his Spirit, who in verse 2 was brooding over the face of the deep. It is interesting to note that where in Genesis 1:26 God says:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. …

In verse 27 he switches to singular pronouns:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Collective Singular

It is also interesting to note that ‘man’, ‘adahm’ is a collective singular, including both male and female, referring to both ‘him’ and ‘them’. ‘Let us make man …let them have dominion’. The image of God in man seems to include plurality within unity.

Echad

Chapter 2, which focuses on the relationship between man and woman, closes with this statement which forms the basis for marriage.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The man and his wife are said to become one flesh. The Hebrew word for ‘one’ is ‘echad’, which is the same word used in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4:

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Could it be that ‘YHWH our Elohim, YHWH is echad’, YHWH is one in a similar sense that the man and his wife are said to be ‘one‘, an essential unity within which there can be us and our?

Mal’akh YHWH

Moving on from the creation narrative, there is a curious character in the Old Testament that appears on several different occasions. He is called the Mal’akh YHWH or Mal’akh Elohim; the angel of the LORD or the angel of God. The word ‘mal’akh’ translated ‘angel’ simply means a messenger or ambassador. Often this word refers to what we would think of as a created heavenly being who serves God, often in the role of a messenger. But what is said about the Angel of the LORD causes us to wonder if he might be something more. In Genesis 16, after Abraham allows Sarai to treat Hagar harshly, the servant girl who was pregnant with his son Ishmael, and she flees into the wilderness, we are told:

Genesis 16:7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

This seems like it could be a created angel, but listen closely to what he says:

Genesis 16:10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”

The angel of the LORD does not say ‘God will multiply your offspring’; he says ‘I will multiply your offspring’. This seems to be claiming more than a mere created angel can claim. Yet he goes on to distinguish himself from the LORD.

Genesis 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. …

He does not say ‘I have listened to your affliction, but ‘the LORD has listened. The angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD as a distinct person, yet takes credit for multiplying your offspring, something only God can do. What do we make of this? Listen to Hagar’s response:

Genesis 16:13 So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

Hagar refers to the angel of the LORD as ‘the LORD who spoke to her’ and says ‘You are a God of seeing’. She seems to identify the angel of the LORD with the LORD and with God.

In Judges 13, the angel of the LORD appeared to the wife of Manoah, to promise the birth of Samson. There seems to be distinction between the LORD and the angel of God

Judges 13:8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” 9 And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field….

God listened to his prayer and sent the angel of God.

Judges 13:15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The angel of the Lord distinguished between himself and the LORD. But Manoah recognized that to see the angel of the LORD was to see God.

Judges 13:24 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

We see the angel of the LORD, the LORD and the Spirit of the LORD in this passage. In many Old Testament passages we see the angel or messenger of the LORD who seems to be differentiated from the LORD, yet who is identified as God and given the honor and worship due only to God.

God The Son

There are also passages in the Old Testament that indicate that God has a Son. A son shares the same nature as his father. Psalm 2 speaks of the LORD and his Anointed (or Messiah), the LORD’s established King, who is YHWH’s begotten Son.

In Psalm 45 we see the triumphant king spoken of.

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

The King is addressed as God, yet, God, the God of the king is seen as anointing the divine king. This is said to be speaking of the Son in Hebrews 1.

Micah 5 speaks of a coming ruler:

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

This is a ruler that is promised to come, but whose coming forth is from ancient days. This is an eternal one, but one who will come in time, and who will shepherd his people in the strength of the LORD. The coming one is eternal, yet distinguished from the LORD.

Isaiah 9:6 describes the coming king:

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This king is a Son, who is called Mighty God and Everlasting Father.

The Divine Spirit

The Spirit is also seen to be a distinct someone.

Exodus 31:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, (cf. Ex.35:30-31)

The LORD is said to fill someone with the Spirit of God.

Isaiah 63 speaks of the LORD, the angel of his presence, and his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit is said to be grieved by rebellious people, something that can be said only of a someone, not a something. The Spirit of the LORD is the one who is said to have given them rest.

Isaiah 11 speaks of the Spirit.

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

Here we see the sevenfold Spirit spoken of in Revelation. We see the branch, who is the Messiah who comes forth from David, and the Spirit of the LORD, and the LORD.

Divine Three in One

Isaiah 42 says:

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Notice the three characters in this passage. My Spirit is distinct from both I and him. Matthew 12 tells us that this passage is fulfilled in Jesus. God the Father put the Holy Spirit on Jesus.

Look at Isaiah 48.

Isaiah 48:16 Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit. 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.

Notice again the three characters The Lord GOD, me, and his Spirit; or The LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One. If we as who is the ‘me’ who is speaking, verses 12-13 clear this up.

Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. 13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.

Me, the one the Lord GOD sent with his Spirit, I am the first and the last, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Isaiah 61 says:

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Again we see the three someones. The Spirit of the Lord GOD, me, and the LORD. Jesus applied this passage to himself in Luke 4.

This is a brief sampling of the many many passages in the Old Testament that seem to indicate that the one true God may eternally exist in more than one person. This one God eternally existed as Father, Son and Spirit, in community, in relationship, in conversation, in cooperation, in love. It is this God who says ‘I will put my Spirit within you …and you shall be be my people and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:27-28). ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ …that our joy may be complete’ (1 John 1:3-4)

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

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment