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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 9:3-19; Daniel the Mediator

06/19_Daniel 09:3-19; Daniel the Mediator; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20220619_dan09_3-19.mp3

Daniel 9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Daniel was studying the prophecy of Jeremiah. He recognized God is sovereign over history, that God establishes kings and removes kings, that God always keeps his word. Jeremiah 25 and 29 predict 70 years to fill up the desolations of Jerusalem.

Daniel had been carried off captive in 605 BC by Nebuchadnezzar. Now in 538 BC Daniel had been in Babylon for 67 years. The temple lay in ruins for the last 48 years. Babylon had now fallen to the Medo-Persians under Cyrus the Great.

Daniel is reading his Scriptures, the word of the LORD, and it drives him to pray. We can learn much from Daniel’s prayer. Daniel shows us the purpose of prayer, how to pray, what to pray, he teaches us how to pray in line with the Holy Scriptures and the will of God, he teaches us how prayer connects with the absolute sovereignty of God, he teaches us the basis for our requests and how to ask rightly. We will look at some of these things in the coming weeks.

But before we do, I want to step back and look at who Daniel was and the context of this prayer in the book of Daniel.

The Integrity of Daniel

We were introduced to Daniel back in chapter 1 as one of the

Daniel 1:4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace…

Daniel’s name means ‘God is Judge’ or ‘God will Judge’. He is given a pagan name, a pagan education, assigned to eat the king’s food and wine, but

Daniel 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,

In chapter 2, all the wise men of Babylon are sentenced to be executed for failing to tell the king his dream and its interpretation, but Daniel intercedes and he and his friends pray and ‘seek mercy from the God of heaven’ (2:18). Daniel gives God all the glory, and saves all the wise men of Babylon.

Daniel is absent from chapter 3, but his three friends refuse to serve the gods of Babylon or bow to the golden image the king has set up, even when it will cost them their lives.

In chapter 4, Daniel shows a selfless love for the pagan king; he is grieved by the king’s dream, wishing it applied to his enemies. He warns the king of the danger of his pride, counseling him to repent and practice righteousness and mercy.

Daniel is called late to the immoral and blasphemous banquet of Belshazzar in chapter 5, as a last resort to interpret the handwriting on the wall. Daniel’s reputation, according to the queen mother, is that ‘in him is the spirit of the holy gods; …light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, … an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel’ (5:11-12).

Daniel interprets the writing, but not before first rebuking the king for his pride and his failure to learn from the past;

Daniel 5:22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.

In chapter 6 we see Daniel with such flawless integrity that when because of jealousy:

Daniel 6:4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Daniel has such impeccable integrity, that the only thing his spiteful enemies can do is outlaw prayer.

Daniel 6:10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.

Even when prayer became illegal, at the cost of being thrown to the lions, Daniel continued to faithfully offer thanksgiving to his God. The next morning Daniel testified to the king:

Daniel 6:22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”

Daniel was found blameless before God. That is a staggering claim.

Chapter 7 recounts Daniel’s dream vision of the four kingdoms represented as terrifying beasts rising up from the sea. No less than 6 times in this chapter the people of God are referred to as ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’. They are the saints of the Most High. The saints are persecuted, even overcome by the wicked kindoms of this world. There is no reason given as to why they are persecuted, but ultimately the saints will be vindicated and receive the kingdom forever and ever.

Again in the vision of chapter 8 the people of God are persecuted by a coming evil tyrant. God’s people are pictured as ‘stars’ or hosts of heaven in verse 10, and in verse 24 they are again called ‘the people who are the saints’ or ‘holy ones’.

Even Daniel’s contemporary and fellow captive in Babylon, although deported 8 years later in 597 BC; Ezekiel, in chapter 14:14, 20 refers to Daniel as a righteous man, in company with Noah and Job.

Daniel was found blameless before God and also before the king. There was no error or fault found in him. He was found faithful. He resolved not to defile himself. Even at risk of his own life, he would not stop doing the good that he ought to do. The persecuted people of God are pictured as saints, holy ones, the host of heaven, stars shining in the heavens. This context is what makes Daniel’s prayer so startling.

Daniel’s Confession of Sin

Let’s read his prayer with this context in mind.

Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Based on what we know of righteous Daniel, how can he pray this? Daniel made confession. ‘We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled; we have not listened. We have sinned against you. We have sinned, we have done wickedly. Daniel says in verse 20:

Daniel 9:20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God,

The Patience of God

Daniel says ‘I was confessing my sin and the sin of my people.’ This makes sense of the context of Daniel. This answers the question as to why the saints, God’s holy people are in exile if they had done nothing wrong. They are called holy, but they are not holy; they are sinners, wicked rebellious people who persistently refused to listen to the repeated warnings of a holy God. God is exceedingly patient. Over hundreds of years God had warned them, and finally, after their persistent rebellion, God sent them into exile. As Peter says:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

The Lord is patient, but his patience will not last forever. He is also just, and he will punish sin. His saints, those sinners he graciously called by his name, are in exile because they are hard hearted rebels who persistently sin against their God and need his loving discipline.

None is Righteous

‘I was confessing my sin and the sin of my people.’ This also answers the question ‘was Daniel a sinner?’ The Bible says ‘none is righteous, no not one. …All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:10, 23); when Daniel prayed, he was acutely aware of his own sins and he confessed them before his God. Blood bought saints continue to sin, and we need daily to confess our sins.

1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Daniel confesses his sin because he was a sinner like you and me. He was daily in need of God’s grace.

Daniel the Mediator

The Bible is brutally honest about the sins of its heroes; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob. Have you read the story of Samson? Even David, a man after God’s own heart. Peter, James and John. The Bible tells it like it really is. Real people with real sins, real flaws, real failures. But not one sin, not one failure of any kind is recorded of Daniel. I think there’s a reason that no sins of Daniel are recorded and yet he confesses his sins and the sins of his people. Daniel is meant to give us a picture of Jesus. Peter says of Jesus:

1 Peter 2:22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Daniel has no sins of his own recorded, yet he takes the sins of his people as his own and confesses them. He owns the guilt, he feels the shame, he is willing to undergo the just consequences of the sins of his people. In this he is a picture of Jesus.

Isaiah says of Jesus:

Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 ​But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 ​All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. … 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 …he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Daniel is a pointer to Jesus who would indeed stand in our place and take our sins on himself. Daniel makes intercession for the transgressors as if he himself was the transgressor.

Like so many people in Daniel’s day, we are oblivious to our situation. We often aren’t aware of our guilt, we don’t know we need to be rescued, we aren’t seeking forgiveness, we don’t even think to confess our sins to God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). But Daniel is alive to God and sensitive to the Spirit. He is acutely aware of the offense of sin and grieves over it, making intercession for many.

Throughout his life, Daniel meticulously kept God’s covenant, resolving not to defile himself, habitually humbling himself before God morning, noon and night. But in this prayer, he identifies himself with his people as a covenant breaker, deserving of the curses of the covenant.

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

Paul says in 2 Corinthians:

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

Like the battle of David and Goliath, one man stands in place of all the people. We are helpless, hopeless, and afraid. We stand on the sidelines and watch him fight our battle for us. His victory is our victory. We walk out into that victory.

Daniel acts as the one righteous Israelite, standing in the gap, mediating between God and his people, interceding on their behalf.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

***

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

June 25, 2022 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 6:11-15; Paying Attention

02/13_Daniel 06:11-15; Paying Attention; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20220213_dan06_11-15.mp3

Daniel 6:1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

No legal battle, no protest, no petitions, no arguing his case or even asking permission.

Daniel 6:10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel, conspired against, facing death, is not controlled by outside influence or circumstance. He continues to do what he loves, what he is committed to. Daniel acts as a truly free man, in contrast to the other high officials, consumed by jealousy and lust for power; in contrast to the king, blinded by flattery and manipulated.

Making Petition and Plea

Daniel 6:11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God.

They came as a group, as a mob. Remember, Daniel is in his own house, in his upper chamber, down on his knees. Not the most public or conspicuous place to be caught, except by those so consumed by envy that the assembled together to catch him in the act.

We are told they found Daniel ‘making petition and plea before his God.’ What radical rebellion! What a menace to society! What a dangerous man. Daniel is in his 80’s, probably around 83 years old, a threat to public order, praying alone in the privacy of his home.

He was ‘making petition’; this is the very language of their edict, found in verses 7, 12 and 13. Daniel was making petition; he was seeking, he was asking, he was requesting. What his enemies had manipulated the king to outlaw was the very thing they found him doing.

He was making petition and plea; this word ‘plea’ can mean either to seek or to show mercy; to ask or to give favor or grace. This same word was used in 4:27 to encourage the king to show mercy to the poor. Daniel was seeking grace and mercy, maybe even for those who had conspired against him.

Before His God

Daniel was making petition and plea before his God. Not the king. That’s the issue. It doesn’t matter the content of your prayers so much as to whom they are directed. You can make a request and seek mercy and grace from the tree in your back yard, or a special rock you carry around in your pocket, but that’s not going to help you. You can pray to your own conception of God as you imagine him to be, but that is not the same as praying to the God who really is.

Here’s another excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s fictional correspondence from the demon Screwtape:

“But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon. The humans do not start from that direct perception of Him which we, unhappily, cannot avoid. They have never known that ghastly luminosity, that stabbing and searing glare which makes the background of permanent pain to our lives. If you look into your patient’s mind when he is praying, you will not find that. If you examine the object to which he is attending, you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer—perhaps quite savage and puerile—images associated with the other two Persons. There will even be some of his own reverence (and of bodily sensations accompanying it) objectified and attributed to the object revered. I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located—up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be”, our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it—why, then it is that the incalculable may occur.” [C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, IV]

It didn’t matter so much that he was praying, as to whom he was praying. That is the real threat. If he truly has access in prayer to the God who is, if that God actually answers his requests and grants him favor, what does that mean for his enemies?

They recognized the danger of prayer, and attempted to outlaw it, to redirect it. Daniel’s enemies were manipulating the king, and if they could reroute all prayers to go through the king, that would put them in ultimate control.

The God-King Entrapped

Daniel 6:12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.”

The trap is fully set, not only for Daniel, but for the king. Unbeknownst to him, they have the king backed into the corner they contrived. They address him as ‘O king, O king, but they had no regard for him or his position. They merely intend to use him to secure their own desires.

They boldly came near the king with their cornering questions. This is the same word used back in 3:8;

Daniel 3:8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9 They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man …shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

They came forward or came near to the king. To come near the king uninvited is presumptuous and dangerous as we learn a bit over 50 year later from Queen Esther when she risked her own life entering the court of Ahasuerus (or Xerxes I), king of Persia.

Esther 5:2 And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

These men presumptuously draw near to the king and ask him to confirm that he did indeed sign the injunction forbidding the petitioning of anyone but the king, and that the consequence for disobedience was death. The king affirms that it is now law and that it cannot be revoked.

Daniel Defamed

Daniel 6:13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

Notice how they introduce Daniel. Not Daniel, one of your top three officials, not the Daniel who became distinguished above all the other officials because an excellent spirit was in him, not Daniel whom you intend to set over the whole kingdom, not Daniel the man of integrity that has served under the administrations of multiple kings. No, they introduce him as Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah. That was almost 70 years ago! He has lived through the rise and fall of the Babylonian empire, served multiple kings with integrity, and now is highly favored by the king of the Medo-Persian empire. And his resume? ‘He is one of the exiles from Judah.’ He is basically a slave, a captive, a nobody. He is one of the leftovers of one of the many conquered peoples deported by Babylon from their homes. An exile has the audacity to disregard both the king and his laws. This cannot be tolerated.

No Respecter of Persons

He ‘pays no attention to you, O king’. This assumes that there is a person who ought to be respected. They argue from the king’s priority of position, that he ought to be the one to whom everyone owes attention. This is how they got the injunction signed in the first place. If he pays no attention to you, who is he paying with his attention? To whom do we owe our attention? (Rom.13:7)

There is some truth to the accusation. Daniel is truly no respecter of persons. His allegiance is to no human. God alone deserves our undivided attention, our utmost respect, and this is exactly what Daniel understands. ‘He went to his house… He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously’ because he knew to whom he was in debt to pay attention. (Mt.22:20-21)

This is exactly what made him the right man for the top job. Allegiances change, empires change, kings and kingdoms fade away. If his allegiance as an exiled Jew was to the Jewish nation, he would do what he could to undermine those currently in power. If his allegiance was to Nebuchadnezzar or the Babylonian empire, could he be trusted by subsequent kings or by the conquering empire? If his primary allegiance was to himself and to seeking his own advancement, like these other high officials, could he be trusted to do what was in the best interest of the king and the country, or would he use other people, including the king, to advance his own interests?

His allegiance was to God alone, who transcends all kings and kingdoms, and who is unchanging and unchangeable. This higher allegiance required him to make sacrifices and decisions that were not in his own personal interest, but in the interest of others.

Or To The Law

He pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed. It’s personal. He pays no attention to you. But it’s also official. He disregards the law. If it was only a personal offense, you could choose to let that offense slide; you might be considered gracious. But you can’t let an offense against the law slide, or you would be unjust, and risk the total breakdown of society. That’s why these officials made sure to get it in writing and have the king sign it so it could not be revoked.

But Daniel did pay attention to the king, and he did keep the laws. He would not be trusted by the king if he did not. But he also knew when a law was out of its jurisdiction. Laws are meant to be for the good of society, the protection of people, to maintain proper order. Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes ‘against such there is no law’. What is more loving than to pray for someone, to bring them before the throne of grace and plead for their good and the blessings of God to be on them? A law that forbade prayer was in effect attempting to outlaw love, and that is no law! Daniel understood, as the apostles understood, that authority is appointed by God and rulers are God’s servants for your good (Rom.13:1,4). They also understood that when government reaches beyond its proper jurisdiction and attempts to regulate or prohibit our obedience to God, ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Act.5:29).

Mighty To Save

Daniel 6:14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.

Notice the contrast between the calculatingly vengeful officials set on destruction, and the distressed laboring king with his mind set on deliverance. These officials should have been the ones laboring to protect the interests of the king; after all, he had appointed them ‘so that the king might suffer no loss’. And losing Daniel would be a great loss to the king. Under ordinary circumstances, the king would give the order for someone serving him to come up with a solution to his problems. But he is realizing he really has no friends in his own administration. Daniel is the accused, and everyone else is a co-conspirator against him. The king himself had fallen into their trap. If there is to be any help, he must see to it himself.

The response of the king demonstrates the depth of his respect for this exile from Judah who ‘pays no attention to you’. He ‘was much distressed’. He ‘set his mind to deliver Daniel.’ ‘He labored …to rescue him.’ His eyes were opened to the conspiracy, their jealousy, and his own folly. So he sought to do whatever was in his power to save Daniel.

But it is God alone who saves (Is.63:1; Zeph,3:17). And we may try, but we can’t help him. The king labored till sundown, but all his labor was in vain. This was out of his hands. It is God who rescues, who delivers.

The Folly of the Wicked

Daniel 6:15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

The audacity of these men! They show up as a group and lecture the king about his own laws. They have the king trapped; they know it and he knows it, and they gloat.

But I don’t think their plan was very well thought through. They were after Daniel’s position. He was in the way and they wanted him gone. But did they actually think, after openly manipulating the king and cornering him to act against his will in executing his most trusted official, that he would then turn around and entrust them with anything? We have to expect in the folly of the wicked, that even if they succeed in destroying Daniel, they inevitably will fall into the trap that they have set. Psalm 7 says:

Psalm 7:1 O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me, 2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

Psalm 7:14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. 15 He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. 16 His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. 17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

***

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

February 18, 2022 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 6:1-10; True Freedom

01/30_Daniel 06:1-10; True Freedom; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20220130_dan06_1-10.mp3

In Daniel chapter 5, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar had proclaimed Daniel third in the kingdom for interpreting God’s handwriting on the wall, an empty promise and a short-lived position, but it became the final official act of the final king of the Babylonian empire to honor an exiled Jew. We read at the end of chapter 5

Daniel 5:30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 ​And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Darius the Mede (probably the Median name of Cyrus the Persian) came to power in Babylon on October 12, 539 BC.

Daniel 6:1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

Darius installed Daniel as one of the three highest officials in his kingdom, and intended to elevate him over the entire kingdom. But prominence comes at a price; those elevated to high positions are exposed to greater scrutiny and criticism.

Daniel 6:4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.

The king’s favor toward Daniel aroused the jealousy of the other high officials, who desired to lift themselves up by finding fault with Daniel. But they could find neither guilt nor negligence. Not only did Daniel not do wrong, he did not omit to do any good that he ought to have done. Despite their search, they uncovered no sins of comission or omission. Daniel was a man of integrity.

Daniel 6:5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Their failure to find fault did not deter them in their lust for power to take down Daniel. So they hatched a conspiracy. They would use Daniel’s integrity against him. They decided to manufacture a conflict between his devotion to his God and the law of the land.

Daniel 6:6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.

They lied. They said all the high officials agreed; but Daniel was obviously not privy to their plot. They used flattery to manipulate the king. They leveraged political advantage; it would benefit the king to consolidate power and test the allegiances of the diverse subjects in his empire. They pushed for a legally binding edict.

Daniel 6:8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

Who is Truly Free?

Let’s think for a moment about freedom. We cherish freedom. We talk a lot about freedom, and historically we in this country have been willing to fight for our freedoms. But what is freedom? Let’s think about the freedoms of the characters in this narrative.

The king – was he free? We would say, of course he was free! He was the king, the conquering king, the highest authority in his Medo-Persian empire. He got to make the laws. He was free to execute whomever he willed. He was the final authority on right and wrong in his vast empire. He passed this law, which was within his authority. It was what seemed best to him; it was what he wanted to do, and he was free to do it. He was free.

But we also see behind the scenes how he had been manipulated and played by his top advisers. They used him to accomplish their own ends, they entrapped him with his own law, and by the end of the story we see this king with his hands tied, forced to submit to his own law and do what he did not want to do, that which was not to his own advantage, to enforce the execution of his most trusted official, who had likely become a trusted friend.

What about the conspirators? Were they the ones with true freedom? They were able to use the king to carry out their own desires. He became a puppet, and they were seen to be pulling the strings. They did what they wanted, they got what they wanted, and the king and the law served their purposes. But were they truly free? They did what they wanted, but they are seen to be slaves to their own jealousy and lust for power. Their desires controlled and consumed them, and in the end, they end up being thrown into the very trap that they had set for their enemy.

Daniel: Freedom in Captivity

What about Daniel? He had been elevated to a high position that came with a measure of authority, but ultimately he was an exile, taken captive by the previous empire and displaced from his homeland. He was now serving the conquering king of the victorious empire. And he found himself trapped, hard pressed between two laws; he was caught between obeying the law of his God, and obeying the law of the land. He was forced to make a choice, but it was a lose-lose decision. He was neither king nor conspirator – he was the victim of the conspiracy. He found himself accused, arrested, and sentenced to die with no one who could rescue him. In this story, he is the one with the least freedom of all.

But who is truly free? The manipulated king or the conspirators who are slaves to their own lust? Look again at Daniel:

Daniel 6:10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel is an exile, victim of conspiracy, subject to the hostile laws intended to entrap him, and yet he is the one who appears to be acting with true freedom. Where the king was blinded by flattery and lies, Daniel’s eyes are wide open. He sees through the conspiracy and understands the intent of the new law. But he is not manipulated by it; he continues to do what he has always done. Where his enemies are obsessed with their desire for power, he is content in his place as servant to the king, and ultimately as servant of the Most High God.

Even the fear of death holds no power over him. His actions seem truly free, simply continuing to do what he most desires to do, what he considers most important, without being influenced in the least by his changing circumstances or the winds of popularity or the actions of others.

I know it seems far-fetched, but what would we do if the government told us that we could no longer meet together to worship and pray? What would you do if prayer was suddenly outlawed in our country?

Notice what Daniel doesn’t do. He doesn’t run to petition the king, he doesn’t seek to expose the conspiracy, he doesn’t try to rally people to his cause. He doesn’t make himself a spectacle. Neither does he try to justify a neglect of prayer or attempt to conceal his practice of prayer. He doesn’t allow circumstances to control his response. He does what he has always done, in the same way he has always done it. He prays.

Under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar he prayed. Under the reign of Belshazzar he prayed. Under the reign of Darius he prays. When it was legal he prayed. When it became illegal, he continues to pray. He prayed as he had done previously.

Daniel acts as a truly free man. One author writes:

‘In fact, Daniel’s “seemingly innocuous act” was “more … revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor’s power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power” [(Wink, Naming, 110-11) cited by Goldingay, p.131]

This author goes on:

‘So “what happens when a state executes those who are praying for it?” It is “demonstrating the emperor’s powerlessness to impose his will even by death. The final sanction had been publicly robbed of its power.”’ [(Wink, Naming, 111) cited by Goldingay, p.133]

Daniel was truly free.

Prayer and Thanksgiving

Notice the content of Daniel’s prayer. We aren’t told what he prays, but it seems he isn’t crying out to God in a desperate plea for help in his present emergency, or calling down judgment on his adversaries. We aren’t told the content of his prayers. We are simply told that ‘he prayed and gave thanks before his God’.

Here’s some of what the New Testament commands us about prayer and thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Do you suppose ‘always’ includes both good circumstances and those we would consider bad? Do you think that ‘for everything’ includes giving thanks for trials and tribulations as well as for blessings? Peter (1Pet.4:13) and Paul (Rom.5:3) and James (1:2) all tell us to rejoice in trials and sufferings. Jesus goes so far as to tell us

Luke 6:22 “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.

Give thanks always and for everything, even for trials and suffering.

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

Daniel understood that the king was sovereign. He was aware of the king’s edict. He was likely aware of the jealousy and conspiracy of his peers. He understood the risk, he knew the penalty for disobedience was death, and he prayed anyway. We don’t know if Daniel’s heart was pounding out of his chest when he went to his upper room to pray, but we know he was human, and he probably had normal human physiological responses to threat and risk and danger. We know Jesus was human, and when he agonized in prayer anticipating the cross and all that that meant for him, his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk.22:44). Daniel had every reason to be anxious, and he may have been, but he took it to his Lord in prayer with thanksgiving.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Do everything you do with thankfulness to God. Not merely with a thankful attitude, but actually giving thanks, saying thank you with words.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Daniel had a great reason to cease praying. It would very likely cost him his life. But he did not cease to pray. His circumstances were adverse. He was alone and the world was against him, and yet he gave thanks to God.

The Habit of Gospel Thankfulness

There is always something to thank God for. I think it would be fair to argue that Daniel had less to be thankful for than we do. He lived the majority of his life as an exile in a foreign land. Most of his life his people were scattered and the temple of his God lay in ruins. He lived before the cross, hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus to save us from our sins. I think it is fair to say he understood the gospel less clearly than we do today. And yet he made a habit of giving thanks to God. Get in the habit of daily reminding yourself of the gospel, the good news, and giving thanks to God for his great salvation.

Freedom from the Fear of Man

Daniel understood the essential and necessary nature of prayer. It may cost him his life to do it, but he refused to live without it. We can discipline ourselves to develop the habit of gospel thankfulness, but how can we overcome our fear of man?

Jesus said:

Mark 8:35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Daniel knew he could compromise to save his life, but by saving his skin, he would forfeit what was truly life. Jesus said:

Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Daniel’s fear of the Lord weighed greater than his fear of man. And his fear of man was legitimate and real. But his fear of the Lord set him free, truly free from the fear of man.

Daniel probably resonated with David in Psalm 56

Psalm 56:1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. 3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? 5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. …9 ..This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

David acknowledges his fear, but he chooses to put his trust in God. Because his trust is in God, he will not be afraid, because ‘What can man do to me?’ They can ‘kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.’

Psalm 118 says

Psalm 118:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! …5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. 6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Give thanks to the Lord. Fear the Lord, and he will set you free. Truly free. Free from the fear of death, from the fear of man.

Proverbs says:

Proverbs 14:27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

Are you entangled, ensnared, in bondage to the fear of man, or are you safe, enjoying true freedom, drinking deeply from the fountain of life of the fear of the Lord? Are you truly free?

Romans 8:31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

***

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

February 4, 2022 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 6:1-9; Integrity and Conspiracy

11/14_Daniel 06:1-9; Integrity and Conspiracy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20211114_dan06_1-9.mp3

Isaiah’s Prediction [c.740-681 BC]

October 12, 539 BC, Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian forces under Cyrus. Cyrus was named by God in Isaiah more than 150 years earlier.

Isaiah 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, 25 who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish, 26 who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins’; 27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers’; 28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”

Isaiah 45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 …that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Daniel no doubt was aware of this prophecy of Isaiah. We are told in Daniel 9:2 that he had a copy of Jeremiah’s prophecies to study. It is likely that he also had Isaiah, which was written 100 years before Jeremiah.

Cyrus, whether directly or indirectly, was ruling Babylon. Was Daniel looking at the prophecies, wondering if this Cyrus was the one the Lord had named as his shepherd, to fulfill all his purpose, to rebuild Jerusalem and the holy temple? The wicked king Belshazzar is dead, and now Cyrus is in control. After 66 years of captivity (605-539BC), finally there was hope. Things were looking up!

6:1-3; Daniel promoted from third to first

Remember, Belshazzar, on the night he was killed, promised to make Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom, an empty promise from a lame-duck king whose empire as they spoke was coming to an end; an offer that Daniel declined, although Belshazzar made the empty proclamation anyway.

Now Darius is establishing his rule.

Daniel 6:1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

Where the wicked Belshazzar offered to make him third in his fallen kingdom, ironically Darius appointed Daniel as one of three high officials, and purposed to elevate him to first place, over the whole kingdom. The appointment of the three high officials was to hold the 120 satraps accountable, ‘so that the king might suffer no loss.’ Darius was ruling over newly conquered peoples, and those peoples would be expected to offer him tribute. A failure to pay the tax would be a treasonous act of rebellion. He needed trusted people to look out for his interests.

Cyrus was known for seeking peace and the goodwill of the people he conquered, so like Daniel, many of the officials may have been those who had served the previous administration. But there needed to be some accountability to ensure the stability of his rule. We are not told the period of time Daniel served as one of the three high officials, but during that time he ‘became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because and excellent spirit was in him.’

This was the same excellent spirit with which he served under Nebuchadnezzar, the excellent spirit that the queen mother informed Belshazzar was in Daniel (5:12, 14). God had given Daniel ‘learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams’ (1:17).

Jeremiah had instructed the captives in Babylon to ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jer.29:7). Daniel indeed was not seeking his own interests, but selflessly seeking the welfare of the city. He spoke truth even when it was costly; he did what he knew was right, even when no one else was. Because of this, ‘Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps …And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

The events of this chapter may have even taken place after Cyrus’ proclamation to release the Jews to rebuild the temple, which was given in his first year (Ezr.1:1-2; 2Chr.36:22-23). Things are looking up for Daniel. But sometimes the way up is down (Valley of Vision).

6:4-5; Jealousy and Integrity

Daniel 6:4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Why seek fault with Daniel? Here’s the problem with people of integrity. If their standards are higher than yours, they may make you feel guilty or look bad. Their integrity may prevent you from taking advantage of situations you feel entitled to take advantage of. These officials may or may not have been after his promised position over the whole kingdom. But they understood the accountability this would create for them, and they resented him.

This is an amazing testimony to the integrity of Daniel. When your own PR department writes up your credentials, that is one thing. But if your enemies are digging and digging, trying to find any dirt they can on you, trying to take you down, and they come up with nothing, that says something. Daniel was above reproach.

Remember, Daniel is a captive who had been uprooted from his land as a youth; everything he had had been taken away. Home, family, hopes and dreams, a future. Everything had been stripped from him by the enemies of God’s people. He could have easily justified just about anything, thinking ‘they took everything from me; it would be right for me to demand compensation.’ He even could have thought ‘they dishonored God and plundered his temple; I’m going to reclaim for God what is rightfully his.’ Daniel could have simply let things slide, not willing directly to steal, but reasoning ‘these are the enemies of God’s people; if I work hard for them, I am cooperating with the enemies of God, and ultimately I would be advancing their cause against God. But if I am lazy and neglect to do my job well, that will hurt the enemies of God, and God would want me to do that, wouldn’t he?’

The other high officials and satraps knew Daniel was an exile from Judah. They may have seen these kinds of justifications in other Israelites, so they fully expected to find something with which to accuse Daniel. But ‘but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.’ What high praise from the lips of his own co-workers!

Obey God and Man

So they concluded that if they were to find any fault, it would have to be a point at which the law of God required Daniel to disobey the king. They knew enough about Daniel to conclude that his devotion to his God was even greater than his submission to the king. But even that they could not find. We love to cite the verse ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Ac.5:29) to give us a pass on anything we find inconvenient or distasteful, or permission to do something we just want to do. But Daniel somehow managed to live in pagan Babylon serving a pagan king with integrity and without ever compromising his faith in God. As Peter says,

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. …13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

Paul says that governing authorities have been established by God.

Romans 13:2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. …

This is the general rule. Obeying God and seeking the good of the community ought to be rewarded, not punished. Galatians 5:23 says there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit.

Now there are times where we will legitimately have to make that choice and stand in obedience to God regardless of the cost. Peter goes on to say:

1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

For Daniel, this conflict between the law of his God and the law of the land had to be manufactured by his jealous and malicious adversaries.

6:6-9; Conspiracy and Flattery

Daniel 6:6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

This was a true conspiracy. The other high officials and satraps conspired together, and came together as a group to the king. The word translated ‘came by agreement’ is interesting; literally it means to gather tumultuously; to gather as a mob. It is unlikely that this describes the outward manner with which they approached the king, but rather the inner motive; they did not abandon proper court etiquette, demonstrated by their introduction ‘O king Darius, live forever!’ This shows what was in their hearts. This is a verbal link to the equivalent Hebrew word in Psalm 2

Psalm 2:1 Why do the nations rage [gather tumultuously] and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed…

Although they put on a good face, their appearance before the king was a result of a vicious and tumultuous conspiracy. They were plotting to murder an innocent man out of sheer jealousy, because they felt threatened by him. And they were willing to manipulate the king to serve their own ends and carry out their execution.

They flat out lied to the king’s face. They claimed that all the high officials were agreed, but clearly Daniel, one of three, the one the king intended to appoint over them all, had not agreed. Likely not even all the 120 satraps had agreed, as they were scattered ‘throughout the whole kingdom’, carrying out their duties for the king.

But they flattered the king, and flattery blinded him to what they were scheming. They wanted the king to be esteemed, and they had come up with a plan to test everyone’s loyalties. This did not necessarily imply that the king was divine, otherwise why limit this edict to only 30 days? The point was to consolidate power, that everything had to go through him. Darius would serve as the one mediator between his subjects and the gods of all the nations. All the gods had their priests, but for a month, Darius was to be acknowledged as the source and the provider of their every need.

This was the equivalent of the test in chapter 3 where ‘the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered’ and were required ‘to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” (Dan.3;3,5-6)

Darius probably didn’t realize it, but this was a greater blasphemy that Belshazzar’s defiling of God’s holy vessels at his drinking party. He was claiming, if only for a time, to be the one mediator between God and man. Jesus said

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

Jesus is our only access to the Father.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

We gain access to the Father as a free gift, when we put our trust in Christ alone. He stands in the gap, he paid our price, he died in our place to reconcile us to God.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

Darius was claiming to be something he could never be, and he had no idea what it would cost to be that Mediator. ‘There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for you!

***

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

November 15, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:19-21; Persistent Upbuilding

03/14_2 Corinthians 12:19-21; Persistent Upbuilding; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210314_2cor12_19-21.mp3

Paul’s Defense?

In 2 Corinthians chapters 10-12, Paul confronts the danger of false apostles spreading a false gospel about a different jesus, receiving a different spirit. He is forced to defend his character, his ministry, his own integrity. At least that is what he appears to be doing. But is it?

2 Corinthians 12:14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

As he said back in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. …

Not much has changed over the 2 years since the writing of 1 Corinthians. They are still behaving like children, and Paul, as their father in the faith, is willing to spend and be spent for their sake.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

Paul is forced to defend his own integrity by appealing to his accountability and the integrity and character of his co-laborers in the gospel. Paul has been attacked, his character has been maligned, his credentials and authority have been doubted. He has been forced into foolish boasting to defend his character and his apostolic authority. But is that what he has been doing? Defending himself?

Not a Defense to Them

Paul says no, I am not defending myself to you. I don’t need to defend myself to you. You are not my judge and jury.

Children often know so much more than their parents, that their parents are uninformed and clueless; kids think they know better than their parents what is best for them. My wise parents often said to me ‘When you have your own kids, then maybe you’ll understand.’ Have you ever heard that? Have you who are now parents ever said that?

He has already told them in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Paul says ‘No, I am not defending myself to you. That would give you far too much credit. That would assume that you are competent to critique apostolic ministry.’ They have demonstrated their own incompetence by receiving the false apostles bringing another jesus, a different spirit, a false gospel.

It is not before you that I stand trial. It is before the Lord alone that I am ultimately accountable.

In The Sight Of God

2 Corinthians 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

Paul says ‘we have been speaking in the sight of God.’ We are not responding to your demands and expectations. All the way back in chapter 1, he started this letter by saying:

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

His conscience was clear, by God’s grace and before God.

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

He speaks in Christ. It is ‘not I, but Christ who lives in me.’ And he speaks as commissioned by God and in the sight of God. God sent him on mission to them. And it is to God he is accountable for what he says. He had asked back in chapter 3:

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?

He said in chapter 4:

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul lives openly, transparently, in the presence of God. He said in chapter 5:

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

He is not commending himself to them. He doesn’t have to. His integrity is seen by God; he lives in the presence of God, in the fear of the Lord, who sees what is in the heart.

In chapter 7, he invites them in, to also live in awareness of the presence of God in their lives. He writes what he writes:

2 Corinthians 7:12 …in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

In chapter 8, in matters of financial integrity, he says:

2 Corinthians 8:21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

And in chapter 10, he says:

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

We live in the presence of God, to please God. He is our judge. Before him we stand or fall. Paul is not defending himself to the Corinthians. He was commissioned by God and carries out ministry in the sight of God.

All For Your Upbuilding, Beloved

2 Corinthians 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

Paul is not defending himself. He is doing ministry in the sight of God. He is seeking to build them up. With his use of biting irony and sharp sarcasm in these chapters, it may not feel or sound like he is seeking to build them up, but that is exactly what he intends to do. And he reminds them, they are dearly beloved. He is not against them, he is for them. But sometimes the He wants to build them up, but the ground must be cleared of debris before building can occur. Sometimes existing structures must be demolished and cleared away before the proposed building can go up. As he said in chapter 10,

2 Corinthians 10:3 …we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Every stronghold, every argument, every proud opinion raised against the knowledge of the real Jesus must be torn down. The ground must be cleared. He wields God’s authority to build up, not to tear you down (10:8), but their false thinking must be demolished.

Apostolic Fear of Continued Division

Paul is ready to clear some ground.

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Paul is afraid. He said he was afraid back in 11:3

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

He was afraid that they were being led away by satanic deception after another jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel. Here he is afraid that when he arrives, he will find in them a proud divisiveness. He addressed the division, quarreling and strife back in 1 Corinthians (1Cor.1:11; 3:3). He is afraid not much has changed.

Apostolic Fear of Failure to Repent

He is afraid because the gospel changes people. He is afraid that he may not find them as he hopes, as genuine believers, transformed by the gospel. Throughout this letter he has been re-framing for them what authentic ministry is all about. He has reminded them of the gospel he proclaimed, and has implored them ‘be reconciled to God’ (2Cor.5:20). He appealed to them ‘not to receive the grace of God in vain’ (2Cor.6:1). He is afraid that they will have been led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ, to follow a false jesus and a false gospel. He is afraid that when judged by their fruit, their conversion may prove to be false.

2 Corinthians 12:21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Paul fears that the fruit of repentance will not be demonstrated in their lives. In 1 Corinthians chapters 5-7, Paul confronted them over their immorality. He called them to ‘flee from sexual immorality’ (1Cor.6:18). He called the church, if someone claimed to be a believer yet persisted in immorality unrepentant, to remove them from fellowship with the church (1Cor.5). Repentance is essential in the life of the believer. Repentance is a change of heart and mind, a recognition that sin is sin against a holy God. We have all sinned and gone astray, we have all followed our own way. And every sin can be forgiven when we confess it as sin, when we agree with God that what he thinks about it is true. Paul told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

We all have sinned. And every sin can be washed away in the blood of Jesus. Repentance is essential in the life of the believer; turning away from sin and back to Jesus; turning away from pride, from performance, from good works, from an ethic of earning.

These are not two distinct issues, divisive pride and sexual immorality, as if he is addressing the gossiping quarreling divisive group who entertained false teachers in verse 20 and the lustful sexually immoral group in verse 21. Bad theology leads to bad ethics. False teaching and immorality go hand in hand. Turning away from a sincere and pure devotion to Jesus leads to wrong thinking, wrong feeling, wrong acting. When our eyes are not fixed on Jesus, our hearts go after every kind of counterfeit.

Grief Over the Sins of Others

Listen to Paul’s heart. He is not self-righteous, gloating, rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. He is not Jonah, sitting in the shade of his gourd, eager to see God pour out his almighty wrath on sinners.

2 Corinthians 12:21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented…

Paul is broken-hearted at the prospect of sinners who have not found true forgiveness at the foot of the cross. Paul takes the persistent unrepentance of this church personally, as his own responsibility. He will be humbled as having failed to see the gospel take effect in them.

2 Corinthians 5:15 [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. … 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul’s pursuit and his heart is to see them built up into the image of Jesus, beholding the glory of Jesus and being transformed into his image by the Spirit (2Cor.3:18). He is willing to do the difficult work of confronting their sin to clear the ground for this building up that he is constantly striving for. He does everything he does and says everything he says for their upbuilding. Because he loves them.

***

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

March 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers

11/15_2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201115_2cor11_16-21.mp3

Paul is confronting the false apostles head on. And he is confronting the church for following them. He’s said (11:4) that they proclaim another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel, and the church is bearing with it well! He labels the so-called super-apostles as false apostles, deceitful workers, servants of Satan who disguise themselves as genuine but their works and their future judgment expose them as false. He warns the church that he fears for them, that they are in danger of being deceived by Satan to forfeit a simple relationship with Jesus for a counterfeit.

But some in this church have already been taken. They believe everything the false teachers tell them, which means that they question Paul’s authenticity and doubt his integrity. Paul is willing to ‘become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (1Cor.9:22).

A Lamb in Wolves Clothing

The wisdom of Proverbs says:

Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Paul is willing to be thought a fool if that is what it takes to get their attention, to point out their folly and call them back to single-hearted devotion to the real Jesus. The Corinthians are wise in their own eyes, and need a little humbling.

He said in verse 1 of this chapter:

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!

And then (11:7-15) he boasted about humbling himself by serving them free of charge. Here in verse 16, he comes back to ask permission to do some foolish boasting.

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Paul is willing to be considered a fool for Christ’s sake (1Cor.4:10), to let them think they are wise, if that is what it takes to reach them.

Paul has just exposed the false teachers for who they are, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul is now willing to be a lamb in wolves clothing if they will put up with him that way, but he lifts up the disguise and tells them in advance that is what he is doing.

According to the Flesh, Not the Lord

Paul is about to launch into what he considers foolish boasting, and he makes it clear that what he says, he says ‘not according to the Lord’, because many are boasting according to the flesh. Back in 1:17 they were accusing Paul of making his plans according to the flesh, and in 10:2 some suspect him of walking according to the flesh. But, he says

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Here he contrasts boasting according to the flesh with speaking according to the Lord. More often (Rom.8:4-5, 12-13; Gal.4:23, 29) Paul juxtaposes living or walking according to the flesh with living or walking according to the Spirit. But here he contrasts speaking in line with the way the Lord would speak against boasting after the manner of the flesh, after a merely human, worldly pattern. This is the way unbelieving people boast, and it is foolish. It is not the way Jesus taught me to speak. “Our Lord was no boaster, and his Spirit does not lead any one to boast” [Hodge, p.266]. Carson writes: “Although no one ever made higher claims for himself than did Jesus, he uttered those claims not as a mortal vainly striving for equality with God, but as the self-emptied Son bent on the business of bringing salvation to condemned sinners” (Carson, p.109-110]. Jesus taught us wisdom that is not of this world, indeed contrary to the principles of this world.

In chapter 10, Paul refused to boast beyond limits, but only in what the Lord had assigned to him. He says

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (cf. 1Cor.1:31)

Citing Jeremiah 9

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Speaking according to the Lord is boasting in the Lord. Alone. He is about to boast in verse 22 in his own ethnic heritage, language, culture and religious upbringing. But this is foolish fleshly boasting, and he wants us all to know that it is not speaking as the Lord would speak. It is not boasting only in the cross. It is according to the flesh, and it is folly.

Bearing With Abusive Leadership

Verses 19-20 are in several ways parallel to verse 4. He frames both sections with an ‘if’; if one comes, if someone does these things, as is actually happening, you put up with it. You bear it well, even gladly.

Verse 4 exposes the false teaching of the false apostles. He pulls back the disguise and shows them that they come preaching another Jesus, not the Jesus the apostles proclaimed, a different spirit, one you did not receive, a different gospel which you did not accept.

Verse 19 is a slap in the face, saying sarcastically that you are so wise that you gladly bear with fools. And in verse 20 he exposes the corrosive character of the false apostles. You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours, if someone takes, if someone self-exalts, if someone strikes your face. This is the abuse they were gladly bearing with.

Notice, Paul is not directly rebuking the false apostles. He is rebuking the church for embracing and following and supporting bad leaders. Bad leaders can’t lead if no one will follow them, if no one will support them. He already said in verse 15 ‘Their end will correspond to their deeds’, both the end of the false teachers and those who follow them. God will judge the false apostles. But the Corinthians should know better than to follow them. They should recognize them by their fruits, and their character is rotten to the core. They are enslaving you, devouring, taking, self-exalting, striking you the face. And you are putting up with it!

Enslaving You

No one can serve two masters (Mt.6:24). Paul says in Romans 6 that you are slaves to the one you obey. He said:

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

Paul stands in stark contrast to these servants of Satan who are taking them captive to serve themselves. Paul will not bully or domineer them, but instead he pursues their genuine joy as he has betrothed them to one husband, to Christ (11:2). He said:

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Where the false teachers fight for the position of lord over them, Paul is glad to humble himself to serve them for the Lord’s sake.

Devouring

False teachers devour. Fire devours. The satanic birds in Jesus’ parable devour the gospel seed so it can’t take root (Lk.8:5) The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees devour widow’s houses (Lk.20:47), and the prodigal son devoured his father’s property with prostitutes (Lk.15:30). The false teachers make a practice of parasitic violence and exploitation. Sam Storms writes:

“True, godly, Spirit-filled leaders don’t exist for you to serve them. They exist to serve you! This was the precedent set by Jesus who said of himself that he ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matt.28:20). Leaders aren’t placed in the body of Christ so that their reputation, lifestyle, and bank account can increase at the expense of those who are led. Leaders lead so that those led might be ever more conformed to the image of Christ. And if such comes only at great cost to those in authority, so be it, for Jesus served his own by giving ‘his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.28:20).” [Storms, p.164];

Taking

False teachers take advantage. To take or to receive is a very common word used in lots of positive and neutral contexts. But it can also be used in negative contexts for a violent seizing, as in Jesus’ parable of the tenants who took the master’s servants

Mattthew 21:35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

And when he sent his own son,

Matthew 21:39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Here it is used in the context of the false apostles seizing or laying hands on or taking advantage of. Paul used this word in verse 8 of robbing other churches by taking support from them. In 12:16 it is translated ‘got the better of you’; he is accused of cunning, taking them by deceit.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.

Self-exalting

The false apostles lift themselves up. They put on airs, they arrogantly boast. In the last chapter (10:5) Paul said he wages spiritual warfare tearing down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Isaiah 2:11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;

Striking You in the Face

Paul says they even go so far as to strike you in the face. Jesus used this word when one of the officers of the high priest struck him with his hand (Jn.18:23), and those holding Jesus in Jewish custody were mocking and beating him (Lk.22:63).

Most today take this as “almost certainly metaphorical language to refer to any kind of humiliating treatment” [Carson, p.111]. Except we know ‘religious leaders of the day at times punished offenders by slapping them’ [Guthrie, BECNT p.541] (cf. Acts 23:2).

And we see today’s false teachers who have people come forward so they can strike them on the face or push them to knock them down, allegedly ‘slaying them with the spirit’.

This puts what Paul said back in chapter 7 in context;

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

You gladly bear with fools who enslave you, who devour, who seize, who self-exalt, who strike you in the face. This is a ‘stunning disclosure of the aggressive authoritarianism and overbearing leadership tactics of the intruders.’ [Storms, p.163]

Shame and Weakness

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Paul has exposed the corrupt character of the false apostles. The Corinthians should be ashamed that they had been duped and taken advantage of, abused and shamefully treated. But Paul takes the shame on himself. It is his to his shame, he says sarcastically, that he was too weak to take advantage of them in that way. He was too weak to bully them, to lord it over them, to forcefully domineer. He was weak with the meekness and gentleness, the humility of Christ (10:1). He shows by his example that weakness is the way.

Matthew 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Paul is weak, and he will go on to boast in his weakness, because it is the path of following Jesus.

Fool’s Boldness

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Even in Paul’s weakness and dishonor, he is bold. In whatever someone is bold he is also bold. And he qualifies this; he is speaking foolishness. He said back in

2 Corinthians 10:2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

Paul is weak, he begs that he will not have to show the boldness he fears he will have to show when he visits. He says in 10:12

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

He isn’t bold enough, he doesn’t dare to measure himself by others. Those who do, he says, are without understanding. Here he foolishly dares to boast of whatever another dares to boast of. He is willing to put on the wolf’s clothing in order to show that he is not in the least inferior (11:5), yet in his heart he is harmless as a dove (Mt.10:16).

Paul puts on the wolf’s clothing to caricature the wolves, to expose their character and wake up the sheep to set them free from their clutches.

Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

***

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

November 18, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:16-23; Honorable in the Sight of God and Man

10/06_2 Corinthians 8:16-23; Honorable in the Sight of God and Man; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191006_2cor8_16-23.mp3

It is a gift to give. Paul is writing to encourage generosity and fellowship in the grace of service to the saints. He is eager for Corinthian participation. But he insists that the handling of resources be done with integrity.

2 Corinthians 8:16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

In these verses, as we have seen, he is highlighting his purpose in this collection; it is for the glory of the Lord himself, and to show our eagerness. Paul wants the Lord Jesus Christ to get glory through this act of grace from the Gentile churches toward their Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul mentions in verses 19 and 20 that he and his co-workers are serving, ministering, or administrating this grace; in verse 20 this generous gift, or literally this fatness, this abundance.

Precautions for Abundant Giving

Paul had said in verse 14 that the abundance of the Corinthians should supply the need of the Jerusalem saints. The Corinthians had been eager and promised to participate in this collection. Paul expected them to give out of their abundance, and he anticipated this grace to be fat, a plump gift out of their overflow.

A gift like that necessitated care. Today we can transfer money electronically, or we can carry money in the form of checks that are less easily stolen, but in the ancient world, this was not an option, and travel with a large sum of money was extremely dangerous. In Jesus’ story about the good Samaritan, he says:

Luke 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

This was a real danger of travel in the ancient world. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:26 lists ‘danger from robbers’ second in his list of dangers he faced in his journeying.

A group journeying together would offer much more protection from thieves than a person traveling alone. So Paul in this passage begins to list some of the travel companions that will accompany and oversee the gift.

Back in 1 Corinthians 16, where he gave instructions on the collection, he mentioned:

1 Corinthians 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

One of the accusations he defends against in chapter 3 of this letter is not having a letter of recommendation himself. Here he is including in this letter his commendation of Titus and the other brothers who accompanied him.

He thanks God that God put the same earnest care that Paul has for the Corinthian church into the heart of Titus. Titus was invited by the apostle to return and bring to completion the collection that was started, and Titus himself was eager to go.

The Brother Whose Praise is in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 8:18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

With Titus Paul is sending an unnamed brother, but one who was well known among the churches. Literally translated, it says ‘the brother of whom the praise in the gospel [is] through all the churches.’ different translations render this ‘whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches’ (KJV, NKJV); ‘who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel’ (NIV); or ‘for his work in spreading the gospel’ (NET); whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches’ (NASB). As these translations show, there is some ambiguity in Paul’s language. Does he mean that this brother was praised for preaching the gospel? Or that he was praised for supporting and encouraging the advance of the gospel? Gospel ministry includes evangelism, but it is bigger than evangelism. The good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead to new life affects all of life. Gospel ministry, serving others in and with the gospel, includes evangelizing the lost, as well as discipling and teaching and exhorting and encouraging in the gospel. Gospel ministry includes going, as well as giving and sending and serving.

Not all of us have been gifted as evangelists. But we all as followers of Jesus ought to be doing the work of an evangelist, in whatever opportunities God opens up for us. And we all ought to aspire to be those who are always diligently engaged in gospel ministry in whatever ways we have individually been gifted. What a commendation, ‘whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches’!

2 Corinthians 8:19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

This brother was appointed by the churches to accompany this grace that was for the glory of the Lord himself. Notice who the churches appointed to accompany a financial gift. It doesn’t say that he was a shrewd and successful businessman. It doesn’t say that he was well educated and good with numbers. It doesn’t say that he was big or strong or good looking or popular.

The churches appointed someone who understood grace. The churches picked someone who knew that he was a sinner, forgiven by God’s sheer and unmerited grace displayed in Jesus on the cross, a man whose only hope was in the good news of Christ crucified and risen, a man who had been transformed by the gospel, and who knew that the only hope for the world was in the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is who the church selected to help to oversee this financial gift. ‘Whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches’

Church Universal and Local

All the churches. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’ (singular). And we have letters addressed to the church in Corinth, the churches of Galatia, the church of the Thessalonians, and here we are the church in Ephraim, Utah. There is the church, the body of Christ, the catholic church (in the original sense of the word as universal), the church that includes every Jesus follower over all the globe and throughout history, and then there is a church in a particular geographic area, a local church, believers who meet together regularly for teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer, who baptize believers into that larger body of Christ, and who remember Jesus together by breaking bread.

Here Paul’s focus is on the many churches, local groups of believers who meet together in a geographic area. This brother has a good reputation in gospel service throughout all the churches.

We don’t know who this guy was. Paul doesn’t name him. We could speculate Apollos, who was well known in Corinth, who was ‘eloquent, …competent in the Scriptures …who spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’ (Acts 18:24-25). Or Barnabas, son of encouragement, co-laborer with Paul through the first half of Acts. Or Luke the physician, who also accompanied Paul on much of his gospel ministry. Possibly it was one of those named in Acts 21 as those sent by the churches to accompany Paul in bringing this gift to Jerusalem; Trophimus or Tychicus from Asia, Timothy or Gaius from Galatia. Probably not Sopater or Aristarchus or Secundus, who were from Macedonia, because Paul indicates in chapter 9 that the Macedonians would be coming with him later. Or, it may be someone who is not named anywhere in the biblical record, whose praise in the gospel is through all the churches.

The Tested and Earnest Brother

2 Corinthians 8:22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.

Titus and the brother whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the churches would be accompanied by a third brother, one who at many times and in many ways had been tested, being earnest, but now much more earnest in much confidence in you. Paul commends him for his earnestness, his eagerness, his diligence. He was not new; he had been tested many times in many ways. His character had been proved. His eager diligence had been demonstrated more than once. There is simply no substitute for proven character, tested over time and in diverse circumstances.

And he had a gospel confidence in the Corinthians. Paul had expressed his own confidence in them in 1:15 and 2:3 and with a different word in 7:16. In 3:4 his confidence is through Christ toward God. Paul and this brother are confident in the Corinthians, not because they have proved themselves worthy of confidence, but because they observe the grace of God at work in the Corinthians, and they are confident in God’s transforming power through the gospel. The Corinthians have proved themselves unreliable and fickle, but both Paul and this brother see something bigger at work.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This is gospel confidence. And this brother’s gospel confidence made him more earnest than ever.

Honorable in the Sight of the Lord and Man

Paul explains his reason for sending multiple people.

2 Corinthians 8:20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

Paul’s character had been under attack in Corinth. As he said back in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

It is a very small thing to be judged by people; even my own conscience is not the final judge. It is the Lord who judges me. Paul lived his life before God. He lived in the presence of God. Above all, it is God’s opinion that matters.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

In a very real sense, Paul played for an audience of one. It didn’t matter what people thought, so long as he pleased the Lord.

But in another sense, he was eager to be understood. He said:

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

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

God knows my heart, that is what really matters. But I hope it is known also to your conscience. Paul is applying wisdom from Proverbs 3:4.

2 Corinthians 8:20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

Paul is aware of the danger of accusations when it comes to handling money. He does what he does so that he cannot be blamed of impropriety. He doesn’t entrust this to just one person, regardless of how great their integrity. He makes sure there are multiple people involved so that there is accountability, so there is protection.

When it comes to the offering here at this church, we have only trusted people handling the money. And even though we trust them, for their own protection we have more than one person involved. There is accountability. What you give, you give to God, and the money is God’s money. We seek to handle it in a way that is above reproach and transparent. We keep track of what comes in and where it goes, and we communicate that to you. If anyone has questions about the finances of this church, it’s no secret; you can ask. We aim at what is honorable, not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of man. Few things can discredit a ministry quicker than mishandling money.

Peter gives this advice:

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. …15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Integrity matters. Public integrity matters. It matters not so much because we care what people think of us, but because we care about the glory of God, and when we act dishonorably, it dishonors Christ, whom we represent. Peter tells us that our honorable conduct ultimately glorifies God. Paul seeks, not only in the collection itself, but also in the way the collection is handled, for the glory of the Lord himself.

Messengers of the Churches the Glory of Christ

2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

Titus is my partner, the one I have fellowship with. And he is a co-laborer to you. As for the brothers, the brother whose praise is in the gospel, and the tested and earnest brother, they are apostles of the churches, sent out on mission. The glory of Christ.

This is an amazing statement. The glory of Christ. Paul seeks above all the glory of the Lord himself. The churches, glory of Christ. In chapter 4, he wants us to see the light of the gospel, the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; God opens our eyes to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (3:18). We have this treasure in jars of clay (4:7). The churches, the glory of Christ. We look at churches and see flaws and frustrations. We are disillusioned and disappointed. But God looks on the churches and their ministers as reflections of his own glory. God’s glory in earthen vessels. God’s aim is to sanctify his church,

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.

We are to reflect the glory of God in everything we do. Integrity matters.

****

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

October 8, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:2-3; To Die Together and Live Together

05/26_2 Corinthians 7:2-3; To Die Together and Live Together Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190526_2cor7_2-3.mp3

Authentic Ministry

Paul has written to the Corinthians to address a problem in their understanding. They were questioning his qualifications as an apostle. He wasn’t what they expected. They expected someone who had it together, who was impressive, who commanded attention, who didn’t struggle, who didn’t, well, who didn’t suffer so much.

They were measuring success by the metrics of power, influence, position, possessions, progress, popularity, wealth, health, strength. They were measuring successful ministry according to the world’s standards; they were not measuring according to the gospel.

Paul redefines for them what authentic ministry looks like, smells like. He teaches them to measure by a different standard. He teaches to measure according to Jesus, measure by the gospel, by the cross. There success looks like suffering, weakness, dependence, selfless sacrifice in service to others. He’s taken 5 chapters to lay this foundation reshaping for them what authentic Christian ministry is.

Make Room!

In 6:11 he comes to the point; he applies what he has been teaching to them directly.

2 Corinthians 6:11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

They were listening to other voices; they had become enamored with false apostles, and had begun to doubt Paul. As a means of enlarging their affections for their apostle, he exhorts them to cut off all inappropriate affections. Do not be yoked together in service with those who don’t hold the same beliefs.

Although this is a personal issue, rather than take it personally, Paul uses it as an opportunity to teach truth. He points them to the promises of God as a foundation for holy affections; because of who you are in Christ, because God has promised to live in you and to adopt you as his own, don’t live like those who don’t know God; don’t love the things that displease him. Pursue a life that pleases him.

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

And here in 7:2 he comes back around to their affections;

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us.

Having cut off unholy alliances, make much room for the apostle and authentic apostolic teaching. This word is the opposite of that in 6:12 ‘restricted or constricted, squeezed out’; you had no room for us in your affections; now make room for us.

Paul’s Integrity

Paul again affirms his integrity. We have seen him defend his character multiple times in this letter. Here he puts it staccato; no-one wronged; no-one corrupted; no-one exploited.

2 Corinthians 7:2 …We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

These are things Paul is likely being accused of. No one wronged. Some may have objected that he was overly harsh and unjustified in his demand in 1 Corinthians 5 to turn the unrepentant brother over to Satan. He was not wronged; it was for his good, ultimately for his salvation. It is possible that his firm stand against idolatry and immorality had cost some of the business owners in Corinth and they resented the loss. Paul would say ‘any profit made that way will not profit you.’ No one corrupted. Then and still today Paul is accused of corrupting or leading astray by his teaching, as if grace was a license to sin. No one exploited. Some were accusing him that his collection for the poor was a pretense for lining his own pockets and taking advantage of them. Paul flatly denies any of this. None of these are legitimate reasons to squeeze us out of your affections.

In fact, it is the false teachers who are peddling God’s word for profit, who are leading astray to a different Jesus and corroding the relationship between this church and their apostle, who threaten to cost them great spiritual loss.

Paul’s Affection

Paul is terse in his rejection of these false accusations, but he does not want them to misread his heart.

2 Corinthians 7:3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

He goes out of his way to reiterate his affections for them. Referring to his previous painful letter in chapter 2 he said:

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

In chapter 3 he said that Corinthians are written on his heart. In 6:11 he said his heart is wide open to them. In 7:1 he addresses them as ‘beloved’. Here he says ‘you are in our hearts.’ Paul is not reluctant to express his affections. He loves them. His heart is open to them, and that leaves him open to the real potential of being hurt by them.

To Die and Live Together

He affirms his affection by a common expression that he is willing to live or die with them. We see ‘to live together and to die together’ in classic literature as an expression of loyalty and friendship. Think of Peter’s exclamation “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Mt.26:35). David sings in his lament over Saul and Jonathan “In life and in death they were not divided” (2Sam.1:23).

Paul makes use of this common expression, but he doesn’t use it unaltered. He adjusts it. He tweaks it to suit his purposes. Whenever we see Paul taking a common expression and changing it, it should alert us to pay attention and ask what he means by changing it.

The first thing he does is he makes this into a purpose statement. ‘You are in our hearts, in order to die together and to live together; you are in our hearts so that we die together and live together.’ His grammatical structure [εἰς τὸ + inf.] indicates purpose. Why? Normally we would expect a phrase like this to be conditional: ‘if we live or if we die; whether we live or die; come what may, we are sticking together, we are in it to the end.’ This is not what Paul says. Paul’s aim is to die together and live together with this church, and so he keeps them in his heart.

The order here is also unusual; we would expect ‘to live and die together.’ But Paul reverses this intentionally, and puts death first.

When we see things like this, we should ask why? Why does he say it differently than we might expect? He is not sloppy or haphazard with his words. He is intentional. Every word is breathed out by God and profitable.

We think of the normal sequence, life and then death. But in the Christian experience, death comes before life. Romans 6 paints this picture.

Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

You see, death must come before new life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20). He says in Romans 6:8

Romans 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

He says the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:11

2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

Peter says it this way:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Death comes before life. This comes directly from Jesus’ teaching.

Mark 8:34 …“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

This teaching shows up in all four gospels more than once. Here in Mark it comes right after Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about his coming death. Death must come before life. We must die with Christ, die to ourselves if we would truly live. Jesus established this pattern himself. He says in John 10:

John 10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

He says in John 12

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Fruitful life comes after death, not before. Paul restates this teaching of Jesus in Romans 8:13

Romans 8:13 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.

This is really what the letter of 2 Corinthians is about. Authentic ministry is sacrifice, suffering in service to others. Ministry, really the entire Christian experience is death before life, suffering before glory, the cross before the crown. We are:

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Union and Communion in Community

Paul puts death before life, and he says that he has them in his heart so that he will die with them and live with them. Paul’s life is wrapped up in the lives of his spiritual children. For Paul the Christian life is a life in community, a life together with. We died with Christ. We are united to him in his death, and in his resurrection. And if each of us individually is united with Christ, there is a sense in which we are united with one another in death and in life. There is a union with others in the body of Christ. None of us are solo Christians. We are connected.

On an objective theological level, we died with Christ and so we are united together in his death and resurrection life. That is true. But it seems Paul is looking at something more. He is looking to bring this theological reality out into practical experience. He wants to experience death together with them and life together with them. You are in our hearts in order to die together and to live together. There is an aspect of union and communion that is only experienced when we suffer together. He said back in chapter 1

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

Do you hear that? Suffering comes before comfort; death before life. We share in Christ’s sufferings, and then we share in his comfort. And there is a together with aspect; we are afflicted for your comfort and salvation. And you experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. There is a fellowship, a union and communion in suffering.

We know this to be true. When we suffer together there is a knitting together that happens. Soldiers on the battlefield together experience this. Hostages or captives that experience suffering together experience this. Unbelievers who suffer together can experience a union because of shared suffering.

But when this knitting together in suffering is combined with the theological reality of our union with Christ, this is the union and communion that Paul is after. We are not suffering together merely because of circumstances; we are suffering together because of Christ. The Corinthians can be experiencing affliction because of Jesus in Achaia, and Paul in Asia or Macedonia, but they are suffering together as Christians. They are experiencing a dying together and living together in affectionate relationship. You are in our hearts.

Paul longs for this relationship, for this connection. For this theological union to be played out in real communion. The connection is open on his end. He urges them to open the connection on their end.

2 Corinthians 6:11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. … 3 …you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

Are we experiencing this battlefield unity with other believers? Are we united in death and in life? Do we have each other in our hearts in order to die together and live together?

***

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

May 27, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 6:3-4; No Obstacle But The Cross

03/10_2 Corinthians 6:3-4; No Obstacle But The Cross Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190310_2cor6_3-4.mp3

Context

Paul has just laid out the riches of gospel truth; that we are reconciled to God through the finished work of Christ; that the sinless Christ was counted as a sinner when he took my sin, and now I am counted righteous because I am found in Christ. He has called the church in Corinth to respond rightly to this message; he begs them as God’s ambassador ‘be reconciled to God’ and he appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain; in a meaningless, worthless, empty way, in a way that does not save. He quotes from the suffering servant section of Isaiah (49:8) to impress them with the urgency of responding to his message now, while God’s grace is being extended.

Here in verses 3-10 he presents his résumé as God’s minister, Christ’s ambassador, God’s fellow-worker. This is a memorable, lyrical, eloquent passage, on par with 1 Corinthians 13, and just as worthy of memorization.

The content of this highly structured résumé will have to wait until next week, but we will look at his cover letter in verses 3-4 today.

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

First, a note about how this sentence fits with the context. The main verb is all the way back in verse 1, ‘we appeal.’ “We appeal to you not in vain to receive the grace of God.” This is modified by the participle that begins the sentence ‘working together’. Then after the quotation in verse 2, he modifies this verb with two more participles:

1. ——–working together with God

We appeal to you

3. ——–giving no obstacle

4. ——–commending ourselves

Paul’s appeal to the church is his working together with God; his appeal comes with both negative and positive force. Negative in verse 3, which could literally be translated ‘to no one in nothing giving an obstacle’; and positive in verse 4, literally ‘but in all things commending ourselves.’

The Offense of the Cross

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no obstacle [προσκοπήν] in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

What does Paul mean when he says ‘to no one in nothing giving an obstacle’?

Let’s start by clarifying what he does not mean. Back in 1 Corinthians, he said

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

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block [σκάνδαλον] to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

Paul is fully aware that the word of the cross, the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is foolishness and a stumbling block, literally a scandal to many. When he says that ‘we put no obstacle in anyone’s way’ he does not mean that he ceases to preach the gospel for fear of tripping up or offending anyone. In Galatians 5:11 he refers to the ‘offense’ or ‘stumbling block’ or ‘scandal’ of the cross. He refuses to compromise or water down the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised on the third day. That will be an obstacle to many; however to attempt to remove that obstacle empties the gospel of any power to save. To tell people that they have sinned and offended a holy God, and that the wages of sin is death is offensive. To say that your only hope is that God had to become human in order to take your sin and die in your place is hard to swallow, but it is the gospel. We must not, we dare not tamper with the gospel. Paul refused to tamper with the offense of the cross.

Removing Obstacles

So what does Paul mean, when he says ‘to no one in nothing giving an obstacle’? Paul did talk at length in 1 Corinthians 8-10 about Christian rights, Christian liberties, and avoiding unnecessary offenses or obstacles. In that section (and in Romans 14) he discusses what you should or shouldn’t eat, specifically concerning meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. His conclusion is: flee idolatry (1Cor.10:14), but eat whatever is sold to you or set before you without raising question of where it came from (1Cor.10:25-27).

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block [πρόσκομμα] to the weak.

1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble [σκανδαλίζει], I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble [σκανδαλίσω].

In chapter 9 he uses himself as an illustration of letting go of legitimate rights for the good of others. He has the right as a minister of the gospel to make his living by the gospel (1Cor.9:4,14).

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

This is the passage where he says “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. …I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel” (1Cor.9:19,22-23). He removed any unnecessary obstacles to the gospel, any unnecessary offenses; he was always conscious of his surroundings and intentional about how he conducted himself. He was aware of contrasting cultures and careful not to unnecessarily offend.

His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense [ἀπρόσκοπος] to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

When Offense is Fruitful

But it’s more complex than just seeking never to offend anyone. Many people attempt to live that way today and are utterly useless for Christ. Paul offended plenty of people; that got him beat up, run out of town, thrown in jail on multiple occasions. He said some really offensive things. His first time in Corinth, in Acts 18, he was testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus,

Acts 18:6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

That’s offensive! That’s the kind of thing that started riots in other cities. That’s not very culturally sensitive. But we learn from Romans 11:11-14 that his goal was “in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” This was a fruitful offense; a gospel driven offense.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:12 that he refused to receive compensation from the Corinthians in order to avoid putting obstacles in the way of the gospel. But that was contrary to their culture and offensive to them. In their culture, the better the teacher, the higher the price, and the more you paid for your instruction, the more bragging rights you had. He took that away from them. He took a job and worked with his own hands in menial labor to support himself, which tripped them up. But he claimed that this was to avoid ‘putting an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.’ He was more concerned with the integrity of the gospel than he was in simply avoiding offense. If he accepted pay from them, it would send a message that the gospel was out of reach of the poor, that it was not all of grace, that it was only for those who could pay top dollar.

Another way he offended the Corinthians was in his manner of speech. Although fully capable of eloquence, as this passage so clearly demonstrates, he says “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:2), and this was contrary to their expectations. Paul made a conscious decision when he came to Corinth to not fit the mold, to fly in the face of their culture and not use oratorical skill or eloquent words of wisdom, because if he did it would imply that the gospel was only for the wise, the literate, the well educated.

Here’s an illustration of this principle of ‘becoming all things to all people’ tragically misapplied. Paul records in Galatians 2 that Peter in Antioch ‘was eating with the Gentiles;’ but when a Jewish delegation came from James in Jerusalem, ‘he drew back and separated himself.’ Isn’t this a case of ‘To those outside the law I became as one outside the law’ and ‘To those under the law I became as one under the law’? Paul says No! ‘I opposed him to his face’; he ‘acted hypocritically’; his ‘conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’. By withdrawing from eating with the Gentiles, he was saying that Christ had not successfully broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Greeks. He was actually contradicting the gospel.

This calls for discernment. How can I be culturally sensitive without compromising the gospel? What unnecessary obstacles do we put in the way of the gospel? How do I unnecessarily offend? Am I content with my own friend group, not open to others? Am I unwelcoming, unfriendly, sometimes irritable? Am I unwilling to get out of my comfort zone or risk being inconvenienced? These would be evidences of pride, selfishness, and would be potential obstacles to the gospel.

What are things in our church body that are stumbling blocks to the gospel? Our heart’s desire above all else should be to see God glorified as people come into a reconciled relationship with God through our Lord Jesus. And this reconciliation is from God. All this is from God. God alone can save. We cannot. But we can remove obstacles from the gospel. We can clear the way for the gospel to have full impact in someone’s life. What things are we doing – or not doing that are obstructing the gospel?

Purpose: A No Fault Ministry

Paul says ‘to no one in nothing giving an obstacle’

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault [μωμηθῇ] may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

His purpose for avoiding unnecessary obstacles is ‘in order that no fault may be found with the ministry.’ This word for ‘finding fault’ shows up again in chapter 8, illustrating what he means here. There he is talking about the collection of money from the churches that he intends to bring to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He makes it clear that he will not be doing this alone; he will be taking others with, people known by them.

2 Corinthians 8:20 We take this course so that no one should blame [μωμήσηται] us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

He seeks to be honorable, above reproach in the way he handles other people’s money. He wants accountability. He aims for integrity that is unassailable.

There are a hundred ways to discredit your ministry. Sadly, you have seen enough examples of this in the news, and you know the immense hindrance it is to the gospel.

Commending Ourselves

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

‘To no one in nothing giving an obstacle… but in all things commending ourselves.’ This commending his ministry is a thread woven through this letter. He said in 3:1 in exasperation ‘we are beginning to commend ourselves again!’ We’ve already been through the introductions; you know me. I spent 18 months with you, and then another visit and wrote at least two letters. You ought to know my character by now. You yourselves are evidence of my authenticity.

He says in chapter 4

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

The way we handle God’s word demonstrates our integrity. He says in chapter 5:

2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

You ought to be able to defend us to those who are attempting to undermine our character. This thread appears again in chapter 10, where he points out that some commend themselves by comparing themselves with others, but only those whom the Lord commends are approved (10:12,18). In chapter 12 he says that he ought to have been commended by them (12:11).

Ministers of God with Faultless Ministry

2 Corinthians 6:3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

In all things we commend ourselves as servants, ministers of God. We remove unnecessary obstacles, so that no fault can be found with the ministry. Ministers of God with faultless ministry.

How does Paul commend himself? What is the content of his résumé? It may not be what you expect. This is his cover letter. Next week we will review his resume.

Takeaway

What can we take away from this? As followers of Jesus, each of us is a minister, called to serve others for their good.

-Is your ministry blameless or blameworthy?

-Does your character and conduct discredit your message or commend it to others?

-Are you holding fast to the offense of the cross, or are you willing to manipulate the message to make it seem less offensive?

-What stumbling blocks are you putting in front of others?

***

*Ask God to open your eyes to see the obstacles you place in front of others.

*Ask him to give you a tenacious grip on the gospel

*Ask him to create integrity of character that displays his grace

***

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

March 13, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:2; Characteristics of Authentic Ministry

07/29_2 Corinthians 4:2; Characteristics of Authentic Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180729_2cor4_2.mp3

The Roots of Authentic Ministry

Therefore, on account of this; because we have this kind of ministry, a new covenant ministry, Holy Spirit ministry, ministry driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, ministry that gives life, ministry that brings righteousness, ministry that creates lasting transformation, ministry that removes the veils that obstruct the glory of God; because we have this kind of ministry, we do not faint, fail, lose heart, get discouraged, give up.

We do not lose heart because we have this ministry by God’s mercy. Not because we deserve it, not because of our performance, not because of our strategies or techniques, not because of our skill or expertise, or our tenacity, not because of our methods or our success rate. We have been entrusted with this transformational ministry by God’s mercy.

Last time we defined mercy as divine pity or compassion resulting in action to help one who is powerless to remedy his own situation. It is God’s rescue in response to our need. Each part of this definition is important; it is rooted in God’s emotional response to our need – he feels pity or compassion. This emotion of pity results in action to rescue – God does something to help. And it is God’s action toward those helpless to do anything – we are powerless to do ministry apart from him.

We do not give up even in the face of discouraging circumstances and failure because of God’s mercy. God’ feels divine compassion toward us. He feels compassion or pity because we are really and truly helpless, powerless to effect any change in anyone on our own. And his divine pity moves him to action; to show up with supernatural power to do what is beyond our reach.

We have experienced God’s mercy in salvation. We must also experience God’s mercy in ministry; in our service to others. Just as we are helpless to save ourselves from our sins, so we are helpless in ourselves to truly serve others. We must depend completely on the mercy of God to empower our service, our ministry to others. It is only in this way we can love and serve others and persevere in ministry.

Authentic Christian Ministry; What it is Not

In verse 2, Paul lays out what authentic Christian ministry looks like. He begins by renouncing the things Christian ministry must avoid, and then he gives us what authentic ministry consists of. Paul is defending the integrity of his apostolic ministry, but remember, we are all called to ministry, to love and serve others.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, …

Paul renounces the hidden shameful things. This word ‘renounce’ is a strong word, meaning to disown. This is the only place it occurs in the entire New Testament. He utterly rejects secret or hidden methods in ministry; he divorces himself from tactics that are shameful or would bring disgrace.

What kinds of things come to mind? Scandal, immorality, pornography, greed and financial corruption, manipulation, abuse of authority all come to mind. Anything that would bring shame on the name of Christ. Anything secretive, hidden, underhanded. What does Paul specifically have in mind when he says ‘we have renounced the hidden things of shame?’

Not Crafty or Cunning

He lists two things. First, not walking in craftiness or cunning. This word literally means the ability to do anything and everything, and it is always used in a negative sense. This is the willingness to do anything necessary to accomplish the desired ends. The scribes and chief priests sent out spies to catch Jesus in his words in Luke 20. They used flattery and asked him if it is lawful to pay the tribute tax to Caesar. We are told that Jesus ‘perceived their craftiness’. They were willing to use any means possible to bring an accusation against Jesus to get rid of him.

This word shows up later in 2 Corinthians 11

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

There it speaks of the temptation of Eve to disobey and rebel against God in the garden. Satan employed every means possible; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life to deceive and lead her astray. He worked all the angles. He came at her from every side.

We’ve had our share of door to door sales people come to sell us stuff we didn’t need. They are masters at working all the angles. We were newly married and had a vacuum salesman show up at our door. He demonstrated how amazing his vacuum was, and we were impressed, but when he told us the price tag we both laughed. That’s more than I paid for my car! Can I drive it to work? But he worked all the angles. He had won a new vacuum that he didn’t need and he was willing to give it to us for a fraction of the sticker price. I’m a sucker for a deal, so he had us. Another time, we were listening to a sales pitch for a time share resort we couldn’t afford. The salesman made the mistake of looking at my wife and asking me ‘but isn’t she worth it to you?’ That was low and dirty. Yes, she is worth it. She is worth protecting from financial ruin by not spending more than we can afford for something we don’t really need. We walked. Sales people learn how to work all the angles, manipulate emotions and personalities and they will do anything to close the deal.

Ephesians 4:14 is another place this word shows up. We are to equip the saints toward unity and maturity and Christ-likeness,

Ephesians 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

There are a lot of winds of teaching blowing around. There is a lot of human cunning and deceitful schemes sold to Christians today. We all need to be plugged in to a solid Christian church, and be rooted in the truth of God’s word so that we aren’t tossed around and blown away by the latest thing that seems impressive.

I once attended some training on evangelism that sounded too much like door to door training for some multi-level marketing scam. Try to get a feel for where the person you are talking to is at, what they are struggling with, and adapt your presentation to target those felt needs, work to move the conversation toward a decision point, and don’t forget to close the deal. Now there is wisdom in listening well to where a person is at and skillfully applying the gospel personally to that individual, but we must be very careful not to be so eager to see a profession of faith in Jesus that we compromise the message, withhold vital information, or deceive in any way. We have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning.

Not Adulterating God’s Word

Or tamper with God’s word. The word ‘tamper’ is a word that means to adulterate, falsify, to make false through deception or distortion. Peter, in 1 Peter is talking about our new birth brought about by the word of God

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

…25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

And then he says:

1 Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

He uses the root of this word twice in these verses. ‘Deceit’ is the noun form, and ‘pure’ is also the noun form with a negative prefix. We are to desire unadulterated milk, untampered with milk. We are to put away tampering or adulterating. Who would think of messing with a baby’s bottle? ‘It’s mostly milk; I’ve only added the tiniest amount of poison. I’m sure it’s not enough to do any harm.’ We have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to tamper with God’s word.

Turn over to 1 Thessalonians 2. Verse 3 contains this word; there it is translated ‘attempt to deceive.’ It is worth reading that passage because in it Paul is also defending the integrity of his ministry.

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

Paul spoke of his boldness or openness of speaking in 2 Corinthians 3:12. He goes on to refute false motives:

1 Thessalonians 2:3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

It was not out of error or impurity or deceit; there was no flattery, no greed, no glory seeking. He was entrusted with the gospel, and his only aim was to please God. In 2 Corinthians 2:17 he said:

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

He goes on in 1 Thessalonians to lay out his heart and motives:

1 Thessalonians 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really [truly] is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Here he equates the gospel he preached, the gospel of God with the word of God. In 2 Corinthians 4 he refuses to deceive or tamper with or adulterate God’s word. That is the negative.

The Open Statement of the Truth

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Now he gives the positive, what authentic ministry consists of – the open statement of the truth. He puts the truth out on open display. Nothing hidden, nothing secret, no sales pitch, nothing tampered with. Plain, up front, transparent, honest integrity.

What is the truth of God’s word? We saw in 1 Thessalonians that he equates the word of God with the gospel of God, the gospel he preached (2:4, 8-9, 13). In 1 Corinthians he equates the gospel with the word of the cross (1:17-18); he preached Christ crucified (1:23); he decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2). Here in 2 Corinthians he says that God is through us spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere, an aroma that brings death or brings life, to those perishing or to those being saved (2:14-16). In 1 Corinthians 15 he summarized the gospel he preached by which you are being saved this way: ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…’ He points to Christ, the long awaited promised King. But he gets right to the point; he died. He doesn’t waste any time with ‘Jesus was a great prophet, a great moral teacher.’ He came to die. And what is really offensive is why. He died for our sins. He doesn’t leave out the fact that I am a sinner. That I have a need. That I deserve death. ‘Don’t you think if you left out all that morbid death stuff and telling people they are sinners that less people would be offended and more people would want to listen?’ Maybe, but that wouldn’t be the gospel, and that wouldn’t save anyone. The gospel is Jesus Christ crucified in my place, now having conquered my guilt he rose victorious and he is alive. Today we can know him, have a relationship with him.

Ministry in the Presence of God

Paul commends himself to everyone’s conscience; even those who are perishing must admit he tells it like it is, he is up front, he shoots straight, he holds nothing back.

But the ultimate judge of his ministry is no man. As he said in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

In 2 Corinthians 1:12 he said:

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

He speaks and lives in the presence of God. As he said in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ‘so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.’ He plays to an audience of one. He aims to please only one. He lives and ministers, he serves not to win the approval or the applause of those he serves, but in everything only to please the Lord God.

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

August 4, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment