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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle

02/28_2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210228_2cor12_11-13.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 12. In 2 Corinthians, Paul re-frames our thinking about ministry. He spends the first 7 chapters pointing us to the fact that authentic gospel ministry takes its shape from the gospel it proclaims; the good news of an awesome God who humbles himself, who stoops down to our level, who out of his great love for us takes our sin upon himself and suffers in our place for our eternal good. Authentic ministers carry this gospel treasure in fragile earthen containers, to put on display that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor.4:7).

In chapters 8 and 9 he points to the practical outworking of this transformative good news, which so changes the hearts of believers that they joyfully overflow in practical generosity to others. He invites and exhorts the Corinthians to join him in an opportunity to serve the suffering saints.

In chapters 10-13 we discover that there is a sinister danger set to derail the church in Corinth; triumphalist leaders have infiltrated the church and have been building themselves up by tearing Paul down.

Foolish Boasting

Although no one ought to boast except in the Lord, and it is only the Lord’s approval that carries any weight (2Cor.10:17-18), Paul is forced to defend himself against false accusations. He is forced to boast in his own ministry over against that of the false apostles, whom he calls servants of Satan (2Cor.11:13-15).

He acknowledges that boasting in oneself is foolish. He asks them to bear with his foolishness, seeing that they all too readily bear with fools (11:1, 4, 19). He doesn’t want to be thought a fool, but since they already think so poorly of him, he asks them to indulge his foolish boasting and give him their ear (11:16-18). But he warns them that boasting in self is not according to the Lord but rather according to the flesh. As he beings his boast in 11:21, he interjects ‘I am speaking as a fool’. In verse 23 he says he is not only speaking foolishly; literally ‘without his mind’, but he is ‘out of his mind’ to boast like this.

He begins by boasting in his Jewish heritage (11:22), which he tells us in Philippians 3:3-8 that confidence in the flesh, in ethnicity and religious upbringing, is worthless, a liability not an asset, nothing but offensive filth and rubbish.

But he quickly switches gears (11:23-29) and begins to boast in his superior service to Christ, which looks like sufferings, trials, hardships, persecutions, constant and varied dangers, toils and snares.

When they would expect him to boast in his successes, in his accomplishments, he boasts that he is quite literally a basket case – having to flee for his life let down through the city wall in a grocery basket under cover of night.

When they anticipate accounts of visions and revelations (12:1-6), he switches to the third person, boasting not in himself as the great apostle, but in an ordinary ‘man in Christ’ who doesn’t know exactly what happened to him, other than that he was caught up into heaven and heard things he is not permitted to tell them about. But this surpassingly great revelation came with a thorn, a satanic emissary given by God to crush his pride and keep him humble. He prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t even answer his prayer, at least not in the way he had hoped. The answer he did receive from Jesus was that his grace is sufficient; because power finds its fulfillment in weakness.

In response to this, he is delighted to boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ encamps on him.

What the Church Ought To Do

He concludes this foolish boasting by pointing to the fault of the church in pushing him to that extreme.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

The church did not do what it ought to have done, and this impelled Paul to make a fool of himself to rescue them from the diabolical danger they were embracing. When false teachers came promoting a false gospel, preaching another jesus, encouraging them to receive a different spirit, they ought to have smelled the wolf by their life and teaching and given them no quarter. When the servants of Satan began to undermine the one who preached the gospel to them, who served them at great personal cost, who showed them what it looks like to follow Jesus, they ought to have stood up and testified in Paul’s defense. Paul looks back over this list of his own sufferings in service to Christ, and says ‘this is the script you should have read in my defense.’

I ought to have been commended by you. As he said earlier in response to their desire for letters of recommendation ‘you yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’ (2Cor.3:2-3). You are the authenticating evidence of our ministry, you who once were immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; you have been transformed by the gospel we preached. You were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor.9:9-11). You who were sinners have been made saints though the gospel we brought to you.

It was not only the fault of the false apostles. It was the negligence of the church to stand firm in the message that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They should have known better. They ought not to have stood silently by while the truth of the gospel and the character of the one who brought it to them was maligned and distorted. The church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1Tim.2:15). The foolish boasting of the apostle was made necessary by the church neglecting to do what it ought to have done.

Nothing and Still Not Inferior

Because, Paul says, ‘For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.’ Think this statement through for a minute. I am not deficient, I have no lack, I am not less than the super-apostles. Think of this in simple math terms. If he is not less than them, then he is saying that he is at least equal to, if not greater than them. And he considers himself exactly equal to zero. He is nothing. If he is not less than the super-apostles, then the super-apostles are equal to or less than zero.

But Paul, you don’t really consider yourself a zero, do you? This must be false humility at its best. I say ‘I’m a zero’ as a way to get you to affirm me and tell me how really great I am and how much I do contribute. I put myself down to get you to puff me up. Is that what Paul is doing here?

No, it’s not. Paul really and truly considered himself a zero, a nothing. He tells the Romans:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…

He told the Galatians:

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Our problem is not low self esteem. The temptation we all face every day is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We think we are something, and really we are nothing.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the church was lining up each behind his favorite leader. Paul asks:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I am nothing. Apollos is nothing. Nothing but servants, doing what the Master assigned. We each did what we were told. God is the one who gave the growth. God is everything. I am nothing.

He goes on to warn them:

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Again, our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. Nobody struggles with the sin of humility. Paul writes in:

1 Corinthians 4:6 …that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

My flesh cries out ‘No!’ I’m not nothing! Look at my talents, my abilities, my accomplishments, my good looks, my charming, winsome personality. What do you have that you did not receive? The question is not whether or not you got it. The question is where’d you get it? Did you deserve it? Or is it a gift, freely given?

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

I’m unworthy. I am what I am by God’s grace. Grace, remember is God’s undeserved favor extended freely to sinners. It’s the opposite of being worthy, it’s the opposite of getting something in return for being something or contributing something. Grace is given to zeroes.

Paul says ‘I worked harder than any of the other apostles, but that was not me. That was God’s grace at work in me.’ I am nothing.

Signs of A True Apostle

He says ‘you ought to have defended me, because the signs of a true apostle were performed among you.’ What does he mean by that? What are the signs of a true apostle? We could look at Jesus’ ministry. When he was asked if he was the long anticipated one, he answered:

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Authenticating signs and wonders. Blind, lame, lepers, deaf, even dead people are raised. But listen carefully to what Jesus lists as the climactic sign authenticating his ministry; the poor have the good news preached to them. That’s the climactic conclusion of Jesus’ list of his own signs.

In Mark 1, after Jesus had healed many and cast out many demons so that everyone was looking for him,

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus performed authenticating signs, but that was not primary. Proclaiming the good news was primary. In fact, Jesus warned:

Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Jesus even predicted (Matt.7:22-23) that many would prophesy, cast out demons, and do might works in his name, who did not even have a relationship with him. So what are the signs of a true apostle, if false prophets will perform signs and wonders to lead people astray? How can we know what is true if both the true and the false perform signs and wonders and mighty works?

It would serve us well to pay careful attention to what Paul says here, and what he does not say.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with both signs and wonders. With mighty works. He does not say that the signs of a true apostle are the signs and wonders and mighty works. He says the signs of a true apostle are accompanied by both signs and wonders and mighty works. Remember, Paul has just been talking about power, this same word for ‘mighty works’ here.

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.

It is Christ’s power, and it is power that finds its aim and end in our weaknesses. Paul has been boasting, but he is boasting in the things which show his weakness (11:30; 12:4). Throughout this passage, he has been pointing away from supernatural signs as confirmation of authentic ministry. He carefully avoids saying anything that would cause someone to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (12:6). The book of Acts records some of the supernatural signs and wonders that happened at the hands of Paul. But Paul insists that the minister be evaluated on the basis of his life and his teaching, objective findings that are seen and heard, not subjective supernatural experiences that can lie or be counterfeited.

Jesus told those who were requesting a sign from him:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (cf. Matt.16:4)

Jesus pointed them to the greatest sign of his own death, burial and resurrection. The cross was the ultimate sign that demonstrated Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. In John 2,

John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus did many signs and wonders, and many believed because of them. But the sign without which no other sign mattered was the cross.

With Patient Endurance

The signs of a true apostle, Paul points out here, were performed in you or among you. This is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say ‘I performed (active voice) the signs.’ Rather, they ‘were performed’ – passive. God performed the authenticating signs in and through Paul.

And he says that these signs were performed ‘in all patient endurance’; with utmost patience. He uses this same word ‘patient endurance’ in 2 Corinthians 6, where he lists his apostolic credentials that commend him as a legitimate servant of God. There he said:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

There he spells out for us what he believes authenticates ministry. It is the paradox of patiently enduring great sufferings in the cause of Christ. It looks like… Jesus.

He affirms the same thing in Romans 15. He says:

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Any signs and wonders were not his, pointing to him; they were done through him by Christ, and pointed people to Christ Jesus. It was the power of the Spirit of God at work bringing people to Jesus. Paul’s purpose was always evangelistic; preaching the gospel of Christ; to bring the Gentiles to obedience. His holy ambition was to make Christ known, and he was willing to patiently endure suffering if that was necessary. In fact it was often through his suffering that Christ was made known.

***

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

March 4, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains

11/29_2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201129_2cor11_27-29.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul engages in foolish boasting to parody the false apostles. He answers a fool according to his folly, so that their folly will be evident to all. He says this is boasting according to the flesh, not according to the Lord (11:17-18). But even as he launches into foolish boasting, he draws a contrast between himself and the false apostles, who were enslaving them, devouring, seizing, self-exalting, and striking them on the face (11:20). Paul says,

2 Corinthians 11:21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! …

Paul is willing to embrace shame, to be thought of as weak, to lower himself in order to lift them up. He possesses the social, religious and ethnic status, and although he boasts in that here (11:22) in a mock parody of the false teachers, he considers it all worthless and a liability not an asset. He turns the attention away from status and on to service. He is showing them that weakness is the way.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? —I am talking like a madman— I am a better one

And he begins to list his surpassing service record;

23 …in toils, abundantly; (ἐν κόποις περισσοτέρως, )

in prisons, abundantly; (ἐν φυλακαῖς περισσοτέρως, )

in wounds, surpassingly; (ἐν πληγαῖς ὑπερβαλλόντως,)

in deaths, frequently (ἐν θανάτοις πολλάκις· )

He goes on to get specific about some of his suffering;

24 5x forty lashes less one.

25 3x beaten with rods.

1x stoned.

3x shipwrecked;

24hrs. adrift at sea;

As a servant of Christ on mission, he has been commissioned by Christ to bring the gospel to the nations. This requires travel.

26 journeys frequent, (ὁδοιπορίαις πολλάκις, )

But travel in the ancient world is fraught with danger. He catalogs the different types of danger he faced; circumstantial travel dangers:

danger – rivers, (κινδύνοις ποταμῶν,) \

danger – robbers, (κινδύνοις λῃστῶν,) / —Travel Dangers

Each people group posed a threat:

danger from my own people, (κινδύνοις ἐκ γένους,) \

danger from Gentiles, (κινδύνοις ἐξ ἐθνῶν,) / —People Dangers

Each place he traveled posed its own threat:

danger in city, (κινδύνοις ἐν πόλει, ) \

danger in wilderness, (κινδύνοις ἐν ἐρημίᾳ,) |—Place Dangers

danger in sea, (κινδύνοις ἐν θαλάσσῃ,) /

And the climactic danger of all, what he considered the greatest threat not to his own person, but a threat to the very ministry that Jesus commissioned him to do:

danger from false brothers; (κινδύνοις ἐν ψευδαδέλφοις,) –Spiritual

This was meant to hit home with the Corinthians, who were guilty of extending hospitality to false teachers, listening to and supporting their proclamation of a false Jesus, a counterfeit spirit, a false gospel.

Physical and Emotional Cost of Ministry

In verse 27, he continues to catalog his hardships with another list, this time focusing on the toll his ministry took on him both physically and emotionally.

2 Corinthians 11:

27 toil and hardship, κόπῳ καὶ μόχθῳ, [v.23]

in sleeplessness frequently, ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις πολλάκις,

in hunger and thirst, ἐν λιμῷ καὶ δίψει,

in fastings, frequently, ἐν νηστείαις πολλάκις,

in cold and exposure. ἐν ψύχει καὶ γυμνότητι·

The first, third and fifth lines of this list are pairs joined by ‘and’; toil and hardship; hunger and thirst, cold and exposure. The second and fourth lines list something he faced often; sleeplessness frequently, fastings frequently.

Toil and Hardship

Toil and hardship; back in verse 23 he used the plural ‘toils;’ ‘In toils, abundantly.’ Now he uses the singular, paired with a synonym. Wearisome labor and painful toil. Both of these words end with the same letter in the original, so there is poetic rhythm to the ears. Paul uses these two words together also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8, both in the context of working night and day in order to not be a burden to them.

Sleeplessness

This would fit in to what he says next, ‘sleeplessnesses often.’ Paul’s frequent sleeplessness could be attributed to multiple causes. In the Thessalonian letters, he claims to have worked night and day to support himself. He would preach and proclaim Christ whenever he had opportunity, and then he would stay up into the night to do manual labor to provide an income. And somewhere he made time to write his letters to the churches.

We know from Acts 16 we are told that ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God’ and after the earthquake, they prevented the jailer’s suicide, and spent the rest of the night proclaiming the gospel and discipling him and his family. In Acts 20, in Troas, Paul preached until midnight, until Eutychus fell asleep, fell out of the window and died. Paul raised him up and went on preaching until daybreak, when he set out to walk the 20 miles to his next destination (about a day’s journey), while his co-workers sailed to meet him there. Doubtless the night and day adrift at sea after one of his many shipwrecks was not only exhausting and sleepless, but wet, cold and hungry. And we can only speculate as to his sleeplessness caused by his concern for the churches.

Hunger and Thirst

Paul often went without adequate food and water, due to the rigors of travel, the lack of funds, and the lack of hospitality. He writes to the Philippians (4:11-13) that he has learned to be content whether in plenty or in hunger, in abundance or in need.

Fastings

After hunger and thirst, he mentions ‘fastings,’ the word most often used of a voluntary abstinence from food as a religious practice. Although Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast while he was with them (Mt.9:14-15), he taught them, ‘…when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, …But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. (Mt.6:16-18).

Paul no doubt observed the religious fasts of the Jews, but this may be another poke at the false apostles, who prided themselves on their religious observances. Paul says ‘in fastings, often,’ referring more to his hunger in the face of ministry rigors just mentioned rather than his voluntary religious observances.

Cold and Nakedness

Paul moves down his list to the more and more basic of human needs, from wearisome labor, to going without sleep, to going without food and drink, to going without adequate warmth and clothing. Toward the end of his life Paul writes Timothy from prison (2Tim.4:13) asking for him to bring his coat, because he was cold. Being in danger from rivers and a 24 hour period clinging to wreckage in the open sea no doubt brought him close to hypothermia (cf.Acts 28:2). He likely suffered the humiliation of being publicly stripped naked to receive the beatings he referred to earlier.

Remember, Paul is boasting. But he is turning boasting upside down by boasting in his weakness, boasting in his shame.

Anxiety for All the Churches

He again climaxes this part of his list with what he considers his greatest hardship.

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

Paul proclaimed Jesus and planted churches across Asia Minor and into Macedonia and Achaia. Paul preached the gospel in Damascus, Jerusalem, Salamis and Paphos on Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Perga (Acts 13-14). Back at Antioch in Syria, Paul had to go toe to toe with the Judaizers and even take a trip to Jerusalem (Acts 15) to settle the dispute over the pressure to put Gentile believers under Jewish law. He preached in Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 16-18). If the church in Corinth was any indicator of the confrontation between the gospel and the culture, there was much to worry about. Paul wrote the Galatians because he was “astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal.1:6). He wrote “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Gal.4:11).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

He was concerned that persecution would shake them from their faith.

1 Thessalonians 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Paul wrote to them again because there was deception

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

It seems there was a deceptive spirit, someone teaching, or a letter forged as coming from the apostle that was frightening them and shaking their faith.

In just his first letter to Corinth he had to confront them over such a wide range of issues ranging from divisions in the church, pride, celebrating sexual immorality, wronging and defrauding each other with lawsuits, confusion over marriage, participation in idolatry and demon worship, selfish abuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts, to doubts and disbelief about the resurrection.

Now in his second letter they were questioning his character and authority, and tolerating abusive satanic leadership that proclaimed another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

He warns the elders from Ephesus

Acts 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert…

Threats of division and false doctrine both from without and from within.

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

Anxiety; Jesus and Paul

We have to ask a question here. How does Paul’s anxiety over the churches fit with Jesus’ clear teaching prohibiting anxiety?

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? …31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

Notice, Jesus’ teaching forbids anxiety about one’s own life; self-preservation, food and drink and clothing. Paul was clearly not concerned about saving his own skin, boasting about his lack of sufficient food and clothing and constantly facing death for the sake of the gospel. In place of anxiety over one’s own life, Jesus commands us to:

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Paul’s anxiety over the churches is exactly that; seeking above his own life the advance of the kingdom of God and his righteousness among all the nations. Paul is daily carries the weight of his care for the Lord’s churches. How is Paul not crushed, not driven to despair under this weight?

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.

He knows that he is weak, fragile, not sufficient. He knows that the surpassing power belongs to God alone. So he writes to the Philippians:

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul is weak, but he knows who is strong. Paul is willing to humble himself, ‘casting all his anxieties on God because God cares for him’ (1Pet.5:6-7). Paul is burdened, and he brings hat burden to the Lord.

Weakness and Stumbling

2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Paul again self-identifies as weak, not strong. He is ready to forego his rights and stand with the weak. In the body, ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together’ (1Cor.12:26). Paul gladly embraces weakness in order to win the weak’ (1Cor.9:22). In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul warns:

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Paul gladly bears the burdens of the weak, and his passion is ignited when someone is made to stumble. This sounds like Jesus when he said:

Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [stumble, lit. scandalized], it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Carson (p.125) writes on this passage “…Paul burns when he sees righteousness in ruins and believers morally battered by the servants of Satan. How different are many of our reactions to the same phenomena today. It is regrettably easy to philosophize when such sin occurs, comment on the evil times in which we live, reflect that the brother or sister who fell into sin or heresy was never very strong or discerning anyway, and never to agonize in prayer for our fellow believer or inwardly burn because of their weakness and shame. The really consistent triumphalist may actually entertain feelings of superiority in that situation and rejoice that he is not as other men are.”

May the Lord work in us his heart for the lost, that we are willing not to be served but to serve, to lay down our lives (Mk.10:45) so that all may hear the gospel; that we would ‘endure anything for the sake of the elect’ (2Tim.2:10).

May the Lord work in us his heart for his straying sheep, that

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

***

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

December 12, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity

11/01_2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201101_2cor11_7-12.mp3

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

The Corinthians are enamored by false apostles selling a false gospel which cannot save, empowered by a different spirit, inviting them to follow another Jesus, a Jesus that promises power, prestige, position, but doesn’t require his followers to follow him by taking up their cross.

The false apostles attempted to undermine Paul’s authority in Corinth by pointing to his ‘contemptible speech’ (10:10). Paul answers maybe he doesn’t measure up to their standards of rhetorical style, but his substance is sound, by an open statement of the truth he has made the simple good news message of Christ crucified known to them.

Here in verses 7-12 he answers another objection;

2 Corinthians 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

Paul is being criticized for not accepting money from them. Imagine that! In collecting money for the saints in Jerusalem, they suspect him of stealing. But in refusing payment for serving them, they object that his teaching must not be worth anything, or he must not love them. They are attempting to put him in a lose-lose corner.

The Sin of Christ-Likeness

Paul answers with a question. Was it a sin for me to humble myself? Paul had already addressed these issues in 1 Corinthians 9. There he argued that it is the right of a minister of the gospel to make his living by preaching the gospel (1Cor.9:14). He had the right to receive financial support from them for his ministry to them, but he did not make use of that right.

Here he asks, was it sinful for me to humble myself and forego my right as a minister? He wanted to put no stumbling block in the way of the gospel (1Cor.9:12). The culture of Corinth estimated the worth of a teacher by how much they charged, which put the best teachers out of reach of the poor. And those who did support the teacher financially became patrons who expected the allegiance of the teacher in return. Paul would not sell out in this way and become obligated to a few wealthy patrons, and he refused to withhold the gospel from the poor. As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:19, while remaining ‘free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win more of them.’

Paul humbled himself by not making use of his right to financial support as a minister. He humbled himself in order to lift them up. He humbled himself so that he would be free to proclaim the gospel of God freely to all. He humbled himself so that in a city with no gospel presence, a church could be established in the grace of God. He was willing to go without, so that they could receive the gift of eternal life. He was willing to sacrifice, to suffer, to work with his own hands, so that the gospel would be seen as all of grace, a costly gift freely given to those who can’t earn it and don’t deserve it.

Paul humbled himself because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus, having all the rights of being himself fully God,

Philippians 2:7 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.

They criticized Paul for not receiving payment from them. He asks, did I commit a sin by humbling myself? Is it a sin to follow Jesus? Was it a sin for Jesus to humble himself in order to save us? Jesus came ‘not to be served but to serve’ (Mk.10:45). Paul once again brings them back to the central message of this letter; that authentic ministry is ministry that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Authentic ministry is cross-shaped ministry. He clearly exposes the false teachers for calling evil good and good evil. Is Christ-likeness a sin?

Plundering Churches

Paul goes on to confront them with the harsh truth.

2 Corinthians 11:8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.

If they didn’t know it before, he tells them now that he did accept support from other churches. In fact he calls it ‘plunder,’ stripping armor from the corpses of a defeated enemy. He uses graphic imagery to startle them with the costly realities of gospel ministry. Calvin saw this as ‘every thing that Paul took from the Churches that he had gained to Christ was, in a manner, the spoils of his victories, …what they contributed gratuitously was, in a manner, due by right of spiritual warfare.’ [Calvin, p.347]

Acts 18 tells us that he arrived alone in Corinth, and soon met Aquila and Priscilla, and worked with them in the menial trade of tentmaking to support himself while he preached each Sabbath, until his co-workers Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with support to free him to spend more time proclaiming Jesus.

He has already championed the churches of Macedonia who out of their extreme poverty overflowed in abundant single-hearted devotion and gave beyond their ability (2Cor.8:1-3) to the relief of the saints.

Now he lets them know that these impoverished and persecuted churches gave support to him while he was serving in the relatively affluent city of Corinth.

To one of these afflicted Macedonian churches, in the city of Philippi, he writes of their ‘partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil.1:5). He writes:

Philippians 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.

This was a slap in the face to Corinth. Paul considered it less a risk to the gospel to plunder the poverty-stricken churches of Macedonia than to accept support from the affluent Corinthians.

Partnering to Pay the Gospel Forward

When Paul entered a new region, he refused support to prevent them thinking that they were paying a fee for the gospel. After a church was established, he allowed them to then partner with him in advancing the gospel on to the next area. In chapter 8 He is encouraging the Corinthians to participate in the relief of the poor Jerusalem saints, and it seems from 2 Corinthians 10:15-16 that he was willing for the Corinthians to partner with him in advancing the gospel to regions beyond them (cf. Rom.15:24, 28; 1Cor.16:5-6; 2Cor.1:15-16).

The Truth of Christ In Me

But he was insistent that he will not change his practice with them. He kept himself from being a burden to them, and he will continue to keep himself from ever burdening them.

As we learned from the Macedonians in chapter 8, when one truly understands and receives God’s grace, giving is no longer a burden but a delight. Their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion, and they gave beyond their means, ‘begging us earnestly for the grace of taking part in the fellowship of the saints’ (2Cor.8:2-4).

Paul here takes an oath before God.

2 Corinthians 11:9 …So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

This is an oath formula; Paul promised them he would enter into foolish boasting. Here he boasts that he has not and will not be a burden to them. He connects this boast of not being a burden to the truth of Christ in him. There may be more to this than a simple oath; ‘I swear by the truth of Christ.’ The truth of Christ is in Paul not merely in word, but also in deed. As he said back in chapter 8,

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

Paul proclaimed the truth of Christ. But he also lived the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ lived in him. He lived among them ‘as poor, yet making many rich’ (2Cor.6:10)

He humbled himself ‘so that you might be exalted,’ preaching ‘God’s gospel to you free of charge’ (2Cor.11:7). This is not just a ministry tactic. This is Paul walking in the gospel, living out the gospel. His person, his method, his every decision was being shaped by the cross of Christ. The truth of Christ, quite literally, is in him.

Paul’s Love

Paul addresses their other accusation, that he refuses their money because he doesn’t love them. Financially investing in an individual creates a close bond, and they feel that Paul is holding them at arms length, not allowing them to get that close. From Paul’s perspective, receiving wages would oblige him to them and he would be relinquishing his freedom to offer the gospel free of charge to all.

2 Corinthians 11:11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

He doesn’t even answer this charge, but appeals to God. God knows! He has already answered it. He humbled himself to lift them up. He labored with his own hands to relieve them of the burden of providing for his needs. He plundered other churches to show them that the costly gift of grace truly comes without charge. All this was evidence of his love for them.

Paul is being offensive here, insistent on refusing their payment and plundering poor churches in order to serve them, humiliating them by making them the recipients of charity from poorer saints. But his goal is not to tear them down but to build them up. He humbles them in order to show them what grace really is, to teach them that they must be humble enough to receive something they can’t pay for and don’t deserve. Even in this offense toward them, he is preaching the gospel to them. He is showing them that he loves them enough to tear down their ‘lofty opinions of themselves that are raised up against the knowledge of God’ (2Cor.10:5,8). Paul offends them, but it is a loving offense.

Cutting the Ground from the False Apostles

Paul again affirms that he will not adjust his course of action with them. It seems that they were applying pressure to get him to cave and accept their payments. But he is resolute. Here in verse 12 he gives his reason.

2 Corinthians 11:12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

The pressure is coming ultimately from the false apostles. They want Paul to receive payment from the Corinthians so that they can claim to be no different than him. He refuses to take the bait. He is accusing them of peddling the word of God for money (2Cor.2:17). Paul here pulls the veil back from the false apostles. They are pressuring Paul to accept payment to justify their own money-grubbing. If Paul persists in refusing compensation, the false teachers will be unable to say that they operate on the same basis as he does, unless they are willing also to refuse payment, which is the whole reason they are there. His refusal is effectively cutting the ground out from under them.

Cultural Sensitivity

Paul is a culturally sensitive missionary. He is keenly aware of the cultural norms and nuances in the different places where he ministers. And he is aware of how the gospel will be perceived through these cultural lenses, so he is wisely strategic in the way he engages with the culture. But Paul will not adapt his message to suit the culture; in fact Paul is willing to offend the cultural sensibilities of the Corinthians for the sake of the gospel. When the truth of the gospel is at stake, he ‘would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting’ (1Cor.9:15).

He is willing to make a public scene and ‘oppose Peter to his face,’ because his ‘conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal.2:11,14).

Paul is culturally sensitive, not so that he can slip in unnoticed and make no waves, but so that he can make the right waves, gospel waves that crash in the face of cultures of merit that say ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. He plants his feet firmly and demonstrates that the gospel cannot be bought. The gospel is a treasure that is infinitely costly, but God gives it freely to those who don’t deserve it, to those who will humble themselves to receive.

In a culture that treasures popularity and prosperity and pleasure, who says it is a sin to surrender your rights or lay down your life for others, Paul shows us what it means to follow Jesus, who bids us take up our cross, lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, so we can truly find it (Mt.16:24-25).

***

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

November 1, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Context

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

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

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

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

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

1. ——–working together with God

We appeal to you

3. ——–giving no obstacle

4. ——–commending ourselves

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

The Offense of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:

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

When Offense is Fruitful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purpose: A No Fault Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commending Ourselves

Paul says:

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

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

He says in chapter 4

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

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

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

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

Ministers of God with Faultless Ministry

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

-Is your ministry blameless or blameworthy?

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation

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

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

Intro:

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

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

Recap:

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

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

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

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

Our Role in Reconciliation

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

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

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

The Gift of the Ministry of Reconciliation

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

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

Entrusted with the Message of Reconciliation

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

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

Romans 10 tells us that:

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

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

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

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

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

We are Ambassadors for Christ

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

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

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

Begging on Behalf of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Reconciled to God

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

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

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

Reconciling the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:17; Producing an Eternal Weight of Glory

10/14_2 Corinthians 4:17; Producing an Eternal Weight of Glory; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181014_2cor4_17.mp3

The Secret of Not Losing Heart

Last time we looked at the secret of not losing heart. I asked, ‘What if I told you that I could show you the secret to endure any hardship, no matter what comes against you, to never fail, never give up, never lose heart? Not only to survive but to thrive under any adversity?’ Paul gives us his secret at the end of 2 Corinthians 4. He says in 4:16

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

We began by looking at how this being made new on the inside happens. It happens day by day, as he said in 3:18; as we are “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

To not lose heart requires an inner day by day renewal. We had to stop there, but there’s so much more to see here. He gives us the foundation, the reason, the ground of our day by day renewal. And he gives us the process, the means of being renewed.

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

Disparity Between Outer and Inner

In this chapter, Paul is contrasting the outward appearance with his inward reality. Outwardly, he is plain, ordinary, a fragile clay pot. But inside he carries the inestimable treasure of the good news of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Outwardly he is carrying in his body the dying of Jesus, but this is so that the resurrection life of Jesus can be displayed in his body. Outwardly he is being destroyed, but inwardly he is being renewed day by day.

From all outward appearances, Paul is being unmade, taken apart; he is wasting away. His life appears to be one characterized by defeat, discouragement, even despair. We are ‘afflicted …perplexed …persecuted …struck down’. It seems a waste, meaningless.

In verse 12 he gives one positive outcome of his sufferings that he can look at so that he does not lose heart. He said ‘so, death is at work in us, but life in you.’ So the suffering he experiences is the means God is using to bring good, blessing, eternal life, to his hearers. That’s good. That makes the suffering worth it.

But here in verses 16-18 he says more. Not only is his suffering a benefit to his hearers, it is also a blessing to himself. Did you hear that? My suffering is painful to me, but a blessing to you, so I can push through. But now he says my suffering, my persecution, my affliction is a blessing to me. It is not only bringing good to you; it is also bringing good to me. He says, on the inside, where it really counts, the suffering he endures is actually causing him to be made new day by day. How can this be?

I was reading one of the recent ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ magazines, and came across this story about a couple who had left a closed country and found Jesus. They returned to to their homeland with their two young boys to share the gospel, even though they were fully aware of the dangers. The wife said “It’s an interesting thing trusting God with your family. For us it was just so clear. The joy and the privilege of being able to go overshadowed the fact that something could happen.” They shared Christ with their extended family, and then they began to plant churches. One of the questions he would ask before baptizing a new believer was always “Are you willing to give up your life for Jesus?”

After 7 years, the secret police burst in and ransacked their apartment, arrested them and drove them bound and blindfolded to the city’s interrogation unit. They were separately imprisoned, and repeatedly interrogated. The wife speaks of her two weeks in prison, thinking constantly about her children; “I knew it was a privilege to be there with the Lord, so that was sweet, but I also wanted to go be with them.” Her husband was released about a month later. She reflected on the experience and said “He was allowing us, His children, to suffer because He wanted us to carry His presence into their presence, He loved them so much – the judges, the interrogators, the guards – that He allowed us to go through a really, really hard time to carry His presence into their presence so they could come in touch with him.” [VOM Oct.2018]

How was she able to have this kind of reaction to that kind of suffering? Part of her answer points back to Paul’s earlier answer: “He was allowing us …to suffer because he wanted us to carry His presence into their presence, He loved them so much.” But there is something more, something deeper. “The joy and the privilege of being able to go overshadowed the fact that something could happen.” and then, when it did happen, “it was a privilege to be there with the Lord.” It was joy! It was a privilege!

Perspective Matters!

Look at the foundation of this day by day renewal in the face of daily troubles. Look at verse 17. It starts with ‘for’; because. This gives the reason, the foundation of this inner day by day renewal.

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Perspective matters! Look at how Paul views his affliction where he was so utterly burdened that he despaired of life itself. Look at the perspective he has on his affliction, his perplexity, his persecution, his being struck down and thoroughly ruined. He contrasts it with the purposes and the promises of God.

Do you do that? Do you take what you are facing today, and hold it up to the promises of God and the purposes of God for you, and compare it? Put it in the scales? See what it really weighs? Paul says that when he weighs it out, his afflictions are light, and they are momentary. Now before you blow Paul off as if he just doesn’t understand what you are going through, you could look over to 2 Corinthians 11 where he lists his imprisonments, his countless beatings, often near death, his 5 times receiving 39 lashes (that’s 195 lashes, but who’s counting?), his 3 times beaten with rods, his being stoned and left for dead, his shipwrecks, his betrayal by false brothers, his hunger, thirst, exposure, sleeplessness, his daily pressure and anxiety for all the churches. All this he piles in the balance and it weighs out ‘light’ and ‘momentary’.

Back in chapter 1, he said he was ‘so utterly burdened beyond strength’ because of the affliction they experienced in Asia. He felt the weight then, and it was more than he could carry. What gave him his perspective on suffering? What could possibly make this magnitude of suffering seem light and momentary? What is on the other side of the scales?

Momentary vs. Eternal

The thing that outlasts and outweighs our suffering is ‘an eternal weight of glory’. ‘Eternal’ answers ‘momentary.’ The length of our afflictions are momentary in comparison to eternity. If we endure 80 years of constant pain and suffering, persecution and affliction, and we hold that up next to the timeline of eternity; is so infinitesimally small it becomes insignificant.

As the song goes: ‘when we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.’ Compared to our eternal joy, the present afflictions are less than momentary. Can you take your present sufferings and measure them by eternity in the presence of God and say they are momentary? Perspective makes all the difference.

Light vs. Weight of Glory

Eternal answers momentary, and ‘weight of glory’ answers ‘light.’ The heaviness of our afflictions are light in comparison to the weight of glory. This is the same word he used in 1:8 when he says we were ‘so utterly burdened [or weighed down] beyond our strength.’ Now he compares this weight beyond our strength to the weight of glory. The weight of affliction is far beyond what we can bear, but there is something in the scales that far outweighs the heaviness of our present sorrows. It is glory.

The word ‘glory’ itself if we look back to the Hebrew of the Old Testament literally means weighty, massive, substantial. The eternal weight of God’s weightiness, the massiveness of his glory so far surpasses that the weight of our afflictions seem as inconsequential dust in the scales.

Exceedingly Exceeding

As Paul says in Romans 8,

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

It’s not just that the glory outweighs the burden and outlasts the sufferings; it is beyond all comparison; literally ‘according to hyperbole into hyperbole’. Words fail to capture the glory. It is surpassingly surpassing; exceedingly exceeding. So far beyond being beyond all ability to explain. The glory is so far beyond any ability to adequately explain that Paul piles hyperbole upon hyperbole to attempt to communicate that there is just no comparison between our present afflictions and the glory that is to be revealed in us.

Whose Glory?

Glory is the radiance, the outward display of God’s inner character and nature. The glory of the Lord is the visible manifestation of God’s invisible presence. It is his splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, majesty or dignity. God in Isaiah 42 and 48 says that he gives his glory to no other, and yet Jesus in his humanity prayed:

John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus’ own glory was veiled, hidden behind his plain, ordinary humanity. And yet here in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6 we apprehend ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’; the light of the gospel is ‘the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’. Hebrews 1:3 calls Jesus ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.’ We most clearly see God’s character and nature revealed in Jesus. Although this glory belongs to God alone, we were created to reflect, to image forth his glory. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2Cor.3:18).

Afflictions Work Glory

But look carefully at what he says.

2 Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

The present affliction is not just contrasted with the glory to come, it is causing it. It is preparing it for us; it is working it, accomplishing it for us. He looks both at the promises and the purposes of God. God intends our sufferings for our good, to increase the glory we will experience. God’s promise is that the eternal will far outspan the temporal, that the glory will far outweigh the trials. But the purpose of God is that the pressure produces in us the surpassingly surpassing eternal weight of glory. It is important to know not only God’s promises to us that give us strength to persevere through the suffering, but that God has a purpose in the sufferings. The afflictions are not meaningless, they are purposeful, they are accomplishing something, bringing something to completion.

We see this same truth (and the same word) displayed in Romans 5:3

Romans 5:3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

And we see it in James 1:3

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Affliction produces steadfastness; the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Affliction produces in us an exceedingly exceeding weight of glory. So we rejoice, we count it all joy; we do not fail, give up, lose heart.

I think Spurgeon explains this as well as anyone (and with this we’ll have to end for now). He says:

trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart—he finds it full—he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it.”

There is …no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. Hence they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, fret not over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies.”

[Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning, February 12]

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

October 15, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

08/26_2 Corinthians 4:7; Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180826_2cor4_7.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 2 and 3 Paul displayed the surpassing glory of New Covenant ministry. It is ministry where ‘God through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’ (2:14). It is self-authenticating ministry, where God writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (3:3). It is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit (3:6). It is ministry more glorious than that of Moses, whose face radiated glory and had to be veiled (3:7-13). It is ministry that brings righteousness (3:9); it is permanent (3:11). It is ministry that removes veils (3:14-16), that brings freedom (3:17). It is ministry that beholds directly the glory of the Lord, ministry that brings about transformation (3:18).

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul has been giving us the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry; ministry that does not lose heart. Authentic ministry is ministry by mercy; it is not deserved. It is ministry with integrity; it isn’t secretive, it doesn’t tamper, it doesn’t use every means possible. It is engaged in spiritual warfare; the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It is the plain proclamation of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners; Jesus Christ as Lord. Authentic ministry is accompanied by the creative power of God; God speaks in and through our speaking to create life and light, to reveal Jesus, to remove blinders. In the middle of our ministry God’s creative word flashes out and shines light in the dark hearts of unbelievers to create seeing and believing in Jesus.

This is exceedingly glorious ministry! And to think, this ministry has been entrusted to us! We do not lose heart. We can have confidence. We can be very bold.

But

But… In verse 7 we run in to a big ‘but’.

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.

Woven throughout this passage are warnings to keep us humble. But here in verse 7 Paul illustrates the truth graphically to prevent us from becoming puffed up. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, jars of clay.

Earthen Vessels

We hold a great treasure, but it is placed in ordinary, unimpressive containers. Clay jars were about the equivalent of plastic or styrofoam cups. They were cheap, ordinary, fragile, disposable, and the landfills are full of them. They couldn’t really even be recycled. Many sites in Israel you can hardly walk without stepping on fragments of broken pottery [show examples]. There are even pits in the ground filled full of broken fragments. If a vessel made of glass broke, it could be melted down and re-blown into something useful. But not clay pots. Under Levitical law, bronze or even wood or leather or cloth containers that came into contact with something unclean could be washed in water and cleansed, but an earthen vessel must be broken (Lev.6:28;11:32-35; 15:12).

In Isaiah 30, God describes the consequences to his people of rejecting and distorting his word:

Isaiah 30:14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

A clay pot’s usefulness comes from its form. It does not come from the inherent worth of its material.

The Potter and the Clay

When it comes down to it, a clay pot is essentially dirt. Mud. Clay that has been formed for a specific purpose. And that is exactly what we are. According to Genesis,

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Formed by God of dust from the ground. Then after our rebellion, we are told:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest we begin to think we are something, we are reminded that we are but clay jars, formed by the hand of our Master for a specific purpose.

This is an analogy that is used several places in scripture. In Isaiah 29 the Lord says:

Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

How dare a created thing reject its creator! How dare something formed insult the one who formed it! Again in Isaiah 45:

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

I looked up how to make usable clay for pottery out of regular ordinary dirt. It is a simple but labor intensive process. It is basically a process of washing and screening and sifting to removing the impurities so that the clay will hold together.

Isaiah 64 describes us:

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

We are full of impurities, and in order for us to be useful, God must remove the contaminants.

Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For us to even make it on the potter’s wheel, there must be an intensive process of cleansing.

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

God as creator has rights over the clay. He can do with it what he chooses.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is given an extensive object lesson with clay pots.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The potter is at liberty to do with his clay what seems best to him. God goes on to warn:

Jeremiah 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

The point of these illustrations is that God is the potter. We are the clay. The potter has the right to make what he wishes with the clay. It seem ridiculous for a clay pot to take issue with the potter over the way it has been formed, especially when we spoil ourselves in his hand. Yet that is just what we so often do. The Potter is wise. Our Potter is good. He knows what he is doing. We can trust him.

Another thing to note about clay pots, is that they can be molded and shaped into something that looks great, but they are useless until they are fired. They have to be put in the furnace or kiln to become usable. I don’t know if Paul had this in mind when he calls us earthen vessels, but it certainly fits with what he goes on to say in the rest of this chapter. The furnace of affliction and trials proves character. It makes a soft pliable wet lump of clay into a functional container. It becomes useful. And it can last a long time. Many of these pieces of pottery are thousands of years old.

In Jeremiah 32, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field to demonstrate God’s promise that after the exile, fields will again be bought and sold in the land.

Jeremiah 32:14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered some clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea. The jars contained great treasure, manuscripts of the Bible and other writings preserved in the jars for over 2000 years! Indeed, treasure stored in an earthenware vessel can last a long time.

This Treasure

The point of Paul’s contrast is between the nature of the jar and the nature of the treasure it is meant to carry.

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.

We have some fancy vases in our house that we don’t ever put anything in. They are beautiful, and they are completely for show. If I were to put even a flower in it, the beauty of the vase would detract from the beauty of the flower. The simplicity and plainness of a container allows the beauty of the treasure to be seen and treasured for what it is. That is what Paul is warning here.

We contain treasure. We have been entrusted with New Covenant ministry. The ministry of the gospel; the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We proclaim Jesus Christ the Lord. God’s creative word has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The container is not meant to compete with the glory of the treasure. We want nothing to detract from the treasure. Fancy pots won’t do!

The Power is God’s

This verse could be translated literally ‘but we have this the treasure in earthen vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.’ The verb is not ‘to show;’ rather the verb in this phrase is ‘to be.’ God’s purpose in putting his infinitely valuable treasure in these fragile human containers is that the power would be his and not ours.

If the container were impressive, attention would be drawn to the container. With containers this earthy, this ordinary, this vulnerable and common, there is no question whose the power is.

Paul may have had in mind the simple oil lamps that were so common in Corinth. Made of clay, they were inexpensive, yet functional. No one would question if the clay were giving off the light of itself or if it was the oil that was inside. It is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God creatively spoke this light into existence in our hearts. When this light shines out in such a way that others begin to see the light, it is evident that the extraordinary degree of the power is from God and not from us.

Paul was accused of being unimpressive. The Corinthians wanted someone powerful, someone eloquent, someone with a commanding presence. Paul said here I am; a simple clay pot, worn, tattered, vulnerable, broken, but containing a power not his own, a divine and supernatural light. The power of forgiveness. The power of knowing Jesus. The power to transform lives.

When Jesus blinded Paul’s physical eyes, and opened his spiritual eyes to who he is, he called a man named Ananias to go speak to him.

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument [vessel] of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul was a vessel, a container in which the name of Jesus would be carried around to all people. In the coming verses we will see how this treasure in earthen vessels connects with the necessity of suffering.

In Matthew 5 Jesus talked about light of a lamp that shines and gives light to others. He said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How is it that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light shine in such a way that people see our good works, but they don’t praise us; rather they give glory to our Father in heaven? How do we let our light shine in such a way that God gets all the attention?

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…

2 Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said ‘out of darkness light shine! … 7 [lit] But we have this, the treasure in earthenware vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.

You and I are really not all that impressive. God is.

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

August 27, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:6; The Creative Power of Authentic Ministry

08/19_2 Corinthians 4:6; The Creative Power of Authentic Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180819_2cor4_6.mp3

Paul is describing authentic Christian ministry; giving reason why he does not lose heart, get discouraged, give up, burn out. Ministry, the ability and opportunity to serve others, is a gift. It is God’s mercy to sinners.

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

He describes his methods; he does not use shameful hidden methods; he refuses to water down, add to, or distort God’s word. He speaks plainly, openly, with integrity.

He recognizes there is an adversary to the truth, a powerful enemy who seeks our eternal destruction, who would cast a veil over the hearts and minds of people to keep them from seeing the truth.

2 Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He lays out the simple message he does proclaim; the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, and he explains his role as a minister of the gospel.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Verse 6, our subject today, he gives us the creative power of authentic ministry, the ultimate ground of his confidence in gospel ministry, why he is content to openly proclaim the truth, to not adjust the message to suit his audience, and why he does not lose heart even in the face of seeming ministry failure. We proclaim Jesus, and God speaks and shines light in hearts that are veiled and blinded. God is powerful to overcome the darkness. Authentic ministry is ministry God speaks through to accomplish his purposes.

God Said

The ministry Paul is talking about is primarily a speaking ministry; he simply and plainly heralds the Lord Jesus Christ. He proclaims. He uses words to communicate truth. He communicates simply, openly, plainly. His ministry is ministry of the word; he administers God’s word to people. He communicates God’s truth. He communicates the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ as Lord. Ministry is speaking, proclaiming, communicating truth, to reflect our God who is a communicating, speaking God. Verse 6 begins ‘because God said.’

Don’t ever let this cease to amaze you. Our God is a speaking God, a communicating God. He could have left us wondering, guessing, groping in the dark. But he spoke. He communicates who he is, what he is like, what he requires, how we can have a relationship with him. Our God is a speaking God. We speak because he has spoken.

The Power of The Word

And his speech has power. When God speaks, things leap into being. That which did not exist comes into existence. Psalm 33 says:

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. …9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

By his word, by the breath of his mouth, by his speaking, at his command, everything came into being. The heavens and all their starry hosts, universes, galaxies, all breathed out by him. Hebrews 11 says:

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The universe created by the word of God. That which is visible came out of that which is invisible, the spoken word. God’s word is creative! God’s word has power! Romans 4 talks about

Romans 4:17…the God …who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

God calls, God speaks, and things that do not exist come into existence! This is absolute power! Everything God says happens.

This is what we are asking when in the Lord’s prayer we ask that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May we respond to your word with unhesitating and absolute obedience, the way your word causes even things that do not exist to be for your pleasure.

Out of Darkness, Light Shine

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”

God commanded ‘out of darkness, light shine!’ Any idea what passage Paul is referring to here?

The first thing that comes to mind is creation, where ‘God said Let light be, and light came into existence’ (Gen.1:3). Darkness was over the face of the deep, and God said “Let there be light.” and there was light. Genesis 1 is clearly in mind here, because God is creating light out of darkness. And he does it with his word. He speaks, and it comes into being. 2 Corinthians 4:6 starts out ‘the God who said’ and Genesis 1:3 starts out ‘and God said’. But in Genesis 1, God says ‘let light be or exist; in 2 Corinthians he says ‘let light shine’ – a different verb. And Genesis 1 takes place at the beginning of creation, before humankind exists; where 2 Corinthians is talking about God shining light into human hearts made flesh. So while Genesis 1 is definitely in mind, there may be other passages in mind as well.

There is another passage that includes darkness, light, and the same verb ‘to shine’ that we find in 2 Corinthians 4. It is Isaiah 9. You are probably familiar with the well-known Christmas passage Isaiah 9:6:

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

Isaiah 9 begins by pointing us to ‘Galilee of the nations,’ and verse 2 says:

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Here the subject is people, people walking in darkness, upon whom the light shines. And in the context of Isaiah 9, the light shining is the child born, the son given, whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Matthew 4:13-16 quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 and says that it is fulfilled in Jesus. The light shining in the darkness of human hearts is Jesus!

In Isaiah 60 we see this same theme again of light coming into darkness, and it is the glory of the Lord on people.

Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

The light that overcomes the thick darkness is the glory of YHWH rising. What we proclaim is Jesus Christ as Lord; YWHW.

John’s gospel begins this way.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Jesus is the true light that shines in the darkness, that gives light, that was coming into the world. Notice in John’s gospel that he names this one ‘the Word.’ The Word gives life and light. It is the speaking one, the communicating one, the one we proclaim; Jesus Christ the Lord.

Paul takes a thread from Genesis 1 where God brings light into existence that did not exist by his powerful word, and ties it together with Isaiah 9, where the promised Son of God shines light into the deep darkness of humankind, and Isaiah 60 where the light is the glory of YHWH.

The Means of Conversion

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 is talking about confidence in gospel ministry, and he points to his own conversion, and he invites us to think of our own conversion. The God who said ‘out of darkness, light shine!’ has shone in our hearts.

Do you remember? Do you remember when the lights came on for you? I grew up in a Christian family, in a Christian church, attending camp and Sunday School. I knew all about Jesus, and Samson and Delilah and David and Goliath and Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Paul and Timothy. I knew all about creation and Babel and the ark and the tabernacle and the disciples and the miracles and the cross and the resurrection. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I knew it. I saw it all in living color on Mrs. Dean’s flannel graph. I even believed it. But I remember when I got it. When it came home to me. When the lights turned on. When God shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of Jesus. I felt the weight of my sin, and I was a grievous sinner at the ripe age of seven. I had been feeling the weight of my sin, but now I saw that Jesus took that sin – my sin. He died in my place. For me! He loved me and gave himself up for me. He was pursuing me. He wanted a relationship with me! I finally got it, and I wanted it. I wanted him! I embraced his forgiveness. I embraced him. How did it happen for you? When did the lights come on?

Paul invites us to look at our own conversion, our own transformation, our own new birth, as something God did. God the Creator spoke light into existence in our hearts and our blind eyes began to see! People talked ’till they were blue in the face, explained, clarified, answered questions… nothing. But when God said ‘let light be,’ then the lights came on.

The Creator God has shone in our hearts and we saw. We can take confidence in gospel ministry because we experienced God’s illuminating power. And we know he can turn the lights on for anyone!

Paul is confident in proclaiming plainly the simple message of Jesus Christ as Lord; he does not lose heart, because he is confident that God is at work shining in dark and veiled hearts to illuminate Jesus to them.

Romans 10 is helpful here. Romans 10:13 says:

Romans 10:13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And then he goes on to explain:

Romans 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? …17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Salvation comes through calling on Jesus in faith. Faith comes through hearing the word proclaimed. But not all who hear believe. God must turn the lights on. Proclamation is necessary, but it is not the decisive thing. God must be speaking in our speaking to create light in the hearts of those who are blind. Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:21 … it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. …23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

How is it that the folly of what we preach becomes the saving power of God and the wisdom of God? Through the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ shining in our hearts to give light. We can confidently proclaim the simple message of Christ crucified, Jesus Christ as Lord, confident that God will open blind eyes and conquer hard hearts. We cannot ‘claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God’ (2Cor.3:5)

The Glory of God is the Glory of Christ

Let’s look again at what we see when God shines in our hearts.

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.

What is it that we see? It is the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Let’s pair this with what our enemy wants to keep us from seeing in verse 4. What the enemy wants to blind us to is what God overcomes by his creative word to give us the light of knowledge. Paul states the same thing in different words, and the pairing of these two verses sheds even more light on Jesus.

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

What our adversary wants to keep us from seeing is ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’

2 Corinthians 4:4——————————–2 Corinthians 4:6

In their case the god of this world————-For God, who said,

——————————————————- “Let light shine out of darkness,”

has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,—-has shone in our hearts

to keep them from seeing———————–to give

the light of the gospel—————————the light of the knowledge

of the glory of Christ,—————————of the glory of God

who is the image of God.———————–in the face of Jesus Christ.

‘The light of the gospel’ is ‘the light of the knowledge.’ what is the content of this knowledge, this good news? ‘The glory of Christ’ is ‘the glory of God’. Paul as plainly as ever identifies Christ with God. The knowledge of the glory of God is the good news of the glory of Christ. The glory of Christ is that he is very image of God. The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

Christ.

O Lord, open our eyes to behold the good news of the glory of Christ the image of God; let us see the glory of God in the face of our Lord

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

August 19, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:5; The Essence of Authentic Ministry

08/12_2 Corinthians 4:5; The Essence of Authentic Christian Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180812_2cor4_5.mp3

Paul is defending his ministry, teaching us what authentic Christian ministry is. There are so many counterfeits. In Paul’s day, and in ours, many claim to be serving Christ, doing ministry, even sincerely believe they are serving Jesus, but sadly they fall short. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This is a terrifying prospect; to spend your life believing you are serving Jesus, to discover that in his estimation you have been a worker of lawlessness. But we don’t have to wonder, and we don’t have to worry. Both Jesus and Paul tell us clearly what authentic Christian ministry is.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

So far he has told us (in chapter 3) that authentic ministry is new covenant ministry; ministry that gives life, ministry that writes by the Spirit of God on the tablets of transformed hearts of flesh, ministry that brings righteousness, that brings transformation, that brings freedom, ministry that lasts.

These are some of the effects of authentic ministry; but what is authentic ministry? What does authentic ministry consist of?

A Proclaiming Ministry

The first thing we need to notice about authentic ministry is that it is a proclaiming ministry. Authentic ministry communicates a message with definite content.

Many today like to say that we just need to show love. After all, ‘they will know we are Christians by our love.’ First of all, this is not a fully accurate quotation. The passage referred to is

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.”

It is not just generic love that this passage talks about, but specific love toward specific people. It is not just any love, it is Jesus’ love. And it is not love toward everyone; it is love toward one another; toward other disciples of Jesus. We are to love fellow followers of Jesus with the same kind of love with which Jesus loved us.

Authentic ministry must be characterized by love, both toward fellow believers and toward unbelievers. But that love must have content. It must have shape and contour and boundaries. It must not be fuzzy; it must be defined. Love must be defined by truth. We are to show love, and we are to show it by speaking truth. Authentic ministry is a proclaiming ministry. It communicates clearly and plainly the truth.

What is the content of authentic ministry?

Not Preaching Ourselves

He starts by clarifying emphatically what authentic ministry is not; ‘we preach not ourselves.’ There are two words for preaching or proclamation in the New Testament, and they overlap in their meaning. Both words indicate a herald announcing a message from the king, bringing a proclamation or a declaration. One word, sometimes translated evangelize or preach the gospel, leans more in its emphasis toward the content of the message as good news and the joy in the delivery. The other word, found here, leans more in its emphasis toward the weight of authority of the messenger, as one sent or commissioned with a message that carries the weight of authority of the one who sent him.

The herald does not promote himself. It’s not about the messenger. A herald doesn’t speak of his own authority, the message is not about him, he doesn’t draw attention to himself. It is not from him or about him or for him. He speaks with authority, but it is the authority of the one who sent him. He does draw attention, but he is to draw attention to the message, to the proclamation of the king. He delivers a message, but he does not determine the content of that message. He must be faithful to transmit the message accurately.

Be very wary of ministries that are self-promoting, where much attention and focus is on the minister or the ministry; look at us, look at what we are doing for the Lord.

Christian ministry should smell more like the ministry of John the Baptist.

John 3:26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Do you smell the genuine humility here? It’s not about me. It was never about me. I have this ministry not because I am so great, not because I am better at this than others; I have this ministry by the mercy of God. It is all a gift. It is all about him; he must increase. My joy is complete when people turn away from me, forget about me, and follow Jesus.

What we proclaim is not ourselves.

Proclaiming a Person

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

What we proclaim is Jesus Christ. Authentic ministry proclaims a person. Listen to what he said back in chapter 1

2 Corinthians 1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, …

The content of our proclamation is not primarily what; it is whom. We herald a person. Authentic ministry announces a person. We proclaim Christ Jesus. Colossians 1:28 says ‘him we proclaim.’ We want people to know a person. We get to introduce people to Jesus. When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, he didn’t waste a lot of time on the governmental structure of the kingdom or the external manifestation of the kingdom. He said ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ because, he, the King, had arrived. The king was present, walking, living among his subjects. Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3 in terms of relationship; knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ. Paul considered everything rubbish because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil.3:8-10). Knowing him is different from knowing of or knowing about him. Knowing him indicates personal relationship. This is why Jesus says to those who do many things in his name ‘depart from me, I never knew you’ (Mt.7:23).

John the Baptist rejoiced when his followers began to follow Jesus, because that is what real ministry is about. We want to see people following Jesus. We don’t want people following us. We don’t preach ourselves. We want everyone to follow Jesus. We proclaim a person; him we proclaim.

Christ Jesus as Lord

Of course, if we are proclaiming a person, then it is essential that we tell the truth about that person. We must accurately represent the one we herald. To misrepresent the one we claim to be heralding would be to fail both our Master and the ones we claim to be serving. We proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord. Jesus, YHWH is salvation; the name communicated by the angel to Mary and Joseph. Jesus, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the historical person raised in Nazareth. Jesus proclaimed as the Christ, the promised Messiah King of the Jews. Christ Jesus the Lord; to Roman ears, the divine emperor-king; to Jewish ears, YHWH of the Scriptures, the great I AM. John understood his role as preparing the way for YHWH, the Lord. As heralds of Jesus, it is essential that we get Jesus right. Immanuel, God with us, come in the flesh to save us from our sins; Jesus crucified for our sins, buried, resurrected, who is alive today!

Proclaiming Ourselves as Your Slaves for Jesus’ Sake

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

Authentic ministry is ministry that points away from self to Jesus, that draws attention to Jesus, turns the focus to Jesus. Paul here lays out the appropriate role of the minister in authentic Christian ministry; we don’t proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord; but ourselves your slaves because of Jesus. We are not the master; Jesus is the master. We are his slaves, and as his slaves, he has called us to serve you. Already in chapter 1 he made it clear that he did not consider himself a lord over them, but rather a fellow worker with them.

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.

Back in 1 Corinthians, when the church there made too much of its favorite leaders, Paul said:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.

…21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Christian leaders are servants assigned by the Lord. All the leaders of the church in a sense belong to the church. God has given them to the church for her good.

And Jesus made clear his expectations for Christian leaders

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 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.”

Christians are to serve one another, to slave for one another. The path to greatness is down not up.

The Prosperity Gospel

There is a strange teaching that is very popular in some areas today. It goes something like this: as Christians, we are children of the King. Our Father owns everything. If we are the king’s kids; we should live like it, we should act like it, we should be treated like royalty. This is dangerous, and it is false. It blurs the line between the already and the not yet. Already we are adopted into the family of God, but not yet has it appeared what we will be. And it ignores the clear teaching of Jesus.

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.

…20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

Yes we are adopted into his family, and yes, we will be treated like him, however presently that looks primarily like persecution. Yes we will rule and reign with him one day, provided we are willing to suffer with him now. Romans 8 makes this connection.

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

It is a dangerous and deceptive lie to tell people that if they follow Jesus, everything will go well for them in this life. We are not to expect to be treated as kings. We are to expect to be treated as slaves. We are to follow Jesus, and he came not to be served, but to serve, to give his life for others.

For Jesus

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

We are to serve others but not to please them. We must make it our aim in our service to others to please him. Our tendency is to look for approval from the ones we serve. We will be disappointed. We must keep our eyes on our one Master and Lord. Often when we serve others for their good, we have to give them what they don’t want. We have to give them what they need. They might need potent but distasteful medicine. They won’t like it. But we don’t serve to win the approval of the ones we serve. We must in everything make it our aim to please him. We do it all for his sake. In our proclamation of him, we refuse to practice cunning. We refuse to tamper with God’s word. We plainly proclaim the truth. We proclaim Jesus for Jesus’ sake. We serve others for Jesus’ sake.

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:1; How to Persevere in Ministry

07/22_2 Corinthians 4:1; How To Persevere In Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180722_2cor4_1.mp3

Do Not Lose Heart

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart. He echoes this again down in verse 16

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. …

Paul had every reason to lose heart. He goes on to say ‘though our outer self is wasting away…’ In verses 8-11 he says ‘we are afflicted in every way… perplexed… persecuted… struck down… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus… we… are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake…’ Back in chapter 1:5-6 he said that ‘we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings… we are afflicted… we suffer…’

In 1:8-10 he informed of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.’ He describes it as ‘a deadly peril.’ Paul had multiplied reasons to lose heart.

This word ‘lose heart’ means literally ‘to be weak or to fail’ in the discharge of a duty. It shows up in Luke 18, where Jesus:

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Jesus is teaching persistence or perseverance in prayer. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t wear out. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t get an answer right away. Don’t fail to persevere in prayer.

It shows up in Galatians 6:9

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. …9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

There it is parallel to another word meaning to faint or relax; to give up. Don’t grow weary; don’t quit, don’t lose heart; what you sow by persevering in doing good, you will reap in due time. He says something very similar in 2 Thessalonians 3:13

2 Thessalonians 3:13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

Don’t quit, don’t become discouraged in serving others in need; persevere in doing good.

Paul, writes Ephesians 3:13 from prison and says:

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

There it points more to the subjective emotional discouragement which comes from hearing bad news of a suffering friend. Don’t lose heart, don’t become discouraged, don’t lose hope. Don’t lose your grip on the bold confidence you have in Jesus. Even here in Ephesians it may contain the idea of ‘don’t fail to persevere in doing good, even if your persistence means increased suffering for the apostle.’

How To Persevere in Ministry

Here in 2 Corinthians Paul is talking about persevering in ministry. How do we not grow weary, wear out, faint, fail, lose heart? How do we persistently persevere in ministry? How do you stick with it, even in the face of suffering, affliction, failure? How do you battle discouragement and even depression? How do you not give up? How do you not quit?

You might be saying ‘this sounds like a great message for a pastor’s conference, or for ministry leaders, but how does it apply to me? I’m not in ministry. Although none of you are apostles, you all are ministers. Apostles were the prototype for ministry. Paul says ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1Cor.11:1). One author says that the life of an apostle not essentially different from that of other Christians; in them Christian existence is written large (Seifrid, p.189).

Ministry means service. We all are called to minister, to serve others with the gifts God has given us. And we all need encouragement to not lose heart.

Perseverance and the Nature of Gospel Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Paul begins his instruction on how to persevere in ministry with the word ‘therefore, on account of this or because of this.’ Because of what? In chapter 3 Paul has laid out what authentic gospel ministry consists of. I believe one major reason why many lose heart, burn out, or grow weary in ministry is that they misunderstand what ministry is.

Authentic gospel ministry, according to 2 Corinthians 3 is New Covenant ministry; ministry that depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit. All sufficiency for authentic ministry comes from God; we are not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from ourselves. God by the Spirit is writing Christ on the tablets of hearts of flesh. The Spirit is the one who makes alive. The ministry of the Spirit is a permanent, lasting ministry; not one that fades away. It is a ministry that escapes condemnation and brings about righteousness; the righteousness of Christ credited to the believer. It is a ministry of hope. It is ministry a that removes veils, a ministry of freedom, ministry that brings transformation; it is a surpassingly glorious ministry. God the Holy Spirit brings about life and righteousness and transformation in dead sinners through the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Authentic ministry spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. Authentic ministry brings people into direct contact with the glory of our Lord Jesus. Paul does not lose heart or become discouraged or give up because he has been entrusted with this kind of ministry.

If we understand what New Covenant ministry is; that New Covenant ministry is a sovereign work of the Spirit of the living God in the hearts and lives of people, using us as his instruments, we will not lose heart!

Mercy Defined

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Authentic Christian ministry is ministry that we have by mercy. Mercy is divine compassion and pity. Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who owed his master an insurmountable debt. Since he was unable to pay, the master ordered for him and all that he had to be sold and payment to be made. The servant fell to his knees and begged his master for more time to repay the debt. This servant understood what he deserved.

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The master was moved with compassion. He did not treat the servant as he deserved. Instead he released him and forgave the debt. Later in the story, this action of the master is called mercy

Matthew 18:33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Mercy is release from a debt we owe; it is an emotional response of being moved with compassion or pity toward one who is in trouble and is powerless to escape his desperate situation. Blind men cried out to Jesus for mercy. Those caring for one tormented by demons cried out to Jesus for mercy. The good Samaritan in Luke 10 was moved with compassion and showed mercy to the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. Mercy is action to help springing from pity or compassion toward one who is powerless to remedy his own situation.

We read of God’s mercy in Titus 3

Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Mercy is God’s rescue in response to our need. It is not reward for righteousness; it is the opposite of merit. It is gift. Peter says:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

God was moved with compassion by our helplessness, and made dead sinners alive.

Ministry By The Mercy of God

Let’s apply this definition of mercy to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We have been given this ministry by the mercy of God. God, moved with compassion by our helplessness, acted to rescue us. We are saved by his mercy. We have this ministry by mercy. Ministry is not something we are worthy of. It is not something we deserve to have. Mercy is divine compassion that meets us in our helplessness to rescue us. ‘We are not sufficient’ Paul says ‘to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant’ (3:5-6). We have this ministry by mercy.

Paul was acutely aware that he was called to minister by the mercy of God. In 1 Timothy he says:

1 Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Paul did nothing to deserve his appointment to ministry. He was ignorant, so he needed mercy. He was an unbeliever, so he needed mercy. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent opponent, and still he received mercy. He was in a position of helplessness; he didn’t even think he needed to be rescued. He thought he was doing well. But the grace of the Lord Jesus overflowed toward him. God had compassion on him, and he extended mercy to him and saved him and appointed him to his service. Saul who became Paul was the poster child for mercy. God put his mercy on display in Paul, so that no one could ever think he was beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Mercy has everything to do with God and nothing to do with my deserving or my worth.

Paul begins this letter by acknowledging God as the Father of mercies.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

Mercy Powers Perseverance

So how does knowing that we have been entrusted with ministry according to mercy affect our perseverance and keep us from losing heart? How does a recognition that ministry is according to mercy help me not to despair?

I lose heart when I think it is my performance that matters. I am discouraged and begin to lose heart when I feel that I have not done well enough or have not met expectations. I get discouraged when I don’t see the results that I hope for. But ministry is according to mercy. Ministry is not about my performance. Ministry is not about expectations or results. Ministry is according to mercy; divine help in response to my helplessness and need. I am not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from me. My sufficiency is from God, who has made me competent. Competent to minister. I am helpless to minister effectively. God who is rich in mercy, from the depth of his compassion, is eager to meet me in my helplessness and accomplish his purposes in and through me. I do not quit, give up, get discouraged, lose heart, because just as my salvation is God’s mercy meeting me in my helplessness, so the ministry he has equipped me for and entrusted me with is all God’s mercy meeting me in my helplessness and supplying my lack.

Most fundamentally Paul, and each of us, is one upon whom God has had pity and come to our rescue. I am a mere recipient of mercy, together with all who belong to God through Christ.

Authentic Christian ministry depends completely on the mercy of God. One who is called to minister must first receive the mercy of God in the gospel, and we must live and minister ever in the mercy of God, as God meets us in our need and supplies our lack.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

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

July 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment