PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Gospel Hope in a Broken World

03/15 Gospel Hope in a Broken World; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200315_hope.mp3

Our president announced this week a state of national emergency. The World Health Organization has officially designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic; as of yesterday there were 142,539 confirmed cases and 5,393 deaths worldwide [who.int]. There are currently around 2,000 confirmed cases in the US and 41 deaths, and those numbers are expected to rise. In response to identifying the first case of community spread in Utah, our governor announced the ‘dismissal’ of all students K-12, and colleges and universities are closing campuses and moving classes online. There is not a roll of toilet paper to be found in stores. Many people are afraid.

Suffering is Not New

How are we to think about all this? What do we as followers of Jesus do? Today I want to bring a message of hope to a hurting and broken world. But first we need to step back and look at where we are at and how we got here. Before we get to the good news, we should look at some bad news. Let’s give this some historical context. I found this list of 10 of the worst pandemics in history, and their death toll:

165 AD – Antonine Plague – Smallpox or measles? – 5 million

541-542 – Plague of Justinian – Bubonic plague – 25 million

1346-1353 – the black death – Bubonic plague – 75-200 million

1852-1860 – third Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 1 million

1889-1890 – ‘asian/russian’ flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

1910-1911 – sixth Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 800,000+

1918 – flu pandemic – influenza – 20-50 million

1956-1958 – Asian flu – influenza – 2 million

1968 – flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

2005-2012 (peak) – HIV/AIDS pandemic – 36 million

[https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/ ]

These are some staggering numbers. Why point this out? I am not at all trying to downplay this current pandemic. What I want us to see is the prevalence of death throughout human history. Remember this is just a top ten list; it obviously leaves a lot out. Suffering and disease and death is not new. We are not the first to face things like these. And we can learn a lot from history.

The Root of All Suffering

But to put this in an even broader context, I want to look at the global pandemic, the root cause that underlies all of these.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

The Bible has the answers to our deepest questions. Why? Why do terrible things like these happen throughout human history? Sin entered God’s good creation through one man. Death entered this world through Adam’s rebellion. Death spread to all people because all sinned. The wages of sin is death. The spread of contagious diseases that wipe out entire populations are not new. Fear and suffering and death are not new. God warned our first parents that enjoying relationship with him is life, but turning from him to follow other voices results in death. The death rate of COVID-19 is estimated at somewhere around 3.5%. The death rate of sinners throughout human history is 100%. Death is a fact we must face as humans living in a broken, fallen, hurting world. Let me give you a sobering word of encouragement; if the Corona virus doesn’t get you, something else will.

The Good News

We rebelled against a good and loving God. We brought the promised consequences down on our own head. But here’s the stunning thing. God himself came down. God entered into our disease ridden sick and dying world, not in a hazmat suit with a respirator, but in a susceptible, vulnerable human body. He actually took on flesh, he became one of us. In fact, he came so near to us that he contracted our disease. Galatians 3:13 says:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—…

1 Peter 2:24 tells us:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, …

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

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

Jesus himself told us:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is staggeringly good news. The God who we rebelled against and offended has come down,

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God came down on a rescue mission, to lay himself down, to actually contract our disease, to die our death so we could live.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Just stop and breathe that in. Whoever – believes – has – eternal – life. Eternal life. It will last forever. It cannot be lost or taken away. All who trust only in Jesus will enjoy his presence forever. Let that truth sink in deep and shape your souls and overcome your fears.

Here’s how the apostle Paul responded to this truth.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. …23 …My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Genuine Belief

Do you believe this? Do you really believe this? Has this truth sank down deep to the gut level where it influences every decision you make? Is this what you know is the right answer if your pastor were to ask you, or is this a truth that fleshes itself out in the way you live your life day to day? You see, a crisis, a tragedy, a global pandemic shows us what we really believe.

Cyprian (d.258); Dionysius (d.264)

In the plague of Cyprian, 249-262, at the height of the outbreak 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Cyprian’s (Bishop of Carthage) biographer wrote of the plague at Carthage:

Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. [/wiki/Plague_of_Cyprian; Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian. Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885. Online atChristian Classics Ethereal Library. ]

One eyewitness of the plague in Alexandria, Bishop Dionysius records:

At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/ ]

While the response of many to the plague was characterized by self-protection, self-preservation, avoiding the sick at all costs, the response of Christians was different. Dionysius recounts:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/; https://erenow.net/common/the-history-of-the-church/8.php]

The conduct of believers so impacted the culture, that a century later, the emperor Julian wrote (AD362) to exhort the pagan priests to imitate the Christians in their charity:

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort… [https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_22 ]

1527 – Luther

In August of 1527 the Bubonic plague struck Wittenberg and numerous people fled in fear of their lives. Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, remained in their beloved city in order to treat the infected. Luther responded to a fellow pastor and friend in another city: [https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/ ]

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together …so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another.”

Luther saw one purpose of an epidemic as

also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. “

He says we ought to:

serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [1 John 3:16].

He goes on to address our fears:

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He …takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.”

[https://blogs.lcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Plague-blogLW.pdf ]

It is out of this period that Luther penned his famous hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

1854 – Spurgeon

In 1854 Cholera broke out in London in the Broad Street neighborhood, just across the river from the New Park Street Chapel where Charles Spurgeon was newly called to minister. He was busy preaching, serving his people, visiting the sick and dying. In 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, he gave this charge to Christians:

You cannot stop their dying; but, oh, that God might help you to stop their being damned! You cannot stop the breath from going out of their bodies; but, oh, that the gospel might stop their souls from going down to destruction! It can do it, and nothing else can take its place.

Just now, the cholera has come again. There can be little doubt, I suppose, about it being here already in some considerable force, and probably it may be worse. The Christian need not dread it, for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death. Still, for the sake of others, he may well pray that God would avert his hand, and not let His anger burn. But, since it is here, I think it ought to be a motive for active exertion. If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad.

I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then. All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that —

There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “to-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

[https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-autobiography-of-c-h-spurgeon-volume-i#flipbook/380; Autobiography 1:371 ‘in sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, July 29, 1866’]

2019-2020 Wuhan China

On January 24, 2020 Pastor Paul Peng shared the gospel over the phone with a Zhang, a woman from Wuhan who while visiting her son in Chengdu, China, had become ill and was quarantined. Five days after putting her trust in Christ, she became the first coronavirus fatality in Sichuan province. Peng held a memorial service over a videoconferencing platform, preaching to about 100 of her friends and family that ‘calamity should lead people to pray not only for God to rescue them, but also for people to repent and turn to God’ [https://world.wng.org/2020/02/seeking_peace_in_sickness ]

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

I want to close today with the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism, a teaching tool for Christians in the form of questions and answers.

Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own (1Cor.6:19-20), but belong—body and soul, in life and in death (Rom.14:7-9)—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ (1Cor.3:23; Titus2:14).

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood (1Pet.1:18-19; 1Jn.1:7-9; 2:2), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil (Jn.8:34-36; Heb.2:14-15; 1Jn.3:1-11). He also watches over me in such a way (Jn.6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2Thess.3:3; 1Pet.1:5) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven (Matt.10:29-31; Lk.21:16-18); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation (Rom.8:28).

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life (Rom.8:15-16; 2Cor.1:21-22; 5:5; Eph.1:13-14) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him (Rom.8:1-17).

***

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

March 16, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind

03/08_2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200308_2cor10_2-6.mp3

For two years, John Calvin preached regularly throughout the week in the church in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1538 the city council, resisting his ideas of reformation, kicked him out of the city. Three years later, they begged him to return, about which he wrote to a friend “There is no place under heaven of which I can have a greater dread.” After several busy years of ministry in Geneva, in 1546 he wrote this in his commentary on 2 Corinthians:

The life of the Christian, it is true, is a perpetual warfare, for whoever gives himself to the service of God will have no truce from Satan at any time, but will be harassed with incessant disquietude.”

The life of the Christian is a perpetual warfare. He goes on:

It becomes, however, ministers of the word and pastors to be standard-bearers, going before the others; and, certainly, there are none that Satan harasses more, that are more severely assaulted, or that sustain more numerous or more dreadful onsets. That man, therefore, is mistaken, who girds himself for the discharge of this office, and is not at the same time furnished with courage and bravery for contending; for he is not exercised otherwise than in fighting. For we must take this into account, that the gospel is like a fire, by which the fury of Satan is enkindled. Hence it cannot but be that he will arm himself for a contest, whenever he sees that it is advanced.” [Calvin, p.321-322]

The life of the Christian, especially the Christian involved in ministry (and we are all called to minister) is war. Paul describes this warfare in 2 Corinthians 10.

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 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. 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. 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.

Walking In the Flesh not According to the Flesh

Paul is being accused ‘walking according to the flesh.’ Back in chapter 1, when he was faulted for changing his travel plans he asks:

2 Corinthians 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

Paul concedes, he does walk ‘in the flesh.’ Paul is human. He is not superhuman; he has a normal human existence. Galatians 2:20 he says:

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

He lives life in the flesh. He walks in the flesh. But he does not walk or make plans according to the flesh. He is using ‘flesh’ in two different ways here. He does lead a normal fleshly human existence with all the frailties and hardships of life in a fallen physical body, but he does not live according to the flesh; he does not follow his sinful fallen human thinking to make decisions. We do not walk according to the flesh; we do we walk in the flesh, but ‘we are not waging war according to the flesh.’

Waging War

Here he switches metaphors from walking to waging war. Paul is not walking, he is not running, he is on the warpath, he is on the offensive. He is in a battle. He is waging war. But he is clear; he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Supernatural Weapons in Both Hands

The weapons he uses in his warfare are not of the flesh. They have divine power to destroy strongholds. He doesn’t here tell us what those weapons are. We could look to the gospel armor in Ephesians 6; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of gospel peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God; together with all-prayer. We need to have on the full gospel armor to stand against our supernatural enemy. But we don’t have to leave 2 Corinthians. We could look back to 6:7 where he mentions the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. Paul uses both right-handed and left-handed spiritual weapons. On the one hand:

2 Corinthians 6:4 …by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

On the other hand:

2 Corinthians 6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

There are two sides to his weaponry:

2 Corinthians 6:8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

This kind of warfare doesn’t make human sense. That’s what he means when he says that he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Have you ever seen a physical battle that is won by meekness and gentleness? But that is exactly how Paul wages war. By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, he tears down strongholds. He battles by dying, and behold we live.

In chapter 4 he says

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He battles (4:2) ‘by the open statement of truth’ . God opens blind minds through the proclamation of (4:5) ‘Jesus Christ as Lord.’

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

You see the kind of weapons he uses? They are not what we would expect, according to the flesh. He wins the war like Jesus did, by laying down his life, to show us life that is life indeed.

Tearing Down Strongholds

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.

The weapons we use have the divine power to destroy strongholds.

A stronghold is a defensible place stocked with supplies where people could retreat from an attacking army. A stronghold at best would serve to delay the inevitable conquest. An attacking army with siege weapons, given enough time would be able to conquer the stronghold and take captives. In Judges 9, Abimelech ambushed many of the people of Shechem, captured the gate of the city, and when he was told that the leaders of the tower of Shechem had fled to the stronghold, he and his men set fire to it and killed them. But when he captured Thebez and attempted to do the same thing to their strong tower, a woman threw down an upper millstone and crushed Abimelech’s skull.

Battling Proud Arguments

What are the strongholds Paul refers to? He tells us in the next verse.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

Paul is in a war against arguments, ideas, opinions. He is in a battle for the minds of people. His objective is to take the minds of people captive to obey Christ. What he tears down is anything that is raised up against the knowledge of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing.. 5 For what we proclaim is …Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

He wants the Corinthians to know God, to know and experience the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He wants them to see the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the very image of God. He wants them not to regard anyone according to the flesh (5:16), no longer to boast in outward appearances (5:12). This is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons.

Forsaking Pride to Know Him

He tears down every exalted thing. We tend to lift up so many things. We lift up wisdom and power and position and status and appearance. We lift up ourselves. We don’t think we’re really that bad. We think we are enough, that we are OK, that we can do it, maybe with God’s help, but we can do it. Our opinion of ourselves is often lifted up against the knowledge of God. We can’t even believe in God without the gift of his grace! Paul says that he is not sufficient in himself to claim anything as coming from himself (3:5).

You see, to believe in God, to really trust him alone, we have to come to the end of ourselves. As long as we think we can contribute something, we won’t trust. Not completely. And God requires us to turn. Turn away from whatever you were holding on to, to throw down as worthless whatever you were clinging to and cling only to him. This is biblical repentance.

Paul describes his own experience in Philippians 3. He said ‘if anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (3:4) and then he lists his credentials. And when he gets to the end he says:

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul took everything that lifted him up, all his own accomplishments that were lifted up against the knowledge of Christ, and counted them all as loss, filth, refuse. He turned to Jesus empty handed, open handed, ready to receive a gift he didn’t deserve. He emptied his hands so that he could know Christ.

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I Must Die

Paul wants to build up the Corinthians, but first he must tear down everything that is lifted up against the knowledge of God. Paul wants them to truly know Christ, but first the demonic wisdom that lifts itself up against knowing God must be destroyed.

Mark Seifrid writes “this violent conquest is achieved by means of weakness. It …is contained within the paradox of the cross, where God’s weakness is manifest as more powerful than human beings (1Cor.1:25).” [PNTC, 381]

His authority as an apostle is for the edification of the Corinthians, not for their destruction. He must, however, first destroy the Corinthians in their false imaginations (every exalted thing) in order to take captive every mind (including the Corinthians) in obedience to Christ. The Spirit gives life only to that which has been put to death (3:6). Paul’s calling as apostle is not to effect merely a change of minds, but a change of persons. The cross of Christ does not merely do away with the world’s wisdom, strength, and boasting. It does away with the wise, the things that are strong, and the exalted (1Cor.1:26-31).” [PNTC, 382]

Paul wars against this, and we must war against it in our own hearts and minds. I must reckon myself dead, dead in trespasses and sins, if I am ever to experience the resurrection life that Jesus gives (Rom.6:8; Eph.2:5). I need to embrace – to really believe – the gospel. I must be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2:20). I must abandon my pride and own my need so that I can truly know Christ. The gospel is good news for sinners.

***

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

March 9, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Engaging Community with the Gospel – Matthew 28

01/26 Vision– individuals engaging the community with the gospel (Matthew 28); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200126_church-outreach.mp3

We’re looking at the church, God’s vision for the church, what it means to be a healthy church, to re-focus our vision for what we are meant to be as a local church.

We’ve seen from Matthew 16 that the church belongs to Jesus. It is a gathering of Jesus followers built on the identity of Jesus and the offense of the cross, united into one body by the Holy Spirit through the new birth.

A local church is made up of individual believers, so a healthy local church is made up of healthy believers. From Colossians 3 we saw that followers of Jesus live by faith, keep their minds fixed on God and his glory, live in love and forgive as they have been forgiven. We are to live lives are saturated with the word of God and with prayer.

From Romans 12 we saw that the church is the body of Christ. The church is made up of individual believers, and as individuals, we each bring something to the table, something to the body. We are individuals transformed by the good news, and God has given each of us different gifts that we are to use to build up one another in love. We are meant to experience the gospel in community.

As Hebrews 10 tells us

Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, … 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are to draw near to God through Jesus, to hold fast our confession of the gospel, we are to meet together, to encourage one another in the gospel, to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to experience the gospel in community. And we are to engage our community with the gospel.

The Gospel of Jesus

We looked at the great confession in Matthew 16 that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God as the foundation on which Jesus builds his church. Now we will look at the great commission in Matthew 28, how Jesus goes about building his church.

Matthew 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus tells his eleven disciples to make disciples who will make disciples. Luke gives more detail on the great commission in Luke 24.

Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead to fulfill the Scriptures. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. A gospel foundation.

Paul summarizes the gospel this way in 1 Corinthians 15; the gospel he proclaimed, that was to be received and held fast, the gospel that was saving those who were believing. ‘That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he appeared…’ (1Cor.15:1-5). Making disciples must be built on a gospel foundation.

Witnesses, Wait

You are witnesses of these things. A witness testifies to the truth of what he has experienced. Jesus went on to say in Luke 24

Luke 24:48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

But stay until. In Matthew 16 Jesus told his followers that he would built his church on the confession of his identity as the Christ, Son of the living God, but that they were not to reveal his identity, not yet. Luke continues the story of what Jesus began to do and teach in his book of Acts.

Acts 1:1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

He ordered them to wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues:

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

You will be my witnesses. You will be immersed in the Holy Spirit, clothed with power from on high to be my witnesses.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

The very first thing we need to note is that we are to be his witnesses, to make disciples, not in our own power, not with our own natural wisdom or ability. We are to fulfill the great commission in the strength that God supplies. Natural means produce natural results. Supernatural means produce supernatural results. Jesus told his disciples to wait. The Holy Spirit was sent, Peter preached, and

Acts 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2 closes with these words:

Acts 2:46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The Lord added to their number. In Acts 11 the church was scattered because of persecution, and some disciples preached the Lord Jesus to the Greek speaking Jews in Antioch

Acts 11:21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

When news of this reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas.

Acts 11:23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

God’s grace made visible! In Acts 16, Paul and Silas traveled through Asia minor visiting the Gentile churches and bringing news of the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15) that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Jesus is building his church through the witness of his followers empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It’s important to say here, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. Paul writes to the Romans

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

Believers, you have the Spirit of God, and you are called to be his witnesses!

The Authority of Jesus

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples…

Before Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make disciples, he claims to have all authority. It is ‘therefore’, because of this, that he authorizes them to make disciples. Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. Philippians tells us that because Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus holds all authority, and he authorizes us to make disciples.

The Presence of Jesus

Matthew 28:20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew’s gospel began with the introduction of Jesus as the one who will save his people from their sins, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Immanuel, God with us (Mt.1:21-23). Now, at the close of this gospel, Jesus promises to be with his people, his followers throughout history, to the very end. Jesus’ own authority remains with us today, because Jesus himself is with us today!

Disciples of All Nations

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …

Make disciples of all nations. Where Judaism was ‘come and see’; there was only to be one temple, only in Jerusalem; Christianity is ‘go and tell.’ Jesus explicitly includes as an essential part of his great commission that the good news is meant for all the nations. We are not to be comfortable or isolated or exclusive. The ultimate goal is people ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Rev.7:9) worshiping. Jesus is more than just King of the Jews. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, King of the nations! The book of Acts chronicles the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. As followers of Jesus, we are to engage our community and beyond with the gospel.

Disciples are Baptized in the Triune Name

What does it mean to make disciples? A disciple is a learner, a follower. We make disciples by proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming in Jesus the forgiveness of sins. Repent or turn from whatever else you are hoping in, trusting in, holding on to. Turn to Jesus alone as your only hope. Disciples make a clean break. Baptism is a picture of that. You go down into the water. What you were is dead. You come up a new creation in Christ.

Throughout the New Testament, believers are baptized. This is a public statement that you have made a break with your past and now you are following Jesus. Jesus commands that we baptize his disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Notice, ‘name’ is singular; we are baptized into the one name of the triune God, who eternally exists in the distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit. We are immersed into God himself.

Baptism is identifying with a new group. It is saying ‘I belong with these people.’ Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. …27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

We are baptized into one body by the Spirit. Water baptism is an outward declaration of what happened in us when we believed the gospel and turned to Jesus.

Disciples Obey Jesus Always in Everything

Those who believe the good news and turn to Jesus are to be baptized, identifying publicly as followers of Jesus, identifying with the body of Christ. But it doesn’t stop there.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

A disciple is a learner. A follower of Jesus follows Jesus. That seems like it should go without saying, but Jesus thought it was important enough to include it in his great commission. Disciples obey Jesus in everything all the time. To follow Jesus is to give up following yourself. ‘Here’s what I want to do, but Jesus, if you are King, if I now belong to you, then I have to give up being king of me.’ I get to obey, to do what he says.

This doesn’t happen overnight. When you hear ‘disciples obey Jesus in everything all the time’ you might get discouraged or doubt, thinking ‘I certainly don’t obey Jesus in everything all the time, maybe I’m not really a follower.’ Maybe. But remember, Jesus’ command is that we make disciples, teaching them to obey Jesus. Teaching is an ongoing process. A disciple is a learner, a lifelong learner. None of us has graduated. We are all by God’s grace still learning. We are learning to love God more than anything else, and love neighbor as we love ourselves. We are learning to surrender every area of life to his loving control. We are learning to be his witnesses and make disciples. We are getting to know Jesus and what he demands of his followers, and we want to please him. We are learning what it means to be a part of his body, to love and serve one another. We are learning to forgive like we have been forgiven. We are walking. We are following.

What a disciple does not say is ‘I understand Jesus is calling me to do this, but I will not do it.’ That is what it means to not be a follower of Jesus, to not be a disciple. A disciple does not refuse to follow Jesus. At least not for very long. Remember, Jesus has all authority. Hallowed be your name (not mine). Your kingdom come (not mine), your will be done (not mine). To follow Jesus is to have a new Master, a good Master.

And remember, we are not alone, trying to do this on our own. Jesus is with us, always, to the end of the age. We are empowered by the gift of his Holy Spirit who lives inside.

Summary

Jesus is building his church. We as his disciples, followers of Jesus, are to engage our community with the gospel. Empowered by the Spirit, under the authority of Jesus, we are to make disciples, other followers, of all nations, identifying them as followers by baptizing them into the name of the one triune God, teaching them to obey Jesus always in everything. And we are to continue following, continue learning. Continue spending time with Jesus.

***

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

January 27, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020 Vision; Healthy Church – Colossians 3

01/12 Vision – healthy individuals make a healthy church (Colossians 3); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200112_healthy-church.mp3

Last time we looked at Jesus’ vision for the church; seeing clearly who we are, who we are meant to be will shape what we do. We saw from Matthew 16 that the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. The church belongs to Jesus. The church is built on the identity of Jesus as the only Son of God. The church is created by the Holy Spirit through the miracle of new birth. The church carries Jesus’ own unstoppable authority and is meant to be on the offensive, moving forward to take ground from the enemy. But the church is built on the offense of the cross; we follow a crucified King; Jesus came to lay down his life for others. So the way we advance is by that same love which works itself out in self-sacrificial service toward one another and toward a hurting world. This is Jesus’ own vision for his church.

We can embrace and affirm Jesus’ vision for his church. We can read Matthew 16 and agree, ‘yes, this is what the church is, I agree,’ but how do we move from saying to doing? How do we move from merely affirming to actually being, living it out?

Not a Building

Today I’d like to look at what it means to be the church by looking at what the church is composed of. Remember, the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. We tend to think in terms of place and structure. How do I get to the church? Where is it on the map? What does the building look like?

Across the world, church buildings have been burned or bombed. On 15 April 2019, the 850 year old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was significantly damaged from a fire, and for the first time in 200 years did not hold Christmas services. January 9 of 2018 the Golden Lampstand church in the Shanxi Province of China, where 50,000 Christians worshiped, was demolished by Chinese police using heavy machinery and dynamite.

But if the church is really a gathering of Jesus followers, then the destruction of a church building does not destroy the church. If the church is a local gathering of Jesus followers, It doesn’t really matter where we meet. It’s not about the building.

Healthy Believers Healthy Church

Today I want to ask the question ‘What makes a healthy church?’ If a church is composed of Jesus followers, then a healthy church is made up of healthy Jesus followers. That means that if I am concerned about the health of this church, then the biggest thing I can do is to make sure that I am a healthy Christian. And a healthy Christian is one who lives a life characterized by following Jesus. And a life characterized by following Jesus is the composite of individual days and moments of following Jesus. What does that look like?

Colossians

There’s a lot of places in God’s word we could go to answer this question, but today I want to look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is a church that Paul didn’t directly start. It seems that when he was in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), Ephaphras, a Colossian, was visiting Ephesus, heard the preaching of Paul and believed, and brought the good news back to his own city and a church was birthed. Now a few years later, visiting Paul in prison in Rome, he shares concerns over threats to this church, and brings Paul’s letter back to them.

The Miracle of New Birth

Paul starts (1:3-14) by thanking God for their faith, that when they heard the gospel, God’s grace had been poured out on them and they believed; remember, the new birth is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. Paul reminds them of God’s rescue, God’s forgiveness, and that is is God who ultimately makes them fruitful.

The Bedrock Identity of Jesus and the Offense of the Cross

Then (1:15-23) Paul points them to the priority, the preeminence, the first place of Jesus in everything. Remember, the church is built on the bedrock foundation of the identity of Jesus. The eternal Son of God, the very image of God, the one who created and sustains all things, is the head of the church. It is the offense of the death of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the cross of Jesus that secures our peace with God.

Paul preaches Jesus (1:24-2:5) and struggles and strives for their maturity in Christ. He exhorts them to stay firm in their faith in Christ, and warns them against being led astray.

He tells them (2:6-7) that as they received Christ Jesus the Lord in simple faith, entrusting themselves to him, depending on him alone, with thanksgiving that they should continue to live their lives by that same simple faith with thanksgiving.

He warns them (2:6-15) not to get taken captive by philosophies or traditions apart from Christ. Christ is everything. Jesus is God in the flesh. We died with Christ and have been raised up and given new life.

He warns them not to get tangled up in legalistic observance of days or dietary restrictions (2:16-23), We must hold fast to Christ the head, who nourishes and connects his body and causes its growth.

Indicative/Imperative

The church is established on the identity of Christ, is given new life in Christ, and lives in communion with Christ. Paul lays this foundation of truth that we must hold on to in the first two chapters, and then in the last two chapters, he gives practical instructions for how to live in light of this truth. That’s what I want to focus on for the rest of our time. If then. If this is true, if we are the church, built on the foundation of Christ, transformed by the good news of Christ crucified, following in the footsteps of Christ, living in communion with Christ, what should this look like?

Mind Set on Things Above

The first thing we are told, because we have been raised with Christ, we are to make a habit of seeking things above, and setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things. Jesus invited us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt.6:33). This doesn’t come naturally.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, talking about marriage and singleness says:

1 Corinthians 7:32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. … 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Paul holds up the main benefit of singleness as single-mindedness. The single person is free to focus solely on things above, on pleasing the Lord. So many single people waste their singleness with their minds set on earthly things. We are to seek in all things above all to please the Lord. Because we have been raised with Christ, we can seek the things above, we can seek to be satisfied in God. Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary’ (Lk.10:41-42). To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him.

Are you fixing your thinking on things above?

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

The Crucified Life

The next thing Paul tells us is to live the crucified life. He moves from resurrection to crucifixion. As soon as we try to fix our minds on things above, all the things of the world elbow their way in and compete for our attention. Paul is not gentle with these competing affections.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices

The follower of Jesus is to embrace the offense of the cross and walk in the way of the crucified life. Some things can’t be coddled. They need to be crucified. We tend to deal gently, even affectionately with our sins. We need to take hammer and drive the nail straight through.

The Peace of Christ

Paul goes on to describe in practical rubber meets the road terms life in the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Our new self is not perfect. It is being renewed, day by day. And that means others in the body of Christ are being renewed; they are not yet perfect either. But in Christ there is unity in spite of deep differences. We are being renewed whenever someone is difficult to be around, whenever someone disappoints us or wrongs us or sins against us. We are to be characterized by compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts in the one body of the church family. Oh, and by the way, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to forgive, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to bear with one another, be thankful. When you have a complaint against another, be thankful.

The Word of Christ

We might ask ‘how in the world do you expect me to set my mind on things above, to crucify my competing affections, to let the peace of Christ rule in my relationships with irritating, annoying, disappointing, difficult people?

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

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. What is in you will come out. What are you primarily feeding on? What is the main substance of your diet? There are a lot of different diet plans out there, and on occasion we have filled our fridge and our pantry with all kinds of odd things and measured and calculated and read the ingredients with the utmost care. How much attention do we give to what we feed on mentally and spiritually? What we feed on will inevitably shape our attitudes, our emotions, our thinking, how we see the world. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh come to dwell among us (Jn.1). Jesus’ words are spirit and life (Jn.6:63), and he means for his words are to take up residence in us. We are to be washed in the water of the word (Eph.5:26).

Not just feed on the word, but let it dwell in you. Not just dwell in you, but dwell in you richly. Don’t be sparing or stingy. Don’t measure it carefully. Glut yourself on God’s word.

What goes in must come out, and if we are consistently feeding on the word of Christ, then we can ‘teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.’ Without a stable diet of God’s word, we will be spewing earthly human so called wisdom.

Notice the one another here. There is to be one another teaching and admonishing. Disciples are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded us. ‘And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also’ (2Tim.2:2). If you are feeding on the word, you have something to say that is worth saying.

One another ministry is essential for a healthy church. First we are to forgive one another, and then we are to teach and admonish one another. Don’t attempt to admonish without first forgiving. Don’t attempt to admonish without the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.

And notice, when the word of Christ dwells in you richly, you sing. With thankfulness in your hearts to God. The word dwelling in you richly overflows in worship. Churches sing together. There is something unique about singing together the mighty truths of the gospel, expressing our praise and thanksgiving out loud together in song. Healthy Christians sing with thankfulness in their hearts to God.

Continue Steadfastly in Prayer

Paul gives some specific instruction to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and then he gives us these instructions:

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

Prayer. Steadfast continued prayer. Watchful prayer. Prayer with thanksgiving. Prayer for the advance of the word, for the proclamation of the gospel. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Healthy Christians pray.

A healthy church is made up of healthy followers of Jesus, who pray and sing together with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, who teach and exhort one another, who are saturated in the word of Christ, who allow the peace of Christ to rule in relationships permeated with forgiveness and love, who put to death earthly affections and fix their thinking on the things of God.

***

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

January 13, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2020 Vision – The Church – Matthew 16:18

01/05 2020 Vision – The Church; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200105_vision-church.mp3

I recently got my eyes checked. I was way overdue for an eye exam, and I’ve been noticing that my vision isn’t as keen as it once was. I’ve been having some trouble reading, especially with my contacts in. Vision is so important, and affects so many things.

One of my kids has glasses that she doesn’t wear very often, because her eyesight really isn’t that bad. But while we were traveling, she was looking out the window and said ‘Whoa, look at that buffalo!’ Of course everyone looked, but nobody saw any buffalo. Finally one of my other girls said, ‘Do you mean that big rock over there?’ If you can’t see clearly, you might fail to interpret accurately what is really there. That’s a problem.

Another time we were driving and the windshield was a bit dirty, but when we came around a bend so that we were heading directly into the sun, the glare made it impossible to see the road. It’s extremely dangerous both to yourself and to others around you when you can’t see the road. You have to be able to see the lines so that you can stay between them. Clear vision is essential to see the way ahead.

Vision and Vision Casting

It’s worthwhile to periodically check your vision. It’s worth stopping to clean your windshield before you find yourself facing directly into the sun. As a pastor, I am occasionally asked ‘What is your vision for the church?’ I understand that the question is meant in the sense of vision casting, what are your goals, your objectives, your strategic plans for the future. Dictionary.com defines vision in two distinct ways: 1. the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight. 2. the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.

I’m not a visionary, and while I don’t want to disparage those who are, I would rather focus on making sure we are seeing clearly and accurately.

Vision and Absolutes

In visiting the eye doctor, I discovered that they believe in absolutes. They have an objective standard. They put letters on the wall, and they ask you to tell them what letters you see. When your vision is fuzzy, the capital G is easily confused with the C or even the Q. But it’s not enough to answer confidently. If I said that the F was a P, they adjusted my prescription. Telling them that it was a P to me just confirmed their suspicion that I wasn’t seeing accurately or clearly.

We have an absolute standard, and it is the word of God. I want to be sure that my hopes and dreams for the church stay between the lines God has established for his church, and that we are moving together in the right direction.

Matthew 16:18

What is the church? What is God’s vision for his church? In the coming weeks I want to refresh and clarify our vision for the church, what we are meant to be. Today I want to look at Jesus, his promise to built his church; I just want to walk through the text in Matthew 16 together and make some observations about the church.

Matthew 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Ownership

The first thing that Jesus says about the church that I want us to pay attention to is an issue of ownership. Sometimes when pastors talk with other pastors, I hear things like ‘how are things going at your church?’ or ‘this is what we do in my church’. Now I don’t want to be the word police and I’m sure I’ve said things like that myself; that’s easier to say than ‘this is what’s happening in the church that I serve’. But I want to be clear. Jesus said ‘I will build my church.’ The church belongs to Jesus. Sometimes people refer to ‘my church’ not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of belonging. When someone says ‘this is my restaurant’ we know they don’t mean that they actually own the restaurant; it’s the one they always eat at. ‘My church’ can mean the church I belong to, the church where I serve. But if we are talking about ownership, Jesus holds exclusive right. It is his church that he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The church belongs to Jesus.

Built on the Identity of Jesus

The second thing to note is that Jesus started this conversation off with a question about his identity. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am? The church is built on the rock of the identity of Jesus. Peter’s great confession was ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There are lots of opinions about Jesus floating around, but it is essential that we see clearly who he really is, who he claims himself to be. The Christ, the promised Messiah, the long awaited anointed one. Prophet, Priest and King. The Son of the living God. “He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn.5:18). The identity of Jesus is the foundation of his church. You are:

Ephesians 2:19 …members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

On this rock I will build my church.’ The identity of Jesus is the foundation of the church.

Spirit Wrought Faith

There’s a third thing we need to see in this passage. This great confession was not a clever conclusion drawn from evaluating the evidence. Jesus makes a point of pointing this out.

Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Peter, you are blessed. You have been given a great treasure. You didn’t come up with this on your own. It wasn’t your keen insight or brilliant logic. It was revealed to you. My Father revealed it to you. It was given to you from above.

There was a Pharisee who came to Jesus at night with his own perception of who Jesus was. He called him ‘Rabbi’ and identified him as a teacher who came from God doing signs. He acknowledged that God must be with him. Jesus challenged him on his need for a spiritual transformation so that he could see Jesus for who he really is:

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

John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 …‘You must be born again.’

…or born from above. Jesus went on to describe the work of the Spirit of God in bringing about this new birth.

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit brings about the new birth when and where and in whom he wishes. Jesus went on to reveal his identity as the only Son given by God the Father to bring eternal life and salvation to a world condemned by sin.

The new birth is necessary to see Jesus for who he is, and that seeing is a work of the Spirit of God. There is a spiritual blindness that keeps us from seeing.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God through the supernatural work of his Spirit and through his omnipotent word reveals Jesus to us.

The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit.

Un-opposable Authority

Let’s look at some other things we can glean about the church from this passage.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The church is not depicted here as a fortress immune from attack. Instead it is an organism on the move, advancing and taking ground. The gates of hell can’t hold up against the advance of Christ’s church.

And there is unopposable authority. Keys unlock doors and grant access.

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and opened the kingdom to three thousand Jews. (Acts 2:38-41)

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house proclaimed the good news:

Acts 10:43 ..that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

And the door was unlocked to the Gentile nations. This was not unique to Peter.

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

Acts 14:27 … they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

If we jump ahead from this great confession to the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, we read of this unstoppable authority.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus holds all authority. And he invites us to make disciples of all nations. The church is made up of disciples, followers of Jesus from every diverse people group. We operate under the authority of Jesus, who is with us always.

The Offense of the Cross

But if we read on, there is something else we can learn about the church.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There is an offensive element to the church. It is the offense of the cross. In fact the church is built on the offense of the cross. There is a warning here. We have a tendency to want to avoid the cross. We have a tendency to set our minds on the things of man, not the things of God. We tend to look to human means, to strategies for success to grow the church. This is not God’s way. Jesus builds his church through the offense of the cross. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by bearing our sin and dying. We want the church to look presentable to the world, but the cross is not presentable. It’s not politically correct to talk about sin and judgment, but the good news is that Jesus took my sin and carried my shame and died the death that I deserved. The church advances when the message of the cross is unapologetically proclaimed.

Community of Self-Sacrificial Service

Jesus goes on in the next verses to define his followers.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The offense of the cross extends to Jesus’ followers. A disciple is one who patterns his life after the one he follows. Following Jesus means a life of self-sacrificial service to others. Jesus laid down his life in love for us. We are to lay down our lives in loving service to others. The church is made up of people who follow their Master and pattern their lives after his self-sacrificial service to others.

Conclusion

Let’s keep a clear vision of who we are as the church; who we are meant to be. The church is a community of Jesus followers united in one family by new birth. The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit. The church embraces the offense of the cross both in belief and practice. The church is a community of Jesus followers who gladly surrender and sacrifice for the good of others. Let us see clearly who we are, and let our identity shape our actions.

***

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

January 6, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luke 2:14; Glory to God in the Highest

12/08 Glory to God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191208_glory-to-god.mp3

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! His great and gracious gift is beyond fully telling, so we must tell of it over and over at different times and in different ways. We owe him our thanks and worship and praise, because he is the giver of every good gift. We must look at different aspects of his most glorious gift, and encourage each other to treasure and cherish and savor his good gift, and continually come to him with thanks.

The Christmas story is a familiar story to most of us, so we need to guard ourselves from becoming numb to its glory and taking it for granted. It’s easy to yawn and say ‘yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.’ The gift we received that very first Christmas is glorious beyond expression, so we must continually seek to give fresh expression to its glories and encourage one another to taste and enjoy and worship.

Today and next week, I want to take the very first Christmas carol sung by the angelic choir announcing the birth of our Lord and listen carefully to what it declares. Songs mean things, and it is good to stop and listen to what we are saying in our singing.

Listen to the familiar story once again from Luke 2:

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Announcement

This story is full of wonder. There is so much here. We can’t take it all in. First, listen to the angel’s announcement:

Luke 2:10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

The angel brought good news. News of great joy. And not just for the shepherds. Not even just for the Jewish nation. This good news of great joy is for all the people. For the world! For you and me, today! What was that good news?

Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Born in Bethlehem, today, is a Savior. A rescuer. A deliverer. One who will rescue you from the greatest threat to your peace and happiness.

The identity of this rescuer is the Christ, the promised one, the long awaited anointed Son of David.

And the identity of this one is staggering. Christ, the Lord. No mere human king, not only a physical descendant of David the king. He is that, but he is more. Christ the Lord. King of kings and Lord of lords, YHWH God of the Old Testament, himself come down. God with us. Immanuel. The Rescuer born is God himself.

This one is born to you, for you, for your benefit. Good news of great joy. For you, personally, and for all the people.

This next line is almost as startling. God himself born to rescue you, what will that look like?

Luke 2:12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

A baby? God with us as a helpless newborn? God swaddled? Omnipotent God wrapped up tightly in strips of cloth so he feels secure and can’t roll around and wiggle too much?

The long anticipated King of the line of David, God with us, placed in a cold and slobbery stone trough that farm animals eat from?

The Angel’s Priority

As if this announcement is not stunning enough, suddenly the sky is ripped open to reveal the vast multitude of angel armies worshiping.

Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Pay attention to what the angels said. They gave praise to God, because that is what angels are created to do. Notice where they start. They don’t start with a message of peace among men. That is an important message, and they will get to that. But that is second. It is not first. The salvation of humankind takes second place to the glory of God. Humans, like angels and all the rest of creation, were created to bring glory to God. That is the primary purpose of everything. That is why we exist. We were created to glorify God.

Our Failure to Glorify

We have failed miserably. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23) That was the sin of Satan. He was not content to give glory to God; he wanted to be like God and get glory for himself. That was the lie of Satan to our first parents in the garden, that rather than be content to give glory to God, you can be like God, and get glory for yourself. We failed to give God the glory he deserves (Rom.1:21-23). We fail to honor God as God, we rob him of worship, and treat him with ingratitude, we ignore him, act as if he doesn’t even exist.

That is what Jesus came to restore. Jesus came to elevate the glory of God back to its rightful place. Jesus said in John 7:18 that he ‘seeks the glory of him who sent him’.

The Story of the Glory of the LORD

Look back at verse 9.

Luke 2:9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

The angels sing glory to God in the highest. When the angel appeared, the glory of the Lord shone around them. This is a magnificent event.

Tracing this theme of God’s glory back to the Exodus, God said that he would get glory over Pharaoh and his hosts. (Ex.14:4, 17-18). After the people were safely outside of Egypt,

Exodus 24:16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

The glory of the Lord is the visible manifestation of his character and nature. Our God is a consuming fire! (Deut.4:24; 9:3; Is.33:14; Lam.2:3; Heb.12:29)

God gave his people instructions to construct a special tent where he would dwell in the middle of his people and a weighty process by which he could be approached by sinful people. After the tabernacle was constructed,

Exodus 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Once Israel was finally in the promised land, when Solomon finished building a permanent place for God’s presence to dwell,

2 Chronicles 7:1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house.

But the people did not remain faithful to the Lord. Their hearts went after other gods and committed spiritual adultery. As God warned, he sent them into captivity and the prophet Ezekiel (10:4, 18; 11:23) records his glory departing from his temple. Israel was sent into captivity. 70 years later, some of the exiles returned, and rebuilt the temple, but we are never told that God’s glory returned. For about 600 years of Jewish history, God’s glory was absent. God’s glory had departed.

And then, on one dark night in the Judean countryside, among a group of unsuspecting shepherds, the glory of the Lord blazed out in radiant splendor! Something awesome is happening! The glory of the Lord had returned to Israel! Glory to God!

Glory to God in the Highest

If the glory of the Lord is the visible manifestation of his character and nature, then God gets glory when his nature is acknowledged and worshiped. God is glorified when he is seen for who he is, when we tremble at him and treasure him.

God is constantly glorified among angel hosts. In Isaiah 6, we get a glimpse of worship around God’s throne where the six winged beings continually cry out:

Isaiah 6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (cf. Revelation 4:8)

Jesus taught us to pray that God’s name would be revered, glorified on earth as it is in heaven (Mt.6:9-10). Jesus taught us to live in the world in such a way that we bring glory to God.

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

The Chief End of Jesus

The angels announcing the birth of God the Son cried out ‘Glory to God in the highest. That takes priority. God’s glory comes first. The primary purpose of Jesus’ coming was to bring glory to his Father. Let me say that another way; the chief end of Jesus is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Jesus displayed the glory of God.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Jesus explained, displayed, exegeted the Father’s glory. He said “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn.14:9). He put the glory of God on display.

John 17:4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

It was at the cross that Jesus most fully displayed the glory of God.

John 12:23 …“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. … 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

It was on the cross that Jesus displayed both the absolute justice and the unstoppable love of God. He put on display both the terrible wrath and the free and undeserved grace of God. He taught us to tremble and to treasure. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom.1:18), and it fell on Jesus on the cross.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. …

Purpose Restored

Jesus gave us an amazing gift. He restored to us that for which we were created.

Luke 2:10 …good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior…

Jesus rescued us from our own futility. From the futility of worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator. He restored to us the great joy that comes only in right relation, in worshipful relation to our glorious God.

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Thank God for the gift of bringing glory to God as we were created to do. We have been restored to our primary purpose. We were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Jesus lived and died for the glory of his Father, and he gave us back the ability to live to the glory of God. He gave us the ability to live for something bigger than ourselves. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Glory to God in the highest!

***

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

December 9, 2019 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 9:9-10; Increase the Harvest of Your Righteousness

11/10_2 Corinthians 9:9-10; Increase The Harvest of Your Righteousness; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191110_2cor9_9-10.mp3

Paul is talking about the abounding grace of God, that God is able to make all grace abound to you, in order that you may abound in every good work. He will supply all his sufficiency at all times in all things so that you may abound in all good work. This is the abounding grace of God to us. This is the ever-flowing supply from the all-sufficient God.

In encouraging generosity; Paul uses the metaphor of farming – scattering seed bountifully. A farmer must not be stingy with his seed. A farmer worried about the waste of throwing good seed into the dirt to die does not understand farming. The harvest will be directly proportional to the amount of seed scattered; sparse sowing will produce sparse reaping; bountiful sowing will produce a bountiful harvest.

But Paul focuses on the heart and attitude of the giver. It is not good to give merely out of a sense of duty or obligation, what one ought to do. It matters what one wants to do. God is after our hearts; he is out to transform our desires. The seed must be scattered ‘upon blessings’; out of a blessed heart; a cheerful heart, a heart made glad by God’s experienced abundance.

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

In verse 9 he supports his assertion that the bountiful sower will be met with God’s abundant provision with a quote from the Old Testament, from Psalm 112.

Whose Righteousness?

2 Corinthians 9:9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Without going back to look at Psalm 112, it would be easy to make a false assumption about this quotation. The context in 2 Corinthians 9 is God’s abundant supply, and we might read the ‘he’ as referring to God; God has distributed freely, God has given to the poor, God’s righteousness endures forever. And while these are all true statements, that is not what the Psalm is saying. It will be worth our time to go back and read all 10 verses of Psalm 112 to see the context of the quotation. So keep a finger in 2 Corinthians 9 and turn back with me to Psalm 112.

Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! 2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. 6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. 9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. 10 The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!

The ‘he’ in verse 9 is clearly the ‘man who fears the LORD’, who is upright, who is gracious, merciful, and righteous, whose righteousness endures forever. He, the one who deals generously and lends, who acts with justice in everything, he is the one who has distributed freely. He has given to the poor. The righteousness of the upright man will endure forever.

Righteous Living

Righteousness is such a central topic in the Scriptures. So what can we learn about righteousness in Psalm 112?

The righteous man in Psalm 112 is blessed by the Lord. His house is blessed; his descendants are blessed. The righteous one fears the Lord. He finds great delights in God’s commandments. He walks in the light, he is gracious and merciful, he deals generously and lends, he conducts all his affairs with justice. He is not afraid of bad news; which means that he is not exempt from hardship or trials; he does experience setbacks, he does have enemies; but he is not shaken or afraid because his trust is always in the Lord.

This is what a righteous life looks like.

Righteousness that Endures Forever

The promise to the righteous is that he is blessed by the Lord (v.1-2), that his righteousness endures forever (v.3), that the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever, his righteousness endures forever (v.6). His righteousness endures forever (v.9).

This is an amazing promise, a staggering promise really, because we read in Ezekiel

Ezekiel 33:12 “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die.

That’s heavy, because God is telling his people not to rest in past performance. If you’ve lived a righteous life and then you sin, your past righteousness doesn’t save you.

But here in Psalm 112 we are told that the righteous person is blessed by the Lord, and that his righteousness endures forever. How do these seemingly opposed ideas fit together?

None Righteous

We need to step back and look at the bigger Biblical picture of righteousness. Psalms and Proverbs repeatedly contrast the righteous and the wicked; blessings poured out on the righteous and justice on the wicked. But the Psalmist also affirms the fact that ‘no one living is righteous before you’ (Ps.143:2) and when we get to the preacher in Ecclesiastes, he says

Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

The book of Job repeatedly asks this question: “How then can a man be in the right before God?” (Job.25:4; cf. 4:17; 9:2; 15:14).

Paul systematically answers this question of righteousness in his letter to the Romans. He begins by establishing the fact that “None is righteous, no not one; …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:10, 23).

Imputed Righteousness

And then he points to the righteousness of God,

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

He points us to an alien righteousness; a righteousness not our own, from outside us; God’s righteousness, given to believers in Jesus. We are justified; declared righteous by his grace as a gift. In Romans 4, Paul holds up Abraham as the prototype of God crediting or imputing an outside righteousness to a person who is not himself righteous.

Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

God counts ungodly people as righteous based on the righteousness of Jesus. He clarifies in Romans 5

Romans 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Just as Adam’s sin was counted against all mankind, so Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father is credited to the account of all who trust in him.

Isaiah 53 pointed us to this alien righteousness:

Isaiah 53:11 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.

The suffering Servant, Jesus the righteous sufferer, who bears our iniquities, makes us (sinners) to be accounted righteous. Jesus’ own righteousness is imputed to us or credited to our account; his perfect righteousness is counted as ours. This is an astounding promise of enduring righteousness. We are fickle; but God ensures that our righteousness will stand for eternity!

Practical Righteousness

This is the theological truth that undergirds and supports this promise that the righteousness of the generous person endures forever. None are righteous, yet all who entrust themselves to Jesus are counted righteous in him, and that is a righteousness that will endure forever.

But it doesn’t stop there. Some may be tempted to see this truth that it is not my own righteousness that counts with God, but rather Jesus’ righteousness counted as mine, and conclude that seeking to live a righteous life doesn’t really matter. As if fearing the Lord, delighting in his commands, walking in the light, doing justice and being merciful doesn’t matter. It does matter. Because God not only counts us righteous in Jesus, we become part of his new creation. We are being made new. He is out transform us from the inside out. He gives us a new heart, new passions, new desires.

Jesus said:

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, not because we keep the rules better than they do, but because we want more than anything to please God. We do what we do not in order to earn favor with God, but rather because God has freely shown us his undeserved favor.

Supplied to Scatter

2 Corinthians 9:9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

Paul supports his assertion that the bountiful sower will be met with God’s abundant provision with a quote from Psalm 112. God will cause his righteousness to stand forever. In verse 10, he points again to God’s abundant supply. Paul borrows language here from Isaiah 55.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Let’s draw a few observations from this text. First, God is the giver. God is the ultimate source of all good. We see this over and over in this passage, and throughout Scripture.

Second, notice the order; He supplies seed to the sower and bread for food. First seed for sowing, then bread for food. I think the order is important. There is a priority of scattering seed over supplying one’s own needs. God’s abundant supply is first meant for scattering out to others, and then afterward for satisfying one’s own needs with what is left over.

Consider Jesus feeding the multitudes. He broke bread and gave it to his disciples to serve to the crowds. It passed through their hands to others. They were no doubt hungry too, but they first took what they had been given and served those around them who were in need. After feeding the five thousand, they gathered twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over (Mt.14:20). After feeding the four thousand they took up seven baskets full of broken pieces left over. (Mt.15:37). Neither five small loaves and two fish nor seven loaves and a few fish would have gone very far among Jesus’ twelve disciples. But in Jesus’ economy it first passed through their hands to feed the multitudes, and then baskets were left over to supply the needs of his disciples.

We see this proverb in action.

Proverbs 11:24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

Harvest of Righteousness

2 Corinthians 9:10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

He will not only fully supply but multiply your seed for sowing. Remember, all that you have is a gift supplied to you by God. He who supplied it is able to multiply it, and he is able to increase the harvest of your righteousness. Notice what the harvest consists of; your righteousness. According to Psalm 112, your righteousness consists of fearing the Lord and delighting in his commands, walking in the light, loving justice and showing mercy, giving to those in need.

God is able to cause your righteousness to endure forever. How will you scatter what God has put in your hand? Who will you show mercy to today? How will you cooperate with God as he increases the harvest of your righteousness? Will you act on the new desires he has placed in your heart?

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

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

November 11, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 9:8; Abounding Grace for Abounding Generosity

11/03_2 Corinthians 9:8; I Shall Not Want; Abounding Grace for Abounding Generosity; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191103_2cor9_8.mp3

Abounding Grace for Abounding Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Abounding grace for abounding generosity. God will freely give you what you need so that you can freely give. Notice the ‘abound’ word – twice in this verse. It starts with all grace abounding, and it ends with all good work abounding. And notice the comprehensive ‘all’ words three times in the middle; all, always, all. This verse is symmetrical and comprehensive. It begins with an overflow of God’s grace to us, and it flows out in our good works.

Here’s a rough literal translation to help you see the symmetry and repetition in the verse:

‘Now mighty/able [is] God, all grace to cause to abound to you,

in order that in all,

always,

all self sufficiency having,

you will abound in all good work.’

God’s Ability

This verse begins with God’s ability, God’s abundant grace. God is able to make all grace abound to you. Let’s just soak in that statement for a moment. God is mighty. God is strong. God is able. He is powerful. He is fully capable. Omnipotent is the theological word – all powerful. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Nothing is beyond his ability. He is able to do all that he wants to do.

God’s Eagerness

And God loves a cheerful giver. The one who scatters seed bountifully will also reap bountifully. God loves a cheerful giver because he is a cheerful giver. And he loves to create cheerful giving in us. What he wants to do is to make all his grace abound to you. So that you will overflow with cheerful giving. Paul held up the Macedonians as an example of this in the beginning of chapter 8.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed [abounded] in a wealth of generosity [simplicity] on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief [service] of the saints—

God gave the Macedonian believers his grace, and it created abundant joy and overflowed in abundant single-hearted simplicity. God gave his grace to them, and God will give his abundant grace to you too.

God is able, and he is willing. He gave us the ultimate proof of his willingness.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

This is abundant grace indeed! That God himself, God the Son, being eternally rich, would enter into our poverty in order to make us rich with his presence forever! If you ever doubt his goodness, his grace, you need only look to the cross.

All Grace Abounding

Look carefully at what this says. Savor this! God is able to make all grace abound to you. It does not say that he will merely give you grace (as if that would not be enough). Not just sufficient grace, not some grace, but all grace. All grace! God holds nothing back! He gives us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:7)! All grace, every good gift we don’t deserve and didn’t earn is ours in Christ Jesus!

But he doesn’t even stop there, in giving us all his grace. He is able to cause all grace to abound, to overflow to you! All his grace in unending, overwhelming, abundant supply.

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, …16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Glory! We need his supernatural strength to comprehend the depth of his goodness toward us! All his undeserved grace in abundant supply! Worship!

The Purpose of Abundance

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

There is a purpose statement here. ‘So that’ or ‘in order that’. God’s grace is abundantly given to us for a purpose. It is so that in all things, at all times, we would have all sufficiency to abound in all good work. God’s abundant giving is to be mirrored in us. God gives abundantly to us so that we will become abundant givers like he is.

God’s purpose in causing all his grace to abound to you is not for you to store it up and horde it. It is not for you to become a a septic tank, where everything goes in and nothing out, where the good water flowing from the kitchen sink gets stagnant and smelly, until it gets too full and too foul and needs to be pumped out.

God’s design is that you be a fresh mountain reservoir, with direct access to the ever flowing springs and streams of God’s goodness, filled to overflowing so that it can freely flow out to bless others.

Paul tells the elders from Ephesus:

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

We are blessed in order to bless others. By working hard we must help the weak. He writes to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

The contrast here between stealing and working is not merely a contrast of how wealth is gotten. It is also a contrast of purposes. Not stealing to have more to spend, not stealing to supply his own needs, but working hard in order to have something to share with anyone in need. The heart of the thief is transformed. His goal for his income honestly gotten is radically different.

Paul writes Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

The rich are not condemned for being rich, but rather are exhorted to not believe in, trust in, set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. They are exhorted to use what they have been blessed with to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. This is how to truly enjoy wealth. This is truly living!

The author of Hebrews says

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Free! Freedom to be content with what you have. Content with the promise of God’s presence. He goes on to say:

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The privilege of pleasing God. We have the awesome privilege of pleasing God with what he has given freely to us.

Abundant Supply for Every Good Work

God’s purpose in causing all his grace to abound to you is that you might reflect him by abounding in all good work. We might ask ‘What good work? Which good work am I supposed to abound in? I certainly can’t do everything.’ This is similar to the lawyer’s question when Jesus affirmed that the law requires that we love God and love neighbor as oneself.

Luke 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

We want off the hook. So we say ‘Which good work?’ Jesus told a story about a man who had been beaten and robbed and left half dead, and three different people’s responses to seeing this man in need. Jesus’ question was:

Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Jesus turns the question around from ‘who is my neighbor’ to ‘where is your heart?’ What kind of a neighbor are you to the people in your life who have need? Are you miserly, eager to protect what you have, focusing on your own potential loss, or is your heart overflowing, seeing the need around you and leaping at the opportunity to bless as you have been so abundantly blessed?

This passage simply and clearly answers this question with one simple word; all. Every. So that you may abound in all good work. Every good work.

In fact James goes so far as to say

James 4:17 (KJV) Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

If you’re anything like me, you hear this and you say ‘but I don’t have sufficient resources to do it all! Every good work? This surely must be hyperbole. It can’t mean literally every good work, can it?

Sandwiched in the middle of this purpose statement are three more ‘all’ words. Inside the ‘In order that …you may abound in every good work’ are these six words: ‘in all, always, all sufficiency having.’ To our ‘but I don’t have enough, I won’t have enough’ God says ‘you will have all you need, all the time, in everything.’

In another passage where Paul is thanking a church family for sending him support, he says:

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

When I am focused on my lack and begin to doubt, I need to ask myself ‘Is Jesus enough?’ What is it that I really need?

Our thinking tends to be stuck in categories of giving monetarily. And that is a valid category. But we need to be open to thinking outside our boxes, as Peter and John teach us in Acts 3. They were on their way to the temple to pray when they were interrupted by a lame beggar asking for money. Here it is in the old King James, the way I first heard it:

Acts 3:6 (KJV) Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

He was asking for money. Not many of us can honestly say ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ But we do hold the life-transforming treasure of the gospel in these jars of clay. Peter and John could have said ‘Silver and gold have I none’ and felt off the hook to walk by and do nothing. But instead their time with Jesus had transformed their vision to see beyond what he was asking for to his real need, to the hope of all things made new. What has Jesus freely given you that you can share freely with others?

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Let’s end by savoring these familiar words together:

Psalm 23 (KJV) 1 A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul:

he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

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

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

2 Corinthians 9:7; God Is a Cheerful Giver

10/27_2 Corinthians 9:7; God Is a Cheerful Giver; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191027_2cor9_7.mp3

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

God loves a cheerful giver. What does it mean to be a cheerful giver? What does this imply about those who don’t give cheerfully (or at all)? Why does God love a cheerful giver?

Proverbs 22:8-9 [LXX]

Paul takes his ideas from Proverbs 22:8-9. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Proverbs 22 reads like this:

Proverbs 22:8 (lit. trans.) The one who sows worthlessness/evil reaps bad, but will fully complete the punishment of his works. A cheerful man and a giver God will bless, but will fully complete the futility of his works, 9 The one who is merciful to the poor, he will himself be maintained, for his own bread he has given to the poor

Then in verse 11 it says:

Proverbs 22:11 (LXXE) The Lord loves holy hearts, and all blameless persons are acceptable with him:…

A cheerful man, even a giver God will bless. The Lord loves purity in heart, the one who is merciful to the poor, who gives his own bread to the poor. God loves a cheerful giver. God will bless a cheerful giver.

A Single Eye

Proverbs 22:8-9 in the ESV reads:

Proverbs 22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail. 9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

He who has a bountiful eye; literally a good eye. What does that mean? Jesus picks up this idea about eyes and money in Matthew 6

Matthew 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy [ἁπλοῦς], your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Jesus says literally ‘if your eye is single’ or ‘simple’. Paul used the noun form of this word to describe the generosity, or literally the simplicity of the Macedonians back in 2 Corinthians 8:

2 Corinthians 8:2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [ἁπλότητα] on their part.

As we have seen, this word translated ‘generosity’ is literally the word for simplicity or single-hearted devotion to the Lord. Paul uses this word again in 9:11 and 13 to describe the heart from which they give. It is simple or single. It is not divided or double minded. Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus said the most important thing is:

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

A cheerful giver gives out of simplicity, eager to please one Master. There is no duplicity or double mindedness. The cheerful giver gives out of single-hearted devotion to Christ.

A Cheerful Giver

What does it mean to be a cheerful giver? We can learn something of what it looks like to give cheerfully, out of a single heart by looking at what Paul describes as the wrong motives. He said in verse 5 that it would be willing and not as an exaction, literally not as greed or covetousness. A greedy or covetous heart is not a cheerful heart.

He says in verse 6 that we should not sow sparingly or stingily, looking at the loss we might incur. That is not cheerful giving.

Verse 7 says that we are not to be reluctant or under compulsion; not out of grief or sorrow, not under pressure or necessity. That is not cheerful giving.

What he says positively is that it should be ‘as he has determined in his heart’ (9:7); out of an abundance of joy, riches of simplicity (8:2), giving themselves first to the Lord (8:5), begging for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints (8:4); a genuine love (8:8); a will and advance desire (8:10-12); out of abundance (8:14); for the glory of the Lord himself (8:19) a predisposed desire and zeal (9:2). They were making preparation (9:2-3), It was a promised blessing (9:5); it was to be upon blessings (9:6)

Upon Blessings

What does he mean in verse 6 to sow bountifully, literally ‘upon blessings’? ‘The one who sows upon blessings, upon blessings also will reap.’ He says in verse 5 that he is sending the brothers to prepare in advance their promised in advance blessing, so that it is ready as a blessing. To bless is to speak or pronounce God’s grace to others. To sow upon blessings is to sow out of a heart that has received God’s blessings; a heart overflowing with God’s blessings. When we have richly received and experienced God’s grace, we can widely scatter God’s amazing grace to others. A cheerful giver is one who liberally scatters blessings because he has lavishly experienced God’s blessings.

God’s Unconditional Love

God loves a cheerful giver. But what does that imply about those who are not cheerful givers? Or not givers at all? Does God not love those who are not cheerful givers? Doesn’t John 3:16 say that God so loved the world? Doesn’t God love everyone?

Let me put this another way. If we say that God loves the world, everyone, and cheerful givers are one subset of everyone, therefore God loves them, it makes this statement meaningless. It would be equally true to say that God loves the grudging givers, and those who give nothing at all. They are also subsets of the everyone whom God loves. Saying that God loves the cheerful giver must be saying something different than that God loves the sinful world or even than God loves all who trust in him.

You may have heard it said ‘there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than he does right now, and there’s nothing you could ever do that would make God love you less.’ God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is based on his own character, not on your performance. You didn’t do anything to earn his love, and you can’t do anything that would turn his love away from you. This is good news. This is grace. That God loves us not because of anything we have done or ever will do.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— …8 …this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

In this there is profound freedom; freedom from striving, freedom from performance, freedom from attempting to impress God.

Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

We must understand grace. Before we can give we must receive. Grace upon grace. And all our giving must flow out of these multiplied blessings poured out on us.

Consequences of Not Giving Cheerfully

But the Bible also talks like this: God loves a cheerful giver.

Jude 1:21 keep yourselves in the love of God…

John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. There is an ‘if’; if we keep his commandments, then we will abide in his love. God loves a cheerful giver.

This implies that there is a way to abide and a way to not abide in his love. That he loves a cheerful giver and is grieved when his people give sparingly or grudgingly or not at all.

The puritan pastor John Owen gives us categories to help us make sense of this. He draws a distinction between union and communion. We are united with Christ by grace alone through faith alone. Nothing we can do or fail to do will change our union with Christ. We belong to him. But how we respond to him can and does affect our communion with him, our day to day fellowship with him, our enjoyment of our union with him.

Think of the marriage relationship. We took wedding vows before God and in the presence of witnesses ‘to love, cherish and serve, in sickness and health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, ’til death do us part.’ I might act rudely toward my wife, and that won’t change her commitment to her vows before God, but it will affect the level of intimacy we enjoy in our relationship. It doesn’t change our union, but it will affect our communion.

Notice Jesus exhorts us to abide in his love for our joy, that our joy may be full. We will enjoy our relationship with God more if we walk in his ways, if we follow his commands, if our hearts are overflowing with gladness in him. We ought to pursue cheerful generosity, because cheerfulness is more enjoyable than being grudging or greedy or stingy.

God Is a Cheerful Giver

But there is a deeper, a more important reason that God loves a cheerful giver. It is simply this: God loves a cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver. God created us in his own image, and he loves to see his own character reflected in his people.

Look to God the cheerful giver!

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Every good gift is from God. God is the giver of every good. God himself is the greatest good.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 21:6 For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

God is our greatest good. And he does not withhold good from us.

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? 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?

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

He graciously gave us his own Son. He will with him pour out every spiritual blessing on us.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God is the giver. God gave his only Son, and Jesus gladly gave himself.

Galatians 2:20 …I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

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

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

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

It was his joy to give himself up for us.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Why does our motive and attitude matter to God? Why does our cheerfulness in giving matter? Because we image him, and when we don’t give cheerfully, we lie about him, we misrepresent him. God is not a stingy giver, he is not reluctant, not a grudging giver, he does not give out of compulsion or obligation, he does not sow sparingly. We could say God is lavish, excessive, prodigal. over the top, extravagant. God love a cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver.

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

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

2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Sowing and Planning

10/20_2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Sowing and Planning; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191020_2cor9_6-7.mp3

Paul takes two chapters in this letter to encourage generosity in the collection for the saints in Jerusalem that he is overseeing. He wants them to know about he grace of God given in Macedonia, where the believers joyfully gave beyond their ability, eager to participate in this act of grace. He encourages them that as they excel in so many areas, they ought to excel in this grace also. He refuses to command them, but rather gives them an opportunity to prove that their love is genuine. He holds up Jesus as the ultimate source of grace and generosity. He exhorts them to do what they wanted to do, to use their own abundance to make up for the lack others are experiencing; this is the very reason why God supplied them with an abundance. He commends the delegates from the other churches, sent to ensure the integrity of the mission, who are eager to serve and have great confidence in them. This is an opportunity for connection and accountability between the churches. Paul had boasted about them to the Macedonians, and the Corinthians’ previous zeal stirred them up to generosity. Paul is now sending the brothers ahead to avoid embarrassment, to ensure they are ready as they promised when he arrives.

2 Corinthians 9:4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

This last phrase can be literally translated ‘your before promised blessing, that this be ready thus as a blessing and not as greed.’ Paul is after their hearts. Motives matter. Why are they giving? Are their hearts overflowing with blessing? Or will it be an expression of their greed, their stinginess?

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul uses an agricultural analogy to encourage generosity. This word ‘sparingly’ means ‘to refrain, to spare, to save from loss of some kind’ [BDAG 1051]. The idea is that a farmer goes out to sow seed in his field and he looks in his bag of seed and thinks ‘This grain could feed my family. This grain is valuable. I could sell it. If I just throw it on the ground I might not have enough. To throw good seed in the dirt seems such a waste. It’s just going to fall into the ground and die.’

Anyone at all familiar with farming understands how ridiculous this kind of thinking is. If a farmer is stingy with his seed, worried about the waste of throwing seed into the ground, he doesn’t understand farming.

Jesus and Sowing

Jesus talked a lot about farming. In Matthew 13 he said:

Matthew 13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

Here we see what the stingy farmer is afraid of. Birds might devour all the seed. The sun will scorch the young plants. Weeds will choke them out. What waste! But in Jesus’ parable, the sower sowed anyway. He scattered seed widely, we might say even recklessly, wastefully. But when harvest time came, the seed that fell on good soil produced bountifully. The more seed he scattered, the more landed on good soil, and his harvest would be exponentially greater.

Jesus went on in Matthew 13 to describe another hazard to farming.

Matthew 13:24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.

The crop is ruined! Weeds are growing with the wheat! What should we do? The Master said:

Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus is confident in the power of the seed to produce fruit in spite of obstacles. There was still ample harvest, regardless of the enemy’s efforts. Peter says:

1 Peter 1:23 …you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 …The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

God sows with imperishable seed. His word will stand. The power of the gospel, the power of his grace will overcome.

Jesus said in Mark 4

Mark 4:26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Notice what this farmer did. He scattered seed on the ground, and he went to sleep. You can lose a lot of sleep worrying about tomorrow. But this farmer believed. He trusted that something bigger than him was at work. He scattered the seed and he slept soundly.

The Way Of The Cross

Jesus said 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.

It seems that throwing seed into the ground is a waste. It is just going to die. It is a loss. But that is the way of fruitfulness. That is the way of growth.

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “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.

This is the way of the cross. This is the way of death that leads to resurrection and new life. This is the way that seems foolish and yet reveals the power of God.

Giving and Blessing

Proverbs 11 shows this way that seems contrary to wisdom.

Proverbs 11:24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. …28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.

Giving does not seem to our wisdom to be the way to security. You may be familiar with the proverbial sounding wisdom of an older generation: ‘waste not, want not’ and ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’. There is of course some truth to that, but we must understand that giving is not wasting. We must be on our guard against greed.

Jesus said:

Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness [πλεονεξίας], for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

This word ‘covetousness’ is the same word at the end of 2 Corinthians 9:5 ‘ your before promised blessing, that this be ready thus as a blessing and not as greed

Luke 12:16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

God says it is the fool who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.

Proverbs 28:27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

Not Prosperity Gospel

I want to give a caution here. Many people today use some of these passages to preach a prosperity gospel. ‘Give to our ministry so that God will bless you financially. Send us your seed faith offering. Send $10 and it will become $100. Send $100 and it will become $1,000.’ This is nothing more than thinly veiled greed in church clothes. It is a get rich quick scheme that gives false hope and preys on the poor. Paul is talking about motives here, and if your motive in giving is to get back from God with compounded interest, then your motive is dead wrong. If you are trying to manipulate God by his promises to amass financial wealth for yourself, then money is the god you are really worshiping. That kind of thinking ignores the context and twists these passages to say something they do not say. The Macedonian Christians gave out of the depth of their poverty beyond what they could afford, not at all expecting anything in return. Paul wants to be sure the Corinthians are not stingy or motivated by greed.

Burden, Grief, Necessity

What Paul said in chapter 8 demonstrates what he perceives as one of the things holding them back from extravagant generosity:

2 Corinthians 8:12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.

The Corinthians are looking at this as a burden, not a blessing. They are concerned that if they bring relief to the pressure of others, then it will put them in a position of need themselves. Paul re-frames their thinking, showing them that they have a current spiritual lack that will be met by the joy of giving to those who are materially lacking. This ought not to be viewed as a burden, but as a God given grace. It is a gift of God, it is grace to be stirred to give, as the Macedonians teach us, begging earnestly for the grace and communion or fellowship of service to the saints.

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul here emphasizes the importance of motive. He gives two more descriptions of wrong motives to be avoided. Not reluctantly, not out of grief or sadness, not grudgingly. It is an occasion of sadness for someone who loves his money too much to be parted from it. ‘No, no, I do want you to have it, just let me say goodbye one last time.’ it ought not to cause us grief to be parted from that which has been freely given to us.

And not under compulsion; not out of distress, constraint, or necessity. Giving is not to be out of guilt or high pressure. Paul makes it clear he is not commanding them. He is urging and encouraging and exhorting them, but it must be of their own accord, what they want to do.

Giving and Planning

So he says “each one as he has in advance decided or chosen in his heart’. It is to be from the heart. Paul gives us a principle here. He says it is to be what was chosen or decided in advance, ahead of time. We tend to value spontaneity. Paul valued clear headed advanced planning and intentionality. This word is a compound with the ‘pro’ prefix, meaning before or in advance, and the word for to choose, decide, determine or intend. We saw this ‘pro’ prefix three times in verse 5. Paul encouraged the brothers to go in advance, to arrange in advance your promised in advance blessing. Paul is not now pleading with them to do something new, spontaneous, spur of the moment. He is exhorting them to follow through on what they had desired to do and determined to do and promised to do. He is honoring their advance planning.

He had instructed them in 1 Corinthians concerning the collection for the saints:

1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

Paul doesn’t want them to feel the pressure when he is present and in the moment go beyond what they really wanted to do. Get it ready ahead of time. Plan. Pray. Purpose.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at some unhealthy motives for giving; greed, grief, pressure, burden. Not stingy or sparingly, as if to give will entail great personal loss. Examine your own heart before the Lord. Confess those negative attitudes to God as sin. Ask him to change your heart. We are going to look more closely next week at the right motives for giving; cheerfully, upon blessings.

I have left you some homework. I am not going to tell you specifically how you ought to apply what this passage teaches us. I want you to ask God to show you what he wants you to do with this. Go home, get out your budget, look at where your money goes, remembering that:

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And make a plan. Make sure your budget, what you do with your money, reflects your heart, what you love, what you treasure most.

A farmer plans. He looks at how big the fields in front of him are, how much seed he will need to plant those fields. He may see that he has to make some present sacrifices, tighten the belt, so he will have enough seed to fully take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

Prayerfully, in the presence of God, make those decisions.

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

October 20, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment