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2 Corinthians 7:4; Super-Abounding On All Affliction

06/02_2 Corinthians 7:4; Superabounding Joy In All Affliction Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190602_2cor7_4.mp3

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

I just want to take this verse and listen to it, to turn it over and look at it, to savor its truth, to cherish it and ask if we might be able to apply its truth in helpful ways to today, to every day.

What I’m doing today is really not that profound. This is something we all can do. To take a verse and meditate, contemplate, ruminate and reflect on it, to chew on it, to think it over and allow it to change our thinking, to consider and take it to heart. This is what we should all be doing with God’s word, daily.

Background / Context

Paul is exhorting his readers to holiness. Holiness means cutting off inappropriate ties with false teachers and their practices, unfruitful partnerships with unbelievers. He applies various passages in the Old Testament to point them to the promises, to the truth of who they are in Christ, to say that because of who you now are, you need to act like who you are. Identity shapes behavior. Behavior doesn’t shape identity.

You have a king’s kid, the heir to the throne. And you have the son of a pauper, a peasant. The peasant can try to dress like the king’s kid, he can try to behave like the king’s kid (and he may often be better behaved than the king’s kid) but his behavior doesn’t change his identity. On the other hand, the king’s kid doesn’t often act like the king’s kid, he doesn’t like to dress like the king’s kid, but he is. It is his identity. He is heir to the throne. We hope and pray that over time he rises to the office, and grows into the position that is his, that he would learn to love and serve and rule well, we want his identity to shape his behavior, but his identity is not changed by his behavior.

Paul is saying, because of who you are, because of who you have become in Christ, this should motivate you to rise to the office, to step up and pursue holiness, to be who you are in Christ. God lives in you and walks among you, he is our God and has taken us to be his own people; he welcomes us and is a Father to us; he adopts us as his own sons and daughters. Because of who we are in Christ, “since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Allow your identity to shape your behavior.

Having given them a strong exhortation to holiness, he re-affirms his love for them, and invites them to open their affections to him in return. Because we are united with Christ in death, so we are united in his resurrection life. Because of our union with Christ, we have love for one another; we die together and we live together.

Boldness

And then he launches yet another staccato series of statements: much my boldness toward you, much my boasting on behalf of you, filled with comfort, super-abounding in joy on all our affliction.

Much my boldness toward you. Paul has been open, outspoken, blunt, frank with them. And he makes it clear, this is because his heart is open wide to them; he loves them. He has them in his heart. He is united with them. So he can be direct with them; when there is a problem, a concern, when their conduct is not in step with the gospel, he can address the issue. He uses tact, he applies wisdom, he is not rude. But he is clear. He speaks plainly to them. He used this word ‘boldness’ back in chapter 3:12 where he was contrasting his apostolic ministry with the veiled ministry of Moses. He said:

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,

And that applies here. Since we have this hope, these promises, because of our shared identity, who we are in Christ, we can be very bold. There is great confidence;

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

The Corinthians are God’s work. And he will bring it to completion. And one of the instruments in his hands to bring that work in them to completion is Paul. So Paul can be bold with them because he knows ultimately it is God’s work and he will without fail complete what he started in them. This is blood-bought gospel boldness, gospel confidence.

Boasting

Much boldness toward you; much boasting on behalf of you. Paul wants them to know that they are not his problem child. We read the Corinthian correspondence and we might get the impression from all his boldness addressing all the problems there that they are a constant source of grief to him. They might get the impression that he talks negatively about them wherever he goes. After all, he likely left Ephesus to make an emergency visit to them, and that didn’t go well. Then on this trip, he decided not to make another painful visit to them first, but instead send Titus to hopefully patch things up. But in Troas he left an open door for gospel ministry because of his inner turmoil over them. We could easily hear him saying ‘yeah, I’d really like to stay and serve you, but I’ve got this problem church down in Achaia, and I’ve got to go deal with them… again. But that is not his heart, and that is not how he talks about them. Here he affirms that when he talks to others about them, it is ‘much boasting’. And we see him display this in the Corinthian letters. He said in 1 Corinthians 1 that

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—

In 1 Corinthians 15:31 he swears and oath by his pride in them. Later in this chapter (7:14) he relays that he had been boasting about them to Titus, and his boasting had proved true. In 8:24 he says that he has been boasting about them to the other churches. He is bold toward them, but he is like a proud parent boasting about them to others. There are issues, and he doesn’t brush over them; he is bold toward them. But he is proud of them. He takes pride in them; ultimately in the work of God he sees in them. God is at work. And he is confident in the ability of God to complete what he has begun.

Comfort

Much boldness, much boasting, I am filled with comfort. Different forms of this word ‘comfort’ show up 10 times in 1:3-7

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

God is the God of all comfort. He comforts us so that we can comfort others. If you remember all the way back to chapter 1, we learned there that this word comfort is not a soft word; it is a strong word. Com-fort has ‘fort’ as its root, as in fortress or fortitude. This is a strengthening word. The Greek is παρακλήσει which literally means to call alongside. Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit in John 14 as the παράκλητος ‘the Comforter’ (Jn.14:16,26;15:26;16:7;cf.1Jn.2:1) or the Helper; the one who calls us to his side. In our afflictions, God calls us to his side; he is with us in our sufferings, he implores, he exhorts, he gives us strength. In the coming verses he talks about the comfort he received at the coming of Titus. Here he says he is cram full of comfort. He is filled up. He was downcast, but God comforted him. He has no lack, his cup is not empty. Filled up with comfort.

Notice where this strengthening comfort comes from. It is the God of all comfort who comforts us; we are comforted by God. It is God who comforts the downcast, who comforted us. And notice where this strengthening comfort comes to us, it comes in all our affliction. It comes to those in any affliction. We experience abundant comfort as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings. You experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Comfort isn’t escape from the pain; comfort comes to us in the middle of our pain.

Super-Abounding in Joy on All Our Affliction

This last phrase in this series is so interesting; super-abounding in joy on all our affliction. It seems Paul coined this word here. He takes a more common word superabound, to have more abundance, to be in excess, to have more than enough, which shows up a dozen times in the gospels; once in Acts, and 26 times in Paul’s letters, and he adds a prefix to compound and amplify it; super-super-abound. His cup is not just filled up full, it is not just overflowing, it is super-overflowing.

He uses this word here as he writes to Corinth from Macedonia, and again a few months later when he writes to the Romans from Corinth.

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Grace super-super abounded; Grace hyper-over-flowed.

Here, he is hyper-over-flowing with joy. This is unexpected. I think of the Corinthian letters as filled with concern and correction, not overflowing with joy. But here it is. Joy confronts us in unexpected places. Joy. In 1:24 he refused to lord it over them, but he works with them for their joy. In 2:3 he refers to his previous painful letter and expressed his confidence that his joy would be the joy of all. In 6:10 he describe the paradox of ministry as ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing’. Four times in this chapter (7:7,9,13,16) he speaks of his rejoicing. In 7:13 he rejoices over the joy of Titus. In 8:2 he talks about the abundance of joy of the Macedonians. In 13:9 he finds joy in his own weakness in pursuit of their restoration, and then in 13:11 he says ‘ Finally, brothers, rejoice.’

We tend to think, ‘how can he talk so much about joy and rejoicing all through a letter that is addressing such serious issues?’ And how can he talk about joy when he is experiencing such overwhelming suffering. But this is the thing, he is showing them what it looks like to have joy above your circumstance, joy not conditioned on your circumstances. Literally he says joy on top of all our affliction.

He won’t leave alone the theme of affliction. In chapter 1 it was comfort in all our affliction. He writes of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (1:8). In 2:4 he “wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” In 4:17 “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In 6:4 he commends himself as a legitimate servant of God “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities.” In 8:2 he speaks of the Macedonian’s “abundance of joy” “in a severe test of affliction” which “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Joy not only can survive, but can thrive in the middle of adverse circumstances. This joy is piled right on the top of all our affliction.

Application

Are you looking for a change in your circumstances? Are you looking for a break? Is your happiness contingent on your circumstances? That’s not the kind of joy Paul holds out to us. Is your joy hyper-over-flowing even in the midst of adverse circumstances? Are you filled up with comfort? Where does this come from? He doesn’t leave us wondering. It comes from God; it comes to us in the gospel. It comes to us in the middle of the mess. God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but he does want to transform us in the midst of the circumstances. He wants to heap inexplicable joy right on top of our painful reality.

Paul is not ignoring his circumstances; he is not in denial. But neither is he self-focused. He is looking to others. He is looking to how God is using him in the lives of others. He has much boldness toward them. And he is looking at God’s hand evidenced in the lives of others. He has much boasting on behalf of them. He sees God at work, even though that work is not finished yet. And that helps. It helps to see that God is at work in others. Sometimes we are too close to see him at work in us. But we can see him at work in others. And that can give us confidence that he is indeed at work in me.

He is not going to people to fill his cup. He is filled up with comfort; the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The comfort that the God of all comfort pours out into those whose hearts have been emptied through suffering. Are you seeking to avoid any suffering? That is where God meets us with his comfort and his overflowing joy.

***

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

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June 3, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Authentic Ministry

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

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

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

Make Room!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Integrity

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Affection

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

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

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

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

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

To Die and Live Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:11

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

Peter says it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

He says in John 12

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

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

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

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

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

Union and Communion in Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:11-13; Constricted Affections

04/28_2 Corinthians 6:11-13; Constricted Affections Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190428_2cor6_11-13.mp3

Paul’s Resume

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul commends his ministry; he gives us his resume, but not as anyone would expect. He highlights his ministry as a ministry that reflects the great Shepherd. Jesus said:

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Authentic ministry is patterned after Jesus; authentic ministry is cross-shaped ministry.

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.

In verses 4-5 Paul lists his endurance in the midst of the hardships of ministry as evidence of his authenticity. He experienced general troubles: in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities; specific persecution: in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots; voluntary hardships: in labors, in sleeplessness, in hungers. Then he lists God’s grace in action in his life producing the fruit of character: in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness; and he points us to the source: in the Holy Spirit, in love unhypocritical, in the word of truth, in the power of God.

He goes on in verses 7-8 with the means of authentic ministry; through the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, through glory and shame, through slander and praise. Ministry is war, and he is thoroughly equipped to glorify God even when he is put to open shame; even when slandered to offer a life of praise.

Verses 8-10 he points to the paradoxical nature of gospel ministry;

2 Corinthians 6: 8 …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.

We are not what we seem to be. Inward (or should I say Godward) reality often differs greatly from outward appearances.

Gospel Issues

Paul is building a case for authentic ministry, gospel ministry that is shaped by the gospel, ministry that follows Jesus, even becoming like him in his suffering.

Remember, he is writing to a church that he planted, in a city where he preached the gospel, as he said in 1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

In 1 Corinthians he was fighting for the gospel, and the issue was primarily doctrinal or theological. They were doubting the resurrection, and he was bringing them back to the gospel, lest they had believed in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. …17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

In 2 Corinthians, no less, he is fighting for the gospel. He pleads in

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

Be reconciled to God. The implication is that there is a fracture in their relationship that needs to be healed. He goes on in chapter 6:

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 …Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Paul is again fighting for the gospel, urging them to be reconciled to God. Where the issue in 1 Corinthians was theological; some were questioning the resurrection, here in 2 Corinthians the issue is relational; their relationship with the apostle Paul was strained and tenuous, and as we learn in chapter 11, they were developing relationships with false apostles. They were in danger of being led astray from the simplicity of the cross to a different gospel, and this was happening as they began to distance themselves from Paul.

This is no less a danger today. It is a danger for us to fit the gospel to our culture, rather than allowing the gospel to transform our thinking and shape our culture.

There are some even today who are rejecting Paul, leading people back into bondage under the law. They are rejecting the true gospel of grace. Beware of those today who undermine Paul and the gospel he preached.

Be Reconciled to Paul; Open Mouths

After painting a picture of his character in the midst of sufferings, a picture of cross-shaped ministry, after calling them to be reconciled to God, he calls them now to reconcile with him.

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

This is direct. Paul addresses them affectionately only here as ‘Corinthians.’ He says literally ‘our mouths are open to you Corinthians.’ Our mouths are open.

Now for most of us, that’s not a good thing. Our mouths are open too much. The wisdom books, especially Psalms and Proverbs have much to say about the dangers of the tongue, as does James. Psalm 64 speaks of enemies,

Psalm 64:3 who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows,

Does that describe much of what we see on social media today? Many of us have a Peter problem; in Mark 9 he spoke, because he did not know what to say. He opened his mouth just to stop the silence.

Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

There is wisdom in knowing when to keep silent, when not to answer. Jesus, when he was falsely accused ‘opened not his mouth’ (Is.53:7; Mk.14:61).

Some have taken Paul to be saying that he has said too much. But the context makes it clear that this is an expression of affection.

Proverbs 12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Words can do great harm, or they can bring great healing. Isaiah says:

Isaiah 50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary…

Paul’s mouth is wide open in the sense that he will not withhold good any good from them. As he said to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:

Acts 20:18 …“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.’

Acts 20:27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

In verse 32 he says:

Acts 20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

The word of his grace is able to build you up. Paul is confident in God and his word. He told them in Ephesians 4:

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

What comes out of our mouths can be corrosive, or it can build up. Your words, what comes out of your mouths, can give grace to those who hear. What you say can actually convey God’s grace.

Paul says ‘our mouths are open to you.’ We are holding nothing back that would be good for you.

Enlarged Hearts

Not only are our mouths open to you, but our hearts are widened or enlarged. This is in contrast to constricted or restricted in verse 12. That word means a tight narrow place. Back in 4:8 he used this same word ‘restricted;’ ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed‘. Crushed or in a tight narrow place with no way out. Our hearts are not narrow or constricted with no room for you; they are wide; we have plenty of room for you in our hearts.

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

If there is any narrowness, any constriction of affections, it is on your side; you are not squeezed out by us; rather you are squeezed out in your own affections. He changes words here from ‘heart’ to ‘affections;’ literally bowels or intestines, the seat of intense emotion. We might say ‘he experienced gut-wrenching sorrow’ or ‘I had knots in the pit of my stomach’. When we read in the gospels that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ (Mt.9:36), it is the verb form of this word ‘affections’ or ‘bowels’.

The point is he is talking about emotions, affections. The Corinthians had begun to squeeze him out of their affections. He is asking for a fair exchange, as to his own beloved children, you also make room.

How To Enlarge Affections

I want to end today with a very practical question: How do you make room in your heart? How do you enlarge your affections?

You hear of married couples saying ‘The flame is gone, I just don’t think I love him anymore.’

Or you have someone who has been hurt so badly, so deeply, that they could never love, never open themselves up.

Or there is someone in your life, maybe someone in the church, maybe someone in the community, that you find difficult to love. The Bible says I have to love them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them, right?

This is imperative; it is a command. Make room in your heart, in your affections. How do we do that? Can we do that? Can we obey a command to feel differently about someone? The biblical answer is ‘yes’. Yes, by the transforming power of God and the help of his Spirit we can obey this command. And he tells us how.

Cut Off All Inappropriate Affections

In the next verses we find that there are inappropriate affections going in other directions. The Corinthians are enamored with the false apostles. They don’t have room for Paul in their hearts because he has been squeezed out by others. They have given their affections to others, to false apostles, to a false gospel. We will plan to look at these verses next time. That is often the case. When love grows cold, the affections are being channeled in a different direction, an inappropriate direction. Something else is competing for your heart. Stop giving your heart to another. You are cheating yourself; you are constricting your own affections. Cut off all inappropriate affections.

Drink in God’s Love

But how can our heart be enlarged? Psalm 119 says:

Psalm 119:32 I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

It is God who enlarges a heart.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

Our love is a response to being perfectly loved. We love because he first loved us. Jesus said:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

We are to love others as we have been loved by Jesus. We our enabled to love others because we have been loved by Jesus.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We forgive because we have been forgiven. We are kind and tenderhearted to others, because God has been abundantly kind and tenderhearted to us when we didn’t deserve it. Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. All our affections flow out of this love that we have experienced.

That’s where the love comes from.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Do you feel your affections are drying up? Go to the unquenchable fountain and drink in God’s unwavering love. Saturate your shriveled soul in Christ’s sacrificial love for you, his enemy. Let God’s love in the gospel fill your heart to bursting. We love because he first loved us.

***

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

April 28, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 6:6-7; The Essential Means of Ministry

03/24_2 Corinthians 6:6-7; The Essential Means of Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190324_2cor6_6-7.mp3

Paul is giving his resume for authentic ministry. The Corinthians were looking for outward evidence of God’s blessing on his ministry, and they were beginning to question his authenticity. They were looking for power, prosperity, praise, eloquence, something flashy. Paul commends his ministry as a ministry that gives obstacles in nothing and to no one. Paul’s goal is that no fault could be found with the ministry. In all things he commends himself as God’s minister. He cares much more about what God thinks of his ministry than what anyone else thinks.

And the way he commends himself is not what anyone would have expected. What he includes in his resume is in the way he responds to adversity: ‘in much endurance’. And he lists three general hardships: ‘in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities’; then three specific types of persecution: ‘in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots’; then three hardships he willingly endures for the sake of the advance of the gospel: ‘in labors, in sleeplessnesses, in hungers.’ Nine hardships, faced with much endurance.

The Manner; Four Essential Characteristics for Ministry

Now beginning in verse 6 he lists eight means of ministry; four essential character traits for effective ministry, followed by four enablements for effective ministry.

He started the list in verse 4 with the character trait ‘much endurance’; remaining under these nine different types of hardships. Now he gives four more character traits; in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness. These describe the manner of his ministry, not so much what he does as much as how he does it, and ultimately who he is. Character. When hiring for a position, many companies are looking for skills, abilities, experience. Have you been trained in this field? Do you have the knowledge necessary to carry out the task? How much experience do you have in this field? What are your accomplishments, successes, abilities? Paul emphasizes not so much what he does as how he does it, who he is.

Who are you? Are you a butcher, a baker, a candle-stick maker? That is not who you are; that is what you do. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a pastor. Those are roles, hats I wear. They define my relationships to other people. I was born in a Christian home, raised in a healthy two parent family in Minnesota, the youngest of five. That is some of my history, my background, where I come from. That is not who I am. I like to hike, canoe, to be outdoors, to be creative, build things, fix things. Those are hobbies, likes, preferences. But who are you? Strip all that away, who are you when no one is looking? What is your character?

6 In Purity [ἐν ἁγνότητι]

Paul starts with purity. This word shows up only here and in chapter 11. The verb shows up in the gospels and Acts referring to ceremonial purification, and in James, Peter and 1 John it shows up in reference to heart and soul purified through the new birth. The adjective shows up a little more frequently in contexts of moral purity, blamelessness, innocence, integrity. In 11:2 the adjective is used in the metaphor of betrothing a pure virgin to her husband, and in 11:3 this noun shows up alongside sincerity, and in contrast to being seduced or beguiled with trickery or cunning, being defiled, spoiled or corrupted.

In 1 John 3:3 the adjective describes the character of God;

1 John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

We become like God as we see him as he is; through our hope in him, in looking to him, we purify ourselves as he is pure.

Paul points us to his innocence, blamelessness, integrity, moral purity. This purity is not because he always had clean hands and a pure heart; rather his blood-stained hands were washed clean by the blood of Jesus, and through the new birth he stands pure and holy, a new creation in Christ.

In Knowledge [ἐν γνώσει]

Next he lists knowledge. Knowledge was a big deal in Corinth. He recognized that they were ‘enriched in all knowledge’ (1Cor.1:5). But he drew a contrast between the knowledge they claimed and love for brother and sister (1Cor.8:1,7,10,11; 12:8; 13:2,8). They prided themselves in their knowledge.

But as Paul had already made clear,

1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For Paul it was not about what you know, but it had everything to do with who you know. He was in everything pursuing and advancing the ‘knowledge of God’ (2Cor.10:5).

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

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.

Paul was spreading the knowledge of God, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified. For Paul everything else was worthless, except “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … that I may know him” (Phil.3:8,10).

In Patience, In Kindness [ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ] [ἐν χρηστότητι]

Next he mentions patience and kindness. The word translated patience is literally ‘slow to anger’. These two words are listed side by side in Galatians 5:22 as the fruit of the Spirit.

Both patience and kindness are attributed to God in Romans 2

Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Where patience or slowness to anger is negative, refraining from responding immediately in anger even when there is something to be rightly angry about; kindness is its positive counterpart, actively doing good to those who have wronged you. God not only refrains from immediately punishing our sin; he also shows us his undeserved kindness. As Jesus instructs in Luke 6,

Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

We are to extend kindness even to our enemies; in doing so, we reflect the character of God. In being patient and kind, we are living out the gospel; we are conducting ourselves toward others how God has been toward us.

It is clear that these character traits are not natural. Who joyfully endures afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleeplessnesses, hungers? Who extends patience and kindness to enemies? These are supernatural character traits. In Colossians 1 Paul prays:

Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,

He combines endurance, the first on his list, and patience, and he says that we need God’s strength; we need the glorious might of divine enablement to respond to circumstances with endurance, slowness to anger, and joy. He says in Colossians 3:

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

He tells us that because we have been raised with Christ (3:1), because we are his chosen ones, because we are holy and beloved, because we have been strengthened with his mighty power, we can clothe ourselves with kindness and patience.

The Means; Four Divine Enablements for Ministry

When we understand how Paul uses these words, it makes complete sense where he goes next in this list. He gives four divine enablements for ministry. The character, endurance, purity, knowledge, slowness to anger and kindness is fruit. It is not Paul as he is naturally; this is Paul as he is empowered by God through his Holy Spirit for the ministry to which he has been called.

In Holy Spirit [ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ]

After four character traits, fruit necessary for ministry, Paul turns to the source. In the Holy Spirit. This is not the first time he has brought up the essential ministry of the Holy Spirit in this letter.

In 1:21 he mentions God in Christ by the Spirit who establishes, anoints, seals and guarantees us, by the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (and then again in 5:5). In chapter 3 He announces the new covenant ministry which has everything to do with the Holy Spirit, who writes on tablets of human hearts (3:3); who gives life (3:6); who brings freedom (3:17); who effects transformation in us (3:18). He said

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. …

His competency is not from himself but from God through the enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit. God has made Paul competent for the ministry. This is God a ordained, God empowered, God initiated, God sustained task.

In Love Unhypocritical [ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἀνυποκρίτῳ]

In love unhypocritical. Paul seems to have shifted gears when he mentioned the Spirit from a list of four character traits or fruit to the means or divine enablements for ministry. Is he switching back to character traits here when he mentions sincere love? Is this his love for others, or God’s love for him that enables him for ministry. To see this as God’s love for him seems to fit his flow of thought, as well as the context. He has just said (in 5:14) that ‘the love of Christ compels us’ and there he defines that love concretely as Christ dying for us; that God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. God’s love is a compelling force for ministry. It is when I know that I am loved, sincerely loved, loved without a mask, that I am freed to love others as I have been loved. It is seeing the gospel in action, that God so loved me that he sent his only Son to die for me, that I am freed from the need to seek love, freed and empowered to give love freely away. Love without a mask.

7 In Word of Truth [ἐν λόγῳ ἀληθείας]

In the word of truth. Here again we could ask, is he referring to his own integrity? Should this be translated ‘in truthful speech’ (NIV, ESV) or ‘in the word of truth’ (NASB, KJV)?

So far in 2 Corinthians, Paul has referred to how he handles God’s word, speaking in Christ (2:17); he refuses to tamper with God’s word but openly proclaims the truth (4:2). God has entrusted to him the word of reconciliation. If we turn to Ephesians we see that he refers to ‘the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’ (1:13). And in Colossians he points them to ‘the word of the truth, the gospel, which… is bearing fruit and increasing,… since … you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth’ (1:5-6). Paul encourages Timothy to ‘rightly handle the word of truth’ (2Tim.2:15). Peter says that we were born again ‘ through the living and abiding word of God’ (1Pet.1:23), and James says that God ‘brought us forth by the word of truth’ and that we are to ‘receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls’ (Jam.1:18,21).

What ultimately authenticates Paul’s ministry is the content of the gospel he proclaims. It is not a mere human message. It is not his own message; it is God’s word, a word that causes new birth, that is able to save your souls, a word that is bearing fruit and increasing. As he commends the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

This word is at work. It is a powerful word.

In Power of God [ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ]

In the power of God. Paul opens the letter to the Romans by saying

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. He says in 1 Corinthians

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

The word of truth, the word of the cross, the gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Throughout 2 Corinthians Paul contrasts God’s power with human weakness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant,

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.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

His competency for ministry, even his character is not from himself. It is from God. It is God’s Spirit at work in him and through him. His endurance of hardships, his purity, his knowledge, his slowness to anger, his kindness, is all of God worked in him by the Spirit.

May we too reflect the character of God in our conduct by the power of the Spirit of God living in us, through the transforming word of truth, the gospel.

***

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

March 25, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cross Before The Crown

12/23 The Cross Before The Crown; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181223_cross-before-crown.mp3

Christmas is a time to focus our attention on Jesus, who Jesus is, what he came to do. We looked at his eternal identity, the Son before the manger, we looked at his aim, to overcome the darkness in us with the light of his presence, that this was his plan before creation, to enter in to our mess and rescue us, that it was his eternal purpose to put on display the glory of his grace. Today I want to look again at who Jesus is, what he is really like, and how his rescue of us must happen.

The Image of Jesus

Who is Jesus? What is the mental image you have of Jesus? When you think of Jesus, how do you picture him? How do you imagine him?

Do you think of the baby in the manger? Do you think of a 30 something Caucasian with a slight build, long blond hair and piercing blue eyes? An olive skinned Hebrew with a robe and tassels? Some composite of the artwork and movies you’ve seen?

Did you know we have a visual description of what Jesus looks like in the bible? Let me read this description of one who saw the risen and glorified Lord Jesus. If you like, you can close your eyes and imagine.

Revelation 1:10 …I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet …12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

I dare say if we were to meet the risen Lord today, we too would fall at his feet as though dead. That description is from Revelation 1. There is another description in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Why don’t we think of Jesus this way? Except for one or two brief episodes (his transfiguration, and possibly at his arrest, when the armed mob drew back at his word and fell to the ground – Jn.18:3-6), Jesus did not look like this during his time here on earth. Of course these visions are highly symbolic, not necessarily meant to be taken as literal physical descriptions.

But even more important than what he looked like, he didn’t act like that during his time on earth. He didn’t come with sword and scepter, striking down his enemies, trampling them underfoot. But he will, when he comes again. Advent means coming. And advent is a time to look back at his coming, as well as forward to his second coming.

The Cross Before The Crown

We see both of these aspects of who Jesus is in Philippians 2. Philippians 2 is a call to love and unity, to put aside selfishness and pride, in humility to count others as more significant than yourselves.

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, being himself fully God, did not cling to his divine privileges. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. God humbled himself. He took the form of a servant; he was born into humanity. The Creator of all things became a part of his creation. He humbled himself even to the extreme of a humiliating death.

Verses 9-11 give us the rest of the story. God intended, as a result of his humiliation, to highly exalt Jesus.

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.

Humility and then glory. In that order. You see the ‘therefore’ at the beginning of verse 9? The Father exalted the Son as a result of his humiliation, his obedience even to the extreme of the cross.

We have to be careful not to misunderstand. It is not as if Jesus earned something that he did not before possess. He always was exalted; he did not need to be exalted. Verse 6 excludes the possibility of understanding this in a way that Jesus was somehow less and became great. It says that he existed in the very form or nature of God. His equality with God was not something he had to chase after. But having humbled himself, there was room for him to be exalted, lifted up to where he had come down from, restored to his rightful place.

What he has now that he did not before, is a human nature. At the incarnation, ‘remaining what he was,’ God from all eternity, ‘he became what he was not,’ truly human. He took a human nature, and he retains that nature for eternity. Jesus will be God incarnate forever. He now is seated at the right hand of his Father, a man; the God-man. Our advocate. Our brother.

And he now bears the title ‘Savior.’ From before time, before creation, he planned to rescue his fallen creation. But he had not yet carried it out in time. He was always full of mercy and grace, eager to forgive; that is his heart. But that is now seen, put on display because of his humiliation and crucifixion. The riches of his grace toward his enemies are now put on public display in the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus.

The cross came before the crown. Humiliation before exaltation. “Therefore God has highly exalted him.”

Temptation to Reverse

We see in the temptation of Jesus, Satan’s attempt to reverse that order.

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Use your power as the Creator to provide for your own needs. Put your own needs above the needs of others.

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

Jesus would live in dependence on God, putting the needs of others above his own.

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Use your privileged position and promise of divine protection to demonstrate to all who you are. Gain followers by a spectacular show of glory.

Matthew 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus would wait for the perfect timing of the Father. He would not step out on his own, seek his own glory, or force his hand.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Here is an opportunity to avoid the horrors of the cross. Just a simple act of worship and I will freely sign over what you know will cost your own blood to secure. Every knee will bow to you, if you will only bow your knee to me, do it my way. Does your Father really know best? Does he really love you if he sent you here to die?

Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Jesus was sure of his Father’s love and his Father’s wisdom. He would not be fooled as Adam was, questioning the Father’s goodness, questioning his wisdom or his ways. Jesus knew that humility was the only true path to glory.

The Annunciation

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary

Luke 1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But it was Simeon at the temple who said

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Jesus will reign. He will sit on the throne of David forever. But he must suffer first. He will be opposed. The cross before the crown.

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

We see this foreshadowed in the gifts of the Magi. Gold and frankincense and myrrh. All three were very valuable and used in trade. Gold is associated with wealth, royalty, and most notably the presence of God. Idols were often made of gold, and the most holy place, the place where God made his presence known, was entirely covered with gold. Frankincense is associated with the temple, used in the holy incense, burned with the grain offerings to create a pleasing aroma, and placed with the bread of the presence. Myrrh was also used in the temple service, in the holy anointing oil. It was also associated with passion and intimacy. Wine mixed with myrrh was offered to Jesus on the cross, but he refused it. Nicodemus used about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (Jn.19:39).

Economically these gifts would have provided the resources necessary for this poor couple to flee to Egypt and live there to escape the wrath of Herod ignited by the visit of the Magi, but it would be hard to miss the significance of the royal gift of gold that reminded of God’s presence with us, the priestly gift of frankincense that pointed to a sacrifice as a pleasing aroma to the Lord, and the myrrh as a preparation for burial. Jesus will reign, but he must offer himself, suffer and die first.

The Testimony of John

John understood both aspects of who Jesus was.

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

Jesus came into the world after his cousin John (he was younger), but John said ‘I am not worthy to untie even his sandal strap.’ He has come to be before me because he existed first. He is is the eternal one who has come into the world, and he is worthy of all worship. But he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Everyone in Israel knew how a lamb took away sin. It was slaughtered. It became a sacrifice. It received the death penalty as an innocent stand-in for a guilty person. It gave its life as a substitute. Jesus was the eternal one who entered our world, and he is worthy of all worship, but he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus would be worshiped as the king coming on the clouds in glory, but he must pay for our sins with his own blood first. The cross before the crown. This is why he came.

Worship and Imitation

What does all this have to do with us? First, it is reason to worship. Jesus, being God from all eternity is worthy of our worship. But Jesus came to die for your sins to rescue you and put on display the riches of God’s glorious grace. He would be worthy of our worship if he never stooped to save us. Every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. But what a treasure we have! That he did come! For us! To rescue us! What amazing undeserved grace! We can worship him not only at the worthy king, but as our savior, rescuer, friend. We have a man standing on our behalf in heaven. God took on our nature to be with us, to suffer for us, to advocate for us. What a savior! Worthy of worship!

Philippians invites us to have our affections stirred for Jesus, to take encouragement and comfort in his love for us, but also to learn from him. To be like him. To follow him. We will reign with him. We are promised his inheritance. We are welcomed in. The cross before the crown.

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The cross before the crown. We don’t have to grasp at power and position and possessions. God has promised us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet.1:4). God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph.1:3). It is ours in Christ Jesus. We have been given it. We don’t need to compete for it. Our interests are looked after by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself! We are freed now to look after the interests of others. We can count others more significant than ourselves. Jesus has freed us to love, sacrificially love, because we have been perfectly loved. So church, love boldly!

***

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

December 24, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:17; Freedom in The Lord The Spirit

07/01_2 Corinthians 3:17; Freedom in the LORD the Spirit ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180701_2cor3_17.mp3

Paul is talking about boldness and confidence in ministry; where does his competency come from? Who is sufficient to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere, which among those being saved is the aroma of life to life, but among the perishing is the aroma of death to death? ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ (2:16)

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is competent, not in himself, but God has made him sufficient to be a minister of the New Covenant, a minister of the Spirit. He contrasts his ministry with the glorious ministry of Moses

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Paul has in mind Exodus 34, where Moses came down from the mountain from talking with God, his face shining or glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Paul’s apostolic ministry is not like Moses’ ministry; it is an unveiled ministry; he is bold, open, plain-speaking. The Old Testament still today remains veiled to those who do not turn to Jesus. Their minds are hardened. A veil lies over their hearts.

Only in Christ is that veil rendered ineffective, abolished, brought to nothing. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted.

Exodus 34 and the New Covenant

Paul takes Exodus 34:34 and applies it to his New Covenant ministry. Exodus 34:34 reads:

Exodus 34:34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, …

Paul continues to contrast the Old Covenant ministry of Moses with Apostolic New Covenant ministry. Notice how he adapts the Exodus wording in 2 Corinthians 3:16 and applies it to the New Covenant:

2 Corinthians 3:16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Where Exodus 34 has ‘Moses,’ 2 Corinthians has ‘one’ The reference to Moses is generalized and left open. Under the Old Covenant, only Moses had access to the presence of the Lord. Now anyone. Anyone can turn and enter the presence of the Lord.

The verb ‘went in’ is changed to ‘turns’ The implication is that one turns away from something else and turns toward the Lord. This word is used for the conversion of the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:9

1 Thessalonians 1:9 … how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

In the New Covenant there is a turning; a turning away from something, and a turning toward the Lord. What are we to turn away from? We will come back to this question in a minute.

The voice of the verb ‘remove’ is changed from middle; something Moses did to himself, to passive; something that is done to the one turning by someone else. Moses removed his own veil. The unbeliever is not able to remove the veil that lies over his own heart and mind. It must be removed for him by another. Only through Christ is it taken away.

And a conditional element is added; ‘if’. If or when one turns, the veil is removed.

If; Our Righteousness and God’s

Why ‘if’? And if anyone can now turn to the Lord, why don’t more turn? Why is the New Covenant access rejected by so many, especially so many of God’s chosen people? After he came to the city of Corinth:

Acts 18:5 …Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Why do so many of the Jews refuse to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah? This may have been one of the questions raised by those who were critical of Paul’s ministry. If he is really a genuine apostle, why isn’t he more effective, especially among his own people?

Paul’s own testimony gives us a personal illustration of what he is talking about and helps us understand why so many reject the message.

He says in Philippians 3 that he has reason for confidence in the flesh, and he catalogs his resume.

Philippians 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul had a righteousness that was under the law. He claimed to be blameless. He had reason for confidence in the flesh. Yet he traded it all in.

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,

Rubbish? A blameless righteousness under the law? A total loss? Why?

Philippians 3:8 …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—

He traded in his own righteousness, law righteousness, for the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. He traded his self-righteousness in for a relationship with Jesus. This is why so many who have the law fail to receive the gift of God. They have confidence in the flesh. They have a righteousness under the law, and are unwilling to let go of what they have worked so hard to attain to receive freely what someone else has earned. In Romans 10 Paul talks about his fellow Israelites:

Romans 10:3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

So in turning to the Lord, what must we turn away from? From confidence in the flesh; from our own self-righteousness. One must turn away from self, from self-confidence, from self-reliance and turn to the Lord. Paul claimed to be blameless according to righteousness under the law, yet he considered that rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!

Paul calls it ignorance in Romans 10. He calls it blindness in 2 Corinthians. There is a veil that lies over their hearts. So many are blind and don’t even know it. The veil must be removed. They can’t remove their own blindness; they don’t even know it is there. The veil must be removed through Christ.

The Lord The Spirit Is

He says ‘if one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.’ In Exodus 34, ‘Lord’ is the translation of the Hebrew YHWH, God’s covenant name. In the Septuagint (LXX) this is translated into the Greek as Kurios. In Philippians 3:8, a verse we already looked at, Paul refers to ‘ Christ Jesus my Lord,’ connecting Jesus with YHWH of the Old Testament. In Romans 10 this is even more clear. He says in

Romans 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

…12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The Christian confession is ‘Jesus is Lord’ or Jesus is YHWH. He backs this up from a quotation of Joel 2:32 that whoever calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, when asked who he was (Jn.1:23) cited Isaiah 40:3 ‘Make straight the way of YHWH, the Lord’. Clearly in the New Testament Jesus is identified as YHWH of the Old Testament.

But in all of Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament, ‘Lord’ refers to God generally, not specifically to any one member of the Trinity. Here in verse 17 he clarifies. YHWH, Lord, in Exodus 34:34 is the Spirit.

Paul has been talking about the ministry of the Spirit in contrast to the ministry of death, of condemnation, of the letter, that which is being done away with. When Moses took off the veil and entered the presence of YHWH, he was in the presence of the Lord, the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who makes alive, who justifies and makes righteous, who remains. It is the Spirit who writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts, hearts that have been made flesh by the regenerating New Covenant work of the Spirit. Spirit in the Hebrew is breath or wind. It is the voice of God that makes God known.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The Spirit is the one who reveals the things of God to us. The Spirit is the Spirit who is God, and he is the Spirit of God. There is identification with distinction. Jesus is YHWH; the Father is YHWH; the Spirit is YHWH. But the Spirit is the Spirit of (indicating possession) God. He is God’s Spirit, the Spirit who belongs to God. The Spirit is YHWH, and he is also the Spirit of YHWH; the Spirit is not the Father or the Son.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is… Freedom!

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! This is an exclamation! Where the Spirit of the Lord is …Freedom! What is the freedom he is talking about? This implies there is no freedom outside the Spirit of the Lord. Humankind not free; we need to be set free by his Spirit. We are naturally in bondage. Oh, we do have freedom; we can do whatever we want, and we do, and it does not go well for us. We are in a hole, with a shovel, and we can do whatever we want with our shovel. And that gets us deeper and deeper in the hole.

What is the freedom Paul is talking about here? The context in verse 18 is freedom to enter the presence of the Lord unveiled. In verse 14-15 it is freedom from hardened minds and veiled hearts. It is freedom to see Jesus in the Old Testament. In verse 3 it is the freedom that comes from having stony hearts turned to flesh. In verse 6 it is freedom from death, the freedom of being made alive. In verse 9 it is freedom from condemnation; the freedom of righteousness. In verse 11 it is the freedom of that which is permanent; freedom from that which is doomed to pass away. Freedom is parallel to the confidence of verse 4 and the open-faced boldness of verse 12.

The Spirit of the Lord brings freedom. But not the freedom you might think This is freedom from blindness, the freedom of an imputed righteousness, freedom of access to enter the presence of the Lord, freedom of unhindered boldness, freedom from false pretense, transparency to be who you have been called to be, freedom of integrity. One author writes this freedom is ‘a liberation from a heart turned in on itself’ [Seifrid, p.177 PNTC]

Paul is referring back to Exodus. In that context freedom was freedom from bondage to an oppressive and cruel taskmaster. It was freedom from slavery. But it was also freedom for something. It was freedom to serve the Lord, freedom to obey and follow the Lord; freedom be in the presence of the Lord as the people of the Lord. It was freedom from, but it was also freedom for.

Paul says in Galatians 5

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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

The freedom we are called to is freedom of access, freedom to be in the presence of the Lord, freedom of relationship. We are set free to respond to God’s goodness. We are set free to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and that will naturally spill over into love and service to others, love for neighbor, even love for enemy.

2 Corinthians 3:16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! Enjoy your blood-bought freedom. You have been set free by the Holy Spirit to see Jesus for who he is and receive from him life and righteousness, access to the Father. Enjoy freedom of relationship with God. Enjoy your freedom to love God, freedom to love and serve others, openly and plainly share truth with others, freedom to minister to others.

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

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

2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation

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

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

Paul Commends Himself (Again!)

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

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

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

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

In Romans 16, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Our Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter From Christ

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

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

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

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

Ink / Spirit

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

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

Heart of Stone / Flesh

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

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

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

Ezekiel 11:19-20 says:

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

And again in Ezekiel 36:26

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

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

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

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

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

New Covenant Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 2:5-9; Church Discipline for Your Joy

03/04_2 Corinthians 2:5-9; Church Discipline for Your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180304_2cor2_5-9.mp3

I had a few people ask me what I would be preaching on this Sunday, and when I told them that the title of the sermon was going to be ‘church discipline for your joy,’ you can imagine some of the responses I got. But this is God’s word, and this is where we’re at in God’s word. We take God’s word seriously. We take Jesus seriously. We take his church seriously. We take sin seriously. And we take joy seriously.

We’re in 2 Corinthians 2:5-9. We’ve seen at the end of chapter 1 (v.24) that Paul is working together with the Corinthians for their joy. We saw that both joy and sorrow are shared experiences in the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffersall suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

There is community joy, community sorrow. What we do as members of the body affects everyone in the body. It has been a strained relationship between Paul and this church. He wrote them a letter which they misunderstood; he received news of some serious problems in the church, and he received some questions that he responded to with a letter delivered by a co-worker. The church it seems did not heed his letter, so he made an emergency visit to try to sort things out. That didn’t go well, so he wrote another painful letter, and sent another co-worker. He is anxious as he writes again to hear how that correspondence was received, and is on his way for another visit.

He didn’t visit them as planned, because he wanted to spare them. He wanted to give them time to repent.

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

Paul was pursuing their joy, at his own emotional expense. His desire, his heart was to see this church thriving, enjoying Jesus, happy in God. He wrote to communicate his abundant love for them. Paul mentions his own affliction, his own anguish of heart and his many tears in verse 4. But in verse 5 he moves them to think about the damage it was causing to the church.

Church Discipline for your Joy

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

It seems that Paul’s painful letter must have demanded the confrontation of someone in the church, and it was to test their obedience to him. Up to this point, they had not listened or responded well to his letters. Whatever the offense was, Paul says it was not only toward him, but toward the whole church.

1 Corinthians 5

We don’t know what the offense was. There is much scholarly speculation over who the offending party was and what he had done. But the text doesn’t tell us. Through most of church history it has been assumed that this was the man addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 who was in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law. In that passage Paul called for his expulsion from the church. That identification of the offender has been challenged, although it is still a defensible explanation [see Kruse, p.41-45; P. Hughes, p.59-65; Garland, p121]. Whether the offender was this man from 1 Corinthians 5 or some unknown offender, it is useful to look at that passage, because there are some clear connections with the subject matter that will help us understand what is going on here.

1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Paul says ‘Let him who has done this be removed from among you.’

Cleanse out the old leaven’ do ‘not …associate with sexually immoral people;’ do ‘not even eat with such a one.’ ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ Paul is calling for the assembled church to exclude the immoral believer. What would warrant such a drastic response? This is the passage that tells us that Paul had written a previous letter which they had misunderstood. They thought he meant not to associate with any sinners, including unbelievers. He clarifies in 1 Corinthians that he meant not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother. When we put this together with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, we understand that this is not the initial knee jerk reaction when we find out someone is struggling with sin; this is the final last resort stage of a process of confrontation that is meant for the good of the one rebuked. Even in this passage Paul tells them to ‘deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.’ It is for this man’s ultimate good. It is ‘so that his spirit may be saved.’ This is along the lines of Jesus’ teaching in:

Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Jesus says that it is better. Better to tear out your eye. It is to your eternal advantage. Better to tear out your eye than to be thrown into the hell of fire. Both Jesus and Paul teach that sin is serious, and it has eternal consequences. Both are pursuing our good, our eternal joy.

Discipline an Expression of Love

You see, discipline is actually an expression of love.

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

We see this theme many places in the Bible. We see it repeatedly in the Psalms, Proverbs, in Hebrews 12. Jesus even says to a church in:

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Discipline is an expression of love.

Church Discipline According to Jesus

It will be helpful to look at Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18. His go-to teaching on church discipline is found in verses 15-17, but in order to do justice to his teaching, we can’t only look at these verses. To really get the heart of what he’s saying, we need to listen to the context of Matthew 18.

Jesus’ teaching on church discipline is in the context of a discussion among his disciples about who is the greatest. Jesus tells them they need to turn back and humble themselves and become like little children. And then he talks about receiving children.

Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

This sounds harsh, but Jesus is passionate about the little ones who believe in him, not just children in age, but those who are young in the faith, young believers. He goes on:

Matthew 18:8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

He starts with a strong warning against being the one to bring temptation, and then he gives instruction on the seriousness of sin, and encourages us to deal severely with the sin in ourselves. Habitual sin in our own hearts must be dealt with severely. Then he tells a story about the Father’s shepherd heart for those who go astray.

Matthew 18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 11 — 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

It is in this context, a context of not stumbling young believers, of dealing severely with your own sin, of the Father’s heart, the Father’s protection, the Father’s pursuit of his stray sheep, that Jesus says:

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Father’s heart is to pursue his lost sheep, and he has joy when they are brought back. This is the frame for a brother sinning against you. Go, tell him his fault, in a spirit of humility, not despising, as if somehow you are better than them, with the Father’s heart of loving pursuit, for their good. Go privately first. Don’t gossip. Go straight to the source. Care for his reputation. Treat him as you would want to be treated. Only if he refuses to listen do you bring others, others with wisdom, with love, others who have a heart for his good, a heart to seek the lost. Only if he refuses to listen to them does it become a full church issue. And still, the heart must be in humility seeking restoration, seeking his good. The purpose for bringing it before the whole church is not to shame, not to dispose of him and be done with the situation, but to bring the positive pressure of the full community of believers to lovingly urge and exhort and plead toward healing and restoration. Only after this stage is resisted, is the step taken to remove that one from fellowship. And even there, we are to treat outsiders not with condemnation and judgment, but with love and the truth of the gospel, seeking to win them to Christ.

Confrontation Presupposes Forgiveness

Peter is listening, processing what Jesus is teaching, and he has a question.

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Notice, Peter does not say ‘if my brother listens, how often should I forgive him?’ No, he says ‘how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?’ The response of the person is nowhere in view. This is unilateral forgiveness. The process of confronting someone for their good presupposes forgiveness. If you sin against me and I am bitter, holding a grudge, I am not seeking your good, I am seeking to be vindicated, I am seeking payment. You hurt me and you owe me. But if I have already forgiven you in my heart, if I have released you from your debt, then I can come to you for your good, for your joy.

He actually asks how often his brother will sin against him. What is the outer limit? I must always respond to those who sin against me with forgiveness. But to what extent? Jesus answers that this is going to happen a lot. And notice that this is a brother, not someone outside. Don’t be surprised when your brothers and sisters sin against you over and over and over again. You are to forgive. Cultivate a forgiving heart, so that you can work together with your brothers and sisters for their joy.

Matthew 18:22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a servant whose master forgave him an incomprehensible debt, who then went out and began to strangle a fellow servant who owed him pocket change; warning those who refuse to forgive others that they have failed to understand, failed to truly receive the forgiveness that is extended to them in Jesus. One who has received God’s merciful and undeserved forgiveness will be overflowing with amazed gratitude and be eager to extend mercy and forgive as he has been forgiven.

Forgive, Comfort, Confirm Love

2 Corinthians 2:5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

Whatever the offense, it seems it had escalated into a personal offense against Paul, undermining his authority and character, and the church did not stand with Paul. Paul says the offense caused grief to the whole body. Whoever this offender was, it seems the church finally took the matter seriously and expelled him. The church finally was obedient to the instructions of their apostle to deal with the sin. And now Paul warns them not to take it too far. It seems the failure of the Corinthians in church discipline (and the same danger is there for us as well) is knowing when to start and knowing when to stop. The goal is always restoration, and when there is confession of sin (which simply means to agree with God that sin is sin), where there is sorrow over sin, where there is repentance (which means a turning to go a different direction), it is enough. The goal, as Jesus stated it, is that he listens. And then you have gained or won your brother.

Paul tells them they ought to now to forgive. They ought to comfort. They ought to confirm their love for him. They had never stopped loving the offender. But their love had to take the form of discipline. Now that he had responded, they were to reaffirm, to express their love.

Our relationships with one another are to display God’s character, God’s grace. He is for us. He is working with us for our joy. He was willing to bear in himself the cost of our rebellious treason, and forgive. We must work with each other for our joy, willing to confront when necessary, willing to absorb the cost, eager to forgive as we have been freely and graciously forgiven.

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

March 6, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:23-24; Christ-Like Leadership for Your Joy

02/11_2 Corinthians 1:23-24; Christ-like Leadership for your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180211_2cor1_23-24.mp3

We are going to be looking at 2 Corinthians 1:23-24 to see what godly leadership ought to look like, to see the purpose and posture of godly leadership, the overarching goal of Christlike leadership to serve others for their joy.

Paul’s Changing Travel Plans

There is a backstory to this book we know as 2 Corinthians. Paul came to the city of Corinth, proclaimed the gospel, and spent over a year and a half establishing a church there. He continued on across the Agean Sea to the city of Ephesus, and then on to Jerusalem. He returned by land through Asia to Ephesus, where he spent over 2 years.

Piecing the details together, we find that during his time in Ephesus, he received word that all was not well in in the church in Corinth. He wrote a letter to Corinth that was misunderstood, and then he wrote what we have as 1 Corinthians, addressing problems in the church, answering questions, and clarifying issues. His plan, as stated at the end of 1 Corinthians, was to leave Ephesus the following spring and travel up through Asia and then down through Macedonia to visit them, and spend some significant time with them, and then the following spring to carry their gift to the church in Jerusalem. We could call this ‘plan A’.

But Timothy sent word to Paul that the Corinthians did not respond well to his letter, so Paul changed his plans and made an emergency visit to Corinth to address the problems face to face. This proved to be a difficult confrontation, a ‘painful visit’. Paul returned to Ephesus, having been personally attacked, his authority rejected. This was an unplanned emergency visit.

He then planned to complete his ministry in Ephesus, sail to Corinth for a brief visit, continue up through Macedonia to receive their collection, then stop again in Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem with the collection. He may have communicated these plans to them during his painful visit. We’ll call this ‘plan B’.

Instead, when he received news that things only got worse in Corinth after his visit, he sent Titus with a ‘painful letter.’ Paul then traveled north to Troas, hoping to meet Titus there with word of how they responded to his letter, but not finding Titus, he continued on by land over into Macedonia, where he connected with Titus. It is from Macedonia that he writes the letter we know as 2 Corinthians. We could call this ‘plan C,’ which was in substance a return to ‘plan A’.

Paul’s Defense of His Changing Plans

In this letter, there is an undercurrent of 4-5 years worth of relational turmoil and tension with this church. They are questioning his authority, his credibility, his character. They are not following his instructions. In 2 Corinthians, Paul is communicating his heart, and why his plans changed:

In verses 8-11 he wants them to know that he experienced a deadly peril in Asia that disrupted some of his plans. In 12-14 he boasts in the testimony of his clear conscience; he always only operated with simplicity and godly sincerity; he based his decisions on the grace of God and not fleshly wisdom. In verses 15-17 he communicates that his desire to visit them twice was to give them a double opportunity to participate in the grace of giving. In 18-22 he takes an oath on the faithfulness of God; God’s promises are always Yes & Amen in Jesus, and Paul’s own heart is always Yes toward them.

But the Yes in God’s actions is not always transparent. Often God’s Yes is hidden in a No. God said No to his Son Jesus so that he could say Yes to us. God’s promise of rescue came to us in the form of the crucifixion of God the Son. So too, Paul’s Yes is sometimes concealed in what seems to be a No. His painful visit and painful letter may have seemed to them to be a No, that he is against them, but in fact, it was a Yes, that he loves them, he is all in, and he is for them.

Here in verse 23, Paul begins to hit head on the issue of his travel plans, and why they changed. In 1:23-2:2 he calls God as his witness; he did not come as he had planned in order to spare the Corinthians another painful visit. Instead he sent a painful letter by the hand of Titus. In chapter 2:3-4 he lets them know that this painful letter was to demonstrate his abundant love for them. In 2:5-11 he says that the painful letter was to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their obedience. In 2:12-13 he lets them know that he even walked away from an open door for the gospel out of a troubled spirit and deep concern for them.

Then from 2:14-7:4 he takes over 4 chapters to lay out the characteristics of cross-shaped gospel ministry, before he picks back up this thread of his travel plans and communicates in 7:5-16 that he indeed met Titus in Macedonia and received word that they had responded favorably to his painful letter.

God Is My Witness

With this background in mind, let’s look at some profound truths in his answer in 1:23-24.

2 Corinthians 1:23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

Paul is under attack. It is as if he were standing trial, with the Corinthians as the prosecuting attorney. He has communicated his tumultuous circumstances, he has produced the testimony of his own conscience, he has communicated that his motive was to do them good and not harm, and that as surely as God is faithful to his promises, so Paul is consistently for them. It was through Paul’s preaching that Christ came to live among them through the gospel. He is with them being established by God in Christ through the Spirit. Here in verse 23, he calls God himself to take the witness stand. I call God to witness against my soul. He can appeal to no higher authority to establish his integrity.

It Was To Spare You

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

What does Paul mean ‘it was to spare you’? If we look back to 1 Corinthians, he warned

1 Corinthians 4:18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

As an Apostle of the Lord Christ, Paul carries God’s power and authority. Paul bears the burden of parenting the churches that he planted, and part of the responsibility of a parent is to discipline his children. This church was out of line, and he has the authority to come with a rod. But as a good parent, he doesn’t want to come at them with discipline. He wants to win their hearts. He says at the end of this letter,

2 Corinthians 13:2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—

He refrained from coming again to Corinth to spare them. But he will come again, and then if they are still unrepentant, he will not spare them. He goes on:

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

Paul was accused of being weak. Paul here says that it makes him happy to be able to be weak among them. His heart is not to be heavy-handed, but he prays for their restoration. His heart and his authority is to build up and not to tear down.

When It Is Better Not To Confront

We can learn something from Paul’s approach. Sometimes it is better not to come. Sometimes it is better to stay away, to change plans, to postpone a visit.

Now Jesus is clear,

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

We are to keep sins private. We are never to gossip or slander. “You know, I’m really concerned about Bill. I think he might be slipping back into sin. Would you pray for him with me?” No, Jesus says go, between you and him alone. And the goal is always restoration. To win your brother back.

But Paul shows some fatherly wisdom here. Kids are different. They respond differently to different approaches. A wise father is sensitive to that, and if his goal is to win the hearts of his children, he will approach his children differently. Paul had written two letters. They didn’t respond well. So he showed up. An emergency visit to deal with the problems head on, face to face. It was a painful confrontation. It didn’t go well. They didn’t respond well. So he backs off. He gives them space. He writes them another letter through his tears. He is brokenhearted, and he is on his knees. He sends someone else.

Kids are different, and relationships are messy. We would like for it to be clean cut. I followed the steps. Step one, step two, step three, you’re out! But relationships are not like that. Embrace the messiness. Enter in with your whole heart. Allow God’s pattern of grace to determine how best to move forward. Remember, in verse 12, Paul says ‘I make my plans, I behave in the world …by the grace of God.’ How does God’s grace come to you? What does God’s grace look like in this situation? How can I extend God’s undeserved grace toward you? How can I demonstrate love to you, to communicate that I am for you? How can I win your heart?

You think I didn’t come because I don’t care about you. But it was to spare you that I didn’t come, to give you space. God is my witness, I didn’t come because I love you.

Not Lording Over You

Now this is open to some misunderstanding. This might come across as heavy-handed; ‘it was to spare you that I didn’t come.’ My sole purpose is to keep you in line. And if you don’t listen up, watch out! So Paul clarifies:

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

Paul gives us huge insight into godly leadership. This is built on Jesus’ teaching on leadership.

Luke 22:24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.

This is the same word as in 2 Corinthians 1:24; exercise lordship over. The disciples wanted to know who was top dog. Who is in authority. Who gets to have it his way. Who gets to call the shots. Who gets to dominate everyone else. Who gets titles of honor and respect. Jesus says this is how Gentile leadership looks,

Luke 22:26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Jesus turns leadership upside down. Jesus says that true greatness is serving others, not being served. Jesus says:

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

True leadership is sacrificial service for the good of others. Peter exhorts elders as a fellow elder,

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Shepherd willingly, eagerly, as an example, not as an overlord. Peter says:

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 …Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another…

Shepherd. Not to be served, but to serve the needs of the sheep. Willingly, eagerly, clothed with humility.

By Faith you Stand Firm

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

Those in authority are not to domineer over anyone’s faith, because, well, they can’t. It is by faith you stand firm. Calvin (p.145) observes that this is a curious phrase; that “he argues from contraries. …the nature and effect of faith [is] such that we lean, in order that we may stand”. Faith is by definition dependence upon another; we stand firm by our leaning on or trusting in another. And that another is not any church leader. If our faith is to stand, it must be on the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Paul is eager to say that he is not the Lord in whom anyone ought to trust. He together with the Corinthians is trusting in Jesus. God is establishing them both in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter stated it clearly during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, discussing how the Gentiles would be saved:

Acts 15:11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Peter the Apostle stands alongside every Gentile believer as one saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone and not by works of the Law.

No man can stand over another man’s faith. There is one Lord in whom we must believe and that is Jesus Christ (1Cor.8:6).

Fellow-Workers for your Joy

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

Paul had an exclusive list of co-workers that included Priscilla, Aquila (Rom.16:3); Urbanus (Rom.16:9); Timothy (Rom.16:21, 1Thes.3:2); Apollos (1Cor.3:9); Titus (2Cor.8:23); Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25); Clement (Phil.4:3); Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus (Col.4:11); Philemon (1:1); Demas, Luke (Phlm.1:24). This would have been something (if you were looking for status) to be able to say ‘I made the list; I am a fellow-worker of the Apostle Paul.’ Here he says ‘I am your fellow-worker.’ Paul and the other apostles come alongside me, labor together with me? He puts himself under and alongside us.

What is the aim? What are we working toward? What is it that Paul and the other Apostles come up under and alongside each one of us to accomplish? I could think of some great fill in the blanks; we are working together with you to bring the gospel to the whole world; We are working together with you for your holiness and sanctification. To establish churches in every city. To accomplish the great commission, to make disciples of all nations. To advance the glory of God and his kingdom in all the earth. Those would all be great biblical ways to finish the sentence, but that’s not how Paul finishes the sentence. He says ‘we are co-workers with you for your joy.’ For your joy! Joy! Paul is working together with us for our joy! Even in the painful hard things, even in discipline, he is working with us for our joy. For your joy. Godly leadership is not domineering; godly leadership serves. Godly leadership works under and alongside you for your joy. For your joy! Oh I want to get into this, but it’s going to have to wait until next week.

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

February 14, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fruit and Abiding in Jesus; John 15:1-17

09/10 Fruit and Abiding in Jesus; John 15:1-17 Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170910_fruit-abiding-in-jesus.mp3

We’ve taken the summer to look at the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer. We saw that love love is willingly self-giving for the good of the other. Joy is unaffected by circumstances, overwhelms suffering, rejoices in trials. Peace is a quiet confidence and restful awareness that all is well. Patience bears a long time with others and graciously forgives the wrongs of others. Kindness is palatable, functional, fitting; not severe, biting, harsh or chafing. It is redemptive. Goodness is the generous outward expression and overflow of a kind heart, especially to the undeserving. Faithfulness is doing what the Master commands when he commands, in utter dependence on him, taking risks in service to others. Gentleness or meekness is an awareness of deep personal need, my own spiritual poverty, and in helplessness seeking help from God alone. Self Control is Spirit supplied inner strength over lesser desires.

We have seen that this is not nine things; this is one thing; fruit. It is whole Christian character. In Isaiah 40:26 God brings out the starry hosts ‘by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.’ Spirit produced character will be comprehensive; the whole fruit will be growing.

Last week we looked at 2 Corinthians 3 and saw that this spiritual transformation comes through looking. Looking to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Today I want to look at Jesus’ teaching on fruitfulness in John 15. Jesus talked a bit about fruit. He said that a healthy tree bears good fruit, and that a tree is known by its fruit; you will be able to recognize a false teacher by the fruit they bear (Mt.7, 12; Lk.6). He told a parable about fruitful and unfruitful soils (Mt.13; Mk.4; Lk.8). He told a story about efforts to get an unfruitful fig tree to produce fruit (Lk.13), and he even cursed a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit (Mt.21; Mk.11). He told a story about a vineyard that the master developed and rented out to tenant farmers, and when he returned to receive his share of the fruit, they refused (Mt.21; Mk.12; Lk.20).

Jesus talked about fruit as evidence of the nature of a tree, and warned about some of the things that prevent fruitfulness. But in John 15, he tells us how to be fruitful, how to bear much fruit. In the gospel of John, the word ‘fruit’ appears 10 times, and 8 of those are in John 15:1-16. Jesus is instructing us how to bear much fruit.

In John 13 Jesus says:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The fruit of love is evidence of a relationship with Jesus. He repeats this new commandment to love in 15:12 and 17. We are to have Jesus’ own love in us. He says in John 14

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus gives us his own peace. Then in John 15:11 he says

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

Jesus gives us his own joy. Love as I have loved you, my joy in you, my peace I give to you. Jesus’ love, Jesus’ joy, Jesus’ peace in us. Oh, and Jesus talks much about the promised Holy Spirit in John 14-16. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ own love, joy, peace in us.

The False Vine and the True

Look with me at John 15 to see how this fruit is produced in us.

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Fruit is the issue of this passage. The vine is meant to bear fruit. In using a vine as an illustration, Jesus is not making something up. He is picking up an Old Testament illustration that would be familiar to his hearers. Many times in the Old Testament, Israel is compared to a vine. Isaiah 5 is one place we could look.

Isaiah 5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Sound familiar? This is almost the same story Jesus tells after he cleansed the temple, when his authority was challenged. The master of the vineyard is looking for fruit. Isaiah 5:7 says:

Isaiah 5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

Israel was a false vine that yielded wild grapes, that refused to give the master the fruit that was his due. Jesus is contrasting himself with unfaithful Israel. I am the true vine. I will produce good fruit for my Father in the proper season. Notice, Jesus says ‘I am the true vine’ and he says someone is caring for the vineyard. Someone is cultivating and tending the vineyard to ensure maximum fruitfulness. My Father is the farmer. Look at Isaiah 27.

Isaiah 27:2 In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! 3 I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest anyone punish it, I keep it night and day; 4 I have no wrath. Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would march against them, I would burn them up together. 5 Or let them lay hold of my protection, let them make peace with me, let them make peace with me.” 6 In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.

Jesus is the true fruitful vine. His Father is the vinedresser. Fruitful branches are tended to maximize fruitfulness; dead wood is cleared away to allow room for healthy growth.

Pruning and Cleansing

John 15:2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

He prunes fruitful branches to maximize fruitfulness. Anyone familiar with this? Anyone have any experience with this? There is a play on words here in the original. Takes away is [αἴρει] and prunes is [καθαίρει]. They sound similar. And then in verse 3, clean is [καθαροί].

These two words are related. In fact, verse 2 might be translated ‘every branch that bears fruit he cleanses that it bear more fruit. Already you are clean.’ We find this exact phrase ‘you are clean’ [ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστε] if we turn back two chapters to John 13, where Jesus laid aside his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet. When Peter objected, Jesus answered him

John 13:8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean [ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστε], but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Judas was a picture of the dead branch that was taken away. Peter was completely clean. He had had a bath. But he needed his feet washed. Two chapters later, in John 15, Jesus clarifies.

John 15:2 …every branch that does bear fruit he [cleanses], that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Peter was completely clean because of the word Jesus spoke. Peter was cleansed with a word. But Peter who was completely clean needed his feet washed. Fruitful branches are branches that are already clean because of Jesus’ word. But fruitful branches need to be cleansed, that they may bear more fruit.

Ephesians 4 picks this up; cleansed by the washing of the water with the word.

Ephesians 5:25 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

We see the tension here between the already and the not yet. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. You are completely clean. You are justified. By the blood of Jesus you have been once for all cleansed of all your sin. But there is an ongoing tending of the vine, washing of the feet, cleansing, pruning, in order to maximize fruitfulness. The Father is the vinedresser. The Father is faithful to cleanse those who are are already clean. The Father is actively tending his vineyard.

Abiding and Independent Inability

Notice, we have not yet been given the identity of the branches. So far, we have Jesus the true vine, and his Father, the vinedresser.

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Abide. The branch is incapable of bearing fruit apart from the vine. Here we finally get the identity of the branches. Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches. Not until we are told that we are incapable of bearing fruit apart from the vine are we told that we are the branches.

I grew up with a grapevine in our backyard. It is almost impossible to tell where the vine ends and the branches begin. They are one. That is Jesus’ point. The branch is in the vine, and the vine is in the branch. They are one. They are virtually indistinguishable. There is a vital connection. Abide in me and I in you. Jesus is in me, and I am abiding in Jesus. I am totally dependent on Jesus. I can bear no fruit without being connected with Jesus. This is why there are good works that are called dead works that are not the fruit of the Spirit. There are a lot of kind, generous, loving, patient, self-controlled people in the world who don’t know Jesus. They may be loving, but it is not Jesus’ love. It is not Jesus’ sap running through their veins that produces supernatural self-sacrificial love. And it may look great. But it is worth nothing if it is apart from Jesus. Only fruit that is produced as an outworking of Jesus in me is worth anything at all.

Don’t forget the connection here with pruning and cleansing. We could look to Hebrews and see that ‘the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’ (Heb.12:6).

Hebrews 12:10 …he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Pruning, cleansing, discipline is painful. But it is ‘that we bear more fruit’ that ‘later it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.’ As the Father is faithful to prune and cleanse, we are to push in to Jesus and draw our everything from Jesus. It is for our good. The Father is the vinedresser, and he is at work for our good. We can trust his good design even in the painful process of pruning.

Practical Help for Abiding

So Jesus is the true vine, the Father is the vinedresser, we are clean and connected to Jesus through his life-giving word, and as we are being pruned for maximum fruitfulness we are to press into Jesus as Jesus lives his life in us and through us.

Jesus Word in Us, Pursuing God’s Glory, Asking in Dependence

Practically what does it mean to abide? What does this abiding look like? Day to day? Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing.

John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

What does it mean to abide in Jesus and have Jesus abide in us? To have Jesus abide in us is to have his words abide in us. Remember, we are clean because of his word spoken to us. He says to dead things ‘LIVE!’ and there is life. And he sustains that life by his word. Jesus is the Word made flesh, and he abides in us as his words are the life in our veins. Get Jesus’ words into you! Meditate on his words for they are your life! Listen to him! Hide his word in your heart! Let his heart capture your heart. What is Jesus’ heartbeat? What is Jesus’ passion? ‘By this is my Father glorified.’ Jesus lives to glorify his Father. Let his heart be your heart. Let this be your supreme want. I want in all things to glorify the Father. I want in all things to have Jesus’ character shine through my life, for this glorifies the Father. And ask! Ask God to work his fruit in you. Ask Jesus to put his love in you, his joy in you, his peace in you for the glory of the Father. Ask whatever you wish as you pursue more than anything else the Father’s glory. Ask the Father through his pruning in your life to put Jesus on display for all the world to see!

Get Jesus’ words into you. Let Jesus’ words permeate your thinking. Pursue the glory of God above all else, and ask whatever you wish! This is what it looks like for Jesus to abide in you. Meditating on his word, pursuing his glory, coming to him needy, acknowledging your dependence and inability and asking.

Receiving Jesus’ Love and Joyfully Loving

What does it look like to abide in Jesus?

John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

What does it look like to abide in Jesus? Abide in my love. Let my love wash over you and saturate you. Place yourself under the Niagara Falls of my love until it permeates every pore of your being and defines you. Do you have any idea how much the Father loves his only begotten Son? Jesus’ love for us is that love; the overflow of the Father’s love for him! The Father delights in every perfection of his only Son. Jesus takes perfect pleasure in you! As the Father delights in Jesus, Jesus delights in you! To abide in his love is to receive. To feel his pleasure. To enjoy.

John 15:10 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.

Do not misunderstand. This obedience, the Son’s obedience to the Father is not in order to earn his love. The Son is forever secure in the Father’s love. The obedience of the Son is not tedious and burdensome. The obedience of the Son to his Father is the joyful response and overflow of love received. It is the joy of the Son to pursue what pleases his Father.

What is the command we are to keep out of the joyful overflow of being securely loved?

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

The joyful overflow of abiding in Jesus’ love is loving others with the love with which he loved us. This is not burdensome obedience; it is joyful obedience. It is not slavish obedience, blindly doing what I am told without understanding why. No, Jesus has called us friend! Jesus invites us to knowingly join him in his ultimate pursuit of glorifying his Father. Abiding in his love and advancing the Father’s fame by loving others with the love with which he loved us.

Confident Certainty

Jesus says:

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Jesus is the true vine. This is all Jesus’ doing. We are selected by Jesus, cleansed by Jesus, appointed by Jesus to abide in him as he abides in us, to bear fruit in him, and that our fruit should abide. This is the certainty we have. This fruit, this love is not temporary or intermittent. This is abiding, lasting. It can only be lasting because it is not my love. This is Spirit produced Spirit sustained supernatural love. It is Jesus’ love in me, flowing through me to others. Jesus’ words abiding in us, abiding in Jesus’ love for us, joyfully pursuing God’s glory by loving others, in prayerful dependence on his strength and his abundant supply.

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.

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

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

September 11, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment