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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

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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 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail

08/05_2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180805_2cor4_3-4.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is describing authentic Christian ministry. We have been entrusted with ministry by God’s mercy, God’s pity and compassion that moves him to action to help the desperate. We have this ministry by his mercy, so we do not lose heart. We renounce hidden things of shame. We refuse to use every means possible; we refuse to adulterate God’s word (if we adulterate the one thing that has the power to transform, then what hope is there?) Instead, we plainly proclaim the truth. It is by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience. All this happens under the watchful eye of God.

So we do not lose heart, grow faint, get discouraged, burn out, give up, quit. We do not lose heart in the face of opposition. We do not lose heart in the face of criticism. We do not lose heart in the face of discouraging circumstances. We do not lose heart in the face of ministry failures.

How can this be? How can we not lose heart, how can we not give up persevering in ministry when we fail in that very ministry? When that ministry fails to produce the intended results? How do we explain ineffective ministry?

Spiritual Blindness

I’ve seen a lot of different types of ministry, and I have seen some very different responses to gospel ministry. In our very active student ministry in high school, we did everything from stranger evangelism on the streets to concert events where we invited people and the gospel was presented. I remember many fumbling conversations where I just couldn’t seem to find the right words or know how to respond to questions, and the frustration of feeling like a failure. I remember one particular event where we had invited friends, and the speaker gave a captivating presentation, and explained the gospel more plainly and clearly than I had ever heard before. It was so clear, so compelling, you just had to trust Jesus! I couldn’t imagine an unbeliever hearing that, who wouldn’t be eager to respond with faith in Jesus. I looked over at the friend I had brought. Nothing. I was looking forward to the conversation on the way home. Nothing. So I asked, ‘what’d you think?’ ‘It was ok.’ ‘What did you think of the speaker, what he said?’ ‘It was all right I guess. I’m not really that in to all that religious stuff.’ I sat there in stunned disbelief. How could you possibly sit there and hear what we just heard and be totally unaffected? It was like we must have heard different speakers. What room were you in? Were you even listening? It was all right?! He told you you have sinned, and sin separates you from a holy God who made you and loves you. But Jesus came to pay the debt you owe so you could have a relationship with him. Religion? He didn’t say anything about religion!

This was an eye-opener for me. How could you listen to that clear a proclamation of the gospel and not get it; totally miss it? It was like my friend was blind to what was said.

Listen to what our passage says:

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.

Spiritual Warfare

The fault is not always in the messenger or the presentation. Sometimes it is. We can work to improve our communication skills. We can always grow in our ability to lay out the gospel plainly. But the fault is not always in the messenger. There is a supernatural battle going on. There is a spiritual dimension to evangelism.

We are not talking about math; two plus two is four – do you believe that? We are proclaiming that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave alive – do you believe? ‘Wait, are you telling me that I am a sinner? I don’t think it’s right that God would kill somebody over some minor offense. Jesus, yeah, I believe he existed and was a great moral teacher. It’s really unfortunate what they did to him. But this nonsense about rising from the dead – I’m not so sure.’ When we say ‘do you believe?’ we are not asking if you agree that it is true or that it really happened; that is only a part of it. We are asking ‘do you trust him? Are you relying on Jesus, depending on him completely?’

There is a spiritual battle going on in the minds of unbelievers. The god of this world; when we chose to listen to, to obey the word of the serpent over the word of God; we gave our allegiance to the devil; we made him our god. Jesus calls him ‘the ruler of this world’ in John 12:31. 1 John 5:19 says that:

1 John 5:19 … the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the whole armor of God that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; against the rulers and authorities; the cosmic powers; this present darkness; the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Put on truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, with all-prayer. Paul ends this description of our spiritual battle with a very specific request:

Ephesians 6:19 …that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 … that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Stand equipped in gospel truth, gospel righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, gospel dependence, gospel defense; speak the word of God with all prayer and petition at all times in the Spirit with all perseverance.

Confidence Even In Ministry Failure; God’s Word Never Fails

Paul has been talking about veils that obstruct the real purpose from view, minds that were hardened, veils that lie over their hearts when God’s word is read. He said ‘only through Christ is it taken away’ (3:14); ‘if one turns to the Lord the veil is removed’ (3:16). ‘This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (3:18).

Paul is defending his ministry; he doesn’t adulterate the word; he doesn’t use tricks to manipulate or deceive. He plainly and simply proclaims the truth of the gospel. And even with the right message and the right methods, that open statement of the truth sometimes seems to fail.

I say ‘seems to fail’ because it never really fails. God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, always.

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

God’s word always accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. But we tend to think that the only goal of ministry is conversion. When God sent Isaiah back in chapter 6,

Isaiah 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

God told Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 7:27 “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

This is not the kind of promise we are looking for in ministry. We would love it if everyone responded positively to the gospel. But Paul recognized two categories of people, two responses to the gospel.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

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.

Paul divided humanity into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The gospel, and the messenger of the gospel comes as a fragrance to both. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom.1:16). And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men …so they are without excuse (Rom.1:18-20).

God always accomplishes his purposes. He sends us to warn some in their rebellion, to heighten their accountability; to others he uses us as his instrument to give life and set them free. To one a fragrance of death into death; to the other a fragrance of life into life. Although our desire, as God’s is that none should perish and all should come to repentance, we should not gauge success in ministry by the number of professions of faith. We talk about successful ministry; instead we should pursue faithful ministry. We would not consider Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel successful ministries; but we would call them faithful ministers.

2 Timothy 2 puts it this way:

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Sowing Seed

Jesus compared it to a sower sowing seed. He scattered his seed all over.

Luke 8:5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.

Jesus explains:

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

Notice who takes away the word from their hearts; who blinds the minds of unbelievers? The devil, the evil one immediately snatches away what has been sown in his heart (Mt.13:19; Mk.4:15). Faithful sowing gets the seed out to everyone. Sometimes the word does not even have a chance to germinate in the mind before even the thought is snatched away. The fault is not in the seed. Neither is the fault in the sower. The fault is in the differing soils.

We have been looking at authentic gospel ministry. Faithful ministry can be defined as scattering seed. The open statement of the truth. Don’t tamper with, don’t adulterate the seed. Don’t attempt to genetically modify the seed, thinking you will get enhanced results. The pure word, the simple gospel, is what God uses to produce life.

Don’t get overly critical of methods of scattering seed. Everyone is different, uniquely designed by our amazingly creative God. I have found that if you scatter the seed this way, it works best. Are you an overhand seed scatterer or an underhand seed scatterer. Just don’t be underhanded in your seed scattering. Do you use one of those things with the crank that scatters the seed, or do you push one of those two wheeled seed scatterers? People write books on how to scatter seed. Don’t waste a lot of time evaluating techniques. It doesn’t really matter. Just get it out there!

1 Corinthians 3:6 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.

Do you hear that? God gave the growth. Only God gives the growth. Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything. Anything!

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

We are not sufficient to claim anything, anything as coming from ourselves. God has made us competent. Take great courage in the fact that your competency does not come from your technique or even your success rate. Our sufficiency for gospel ministry is from God.

The Glory of the Gospel

Before we leave this passage today, we’ve got to get to the good stuff! Even in the negative, it’s beautiful. In chapter 3, Paul has been talking about glory, the glory of Moses’ ministry, and the surpassingly greater glory of the New Covenant ministry. He’s been talking about glory that is veiled, glory that is concealed. And he’s talked about beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. What is it that the god of this world wants to keep us from seeing? What is the glory of the gospel?

2 Corinthians 4:4 …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.

O do not be blind to this today! Do not let Satan blind you to the glory of the good news! He wants to harden your mind and veil your heart and keep you from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! Jesus said:

John 8:12 … “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The light of the gospel is a person. It is only the blind who cannot see the light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. Satan would blind you to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb.1:3). Jesus is the word made flesh; God with us.

O ask for eyes to see more of the glory of Christ! Do not be choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (Mk.4:19), and miss the glory of Christ! O press in to see more of Jesus. Turn to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Turn to the Lord with unveiled face. Gaze on the beauty of the Lord. Look to Jesus! See the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God!

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

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:2; Characteristics of Authentic Ministry

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

The Roots of Authentic Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic Christian Ministry; What it is Not

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

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

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

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

Not Crafty or Cunning

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

This word shows up later in 2 Corinthians 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Adulterating God’s Word

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

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

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

And then he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Open Statement of the Truth

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

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

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

Ministry in the Presence of God

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

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

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

In 2 Corinthians 1:12 he said:

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Exceedingly Glorious Ministry

05/27_2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Exceedingly Glorious Ministry ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180527_2cor3_7-11.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul is defending the authenticity of his ministry. He says that the church of God in Corinth and the transformed lives of believers is authentication of his ministry.

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

Then he answers the question he raised back in chapter 2, who is sufficient? Who is competent for this ministry, ministry that introduces some to eternal life, but is the stench of death to many. He says:

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.

Who is competent? We are, but not in and of ourselves. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. All our competency comes from God who makes us competent. Not ministers of the old , the letter, not ministers of death. Competent to be ministers of a new covenant. Ministers of the life giving Spirit.

Moses and Paul

Then he contrasts the glory of Moses’ ministry with that of his own apostolic ministry.

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

This is absolutely staggering, and it would be startling to anyone with any Jewish background. Paul is commending his apostolic ministry, and arguing that his ministry is more glorious than Moses’ ministry. Moses! The one God raised up to lead Israel out of Egypt, the one who received the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai. Moses who led the children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. Moses who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses, who Deuteronomy 34 says there is none like him, whom the Lord knew face to face. Moses, who according to Acts 15:21 has been proclaimed in every city from ancient generations, and who is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. Moses was one of two who appeared on the mount of transfiguration to speak with Jesus. How shocking for Paul to even put himself in the same sentence with Moses.

What is Glory?

Paul tells us some amazing things about his ministry, and consequently about our ministry as well.

He mentions ‘glory’ no less than 10 times in these 5 verses. What is glory? He mentions the glory of Moses’ face, glory the Israelites could not look at, glory that was being done away with; exceeding glory, much more super-abundant glory in the ministry of the Spirit. What is glory?

In this passage Paul is teaching out of the text of Scripture; he is explaining Exodus, specifically chapter 34. In the context of Exodus, we see God get glory over Pharaoh and over the armies of Egypt (14:4, 17-18) by displaying his power and superiority. We see in Exodus 24

Exodus 24:16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

God displayed his glory in the cloud and in devouring fire on top of the mountain. And Moses went up into the cloud to meet with God and receive his commands. By the time he came down, the people were involved in idolatry with the golden calf. In Exodus 32, God threatened to destroy the people for their rebellion and sin, but Moses implored the Lord and he turned from his wrath. In Exodus 33, God said he would fulfill all his promises to the people, but he would not personally be with them, because of their rebellion. But Moses prayed that the presence of God would go with them, and God extended grace and granted this request.

Then Moses asked this daring question: “Please show me your glory.”

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

God instructed Moses to make a second set of tablets to remake the covenant, and

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

The glory of God is the visible manifestation of his character and attributes, an outward display of his inner characteristics. His name, his goodness, his grace, his mercy, his steadfast love and faithfulness, his justice. The glory of God is who he is.

The Glory of Moses’ Face

This next section in Exodus 34 is the passage Paul is teaching from in 2 Corinthians 3.

Exodus 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. 29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

The radiant or beaming or shining face of Moses, in the Greek translation the glorious face of Moses, is the transformation that came from spending time with God. He radiated out the absorbed glory of God.

This is the glory of the Old Covenant. Moses’ ministry was glorious. This is the foundation of Paul’s argument. He moves from the lesser to the greater. The ministry of Moses was unquestionably glorious.

We read the account in Exodus and think, wow, I would love to have been there to see that! The triumph over Egypt, the cloud and consuming fire that engulfed the mountain, the beams of glory coming from Moses

skin. I’ve never seen anything like that!

Paul argues: No, you have something better, something greater, you have experienced something supremely more glorious.

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

Contrast The Letter and The Spirit

Look at the contrasts he draws in these verses:

[Old Covenant]- Moses——–New Covenant – Apostles

Ink——————————Spirit of the Living God

Letter—————————Spirit

Letters on Stone Tablets—–Letters on Tablets of Flesh Hearts

Kills—————————-Gives Life

Ministry of Death————Ministry of the Spirit

Ministry of Condemnation–Ministry of Righteousness

Abolished———————-Permanent

We have already looked at how the ministry of the Old Covenant brought death, where the ministry of the Spirit of the Living God makes alive. Let’s look at some of the other contrasts Paul highlights.

Condemnation vs. Righteousness

2 Corinthians 3:9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

Paul calls Moses’ ministry a ministry of condemnation, and he calls the apostolic ministry of the Spirit a ministry of righteousness. This is what we see in Romans 3.

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

Moses’ ministry was a ministry of condemnation, to stop every mouth and hold the whole world accountable to God’s perfect standard. Moses’ ministry was not a ministry of justification or righteousness. These words, justification and righteousness, are the same. One is the noun, one is the verb form. We might make up a new word; righteousness and righteous-ified; to make just or righteous. No person will be justified or righteous-ified by the law, by the ministry of Moses. This word ‘righteousness’ actually shows up in the Greek translation at the beginning of Exodus 34:7

[LXXE] Exodus 34:6 And the Lord passed by before his face, and proclaimed, The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, longsuffering and very compassionate, and true, 7 and keeping justice [δικαιοσύνην] and mercy for thousands, taking away iniquity, and unrighteousness, and sins; and he will not clear the guilty; bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.

This self-description of God in Exodus causes problems for anyone who thinks carefully about it. God says he is merciful and gracious and that he forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. But in the same breath he says he is righteous or just, and he will by no means clear the guilty. How can God possibly be both gracious and just, merciful and righteous? How can he forgive and yet by no means will he ever clear the guilty? Romans 3 goes on to answer this question.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified [righteous-ified] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness…

God’s righteousness is put on display apart from the law. God is righteous, and God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. God’s righteousness comes to believers as a gift, a grace-gift purchased by the blood of Jesus, who fully satisfied the just wrath of God by taking on himself all my sin, and receiving in himself the just penalty I earned. John 1 says

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

If the ministry of Moses that brought condemnation was a glorious ministry, how much more glorious the ministry of the Spirit that makes sinners righteous!

Abolished vs. Permanent

Paul also draws a contrast between the duration of the ministries.

2 Corinthians 3:7 …the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? … 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

The ministry of Moses was being brought to an end, being abolished, extinguished, destroyed, done away with. The ministry of Moses by design was to be superseded. It was glorious, but it was not intended to be the final word. Thank God, condemnation was not the final word. Condemnation was to be swallowed up in righteousness and life. The apostolic ministry of the gospel, however, remains. It stands. It is lasting.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Although the ministry of Moses, the ministry of death, the ministry of condemnation came with glory, that which was glorious came to be not glorious because of that which so far surpassed it in glory; the life giving ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of righteousness. The ministry of Moses had an outward glory, but it was utterly overwhelmed and out-shined by the much more super-abundant glory of the ministry of the apostles, the proclamation of the gospel, the seemingly foolish message of the cross. The far-surpassing glory was hidden in a ministry characterized by suffering, by affliction, by persecution. This ministry was not outward; lightning and thunder, fire and cloud, but quiet, even inconspicuous, the inner transformation of people by the Holy Spirit of the Living God through the foolishness of preaching. The ministry of death and condemnation has been swallowed up by the exceedingly more glorious ministry of the Spirit, giving righteousness and life to those who were dead in trespasses and sins.

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

May 29, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough?

05/13_2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180513_2cor3_4-6.mp3

Confidence of Ministry Competence

Are you competent to minister to people? Are you confident of your competence? Do you possess confidence? Even boldness?

Specifically when you see spiritual needs around you; hurting broken people who don’t know Jesus. Self-righteous people who don’t think they need Jesus. Brothers or sisters struggling to follow Jesus, faltering or wandering away. Do you look at those spiritual needs around you with confident boldness that you are competent to minister to them?

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul is talking about confidence in ministry competence.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

Such is the confidence that we have. We have this kind of confidence. What kind of confidence does he have? ‘Such’ refers back to his last paragraphs.

It is this kind of confidence or boldness or persuasion:

2:14 confidence always to be led on display by God in Christ

confidence to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere

2:15 confidence to be the fragrance of Christ to God

2:16 confidence to be the aroma of death to the perishing;

confidence to be the aroma of life to those being saved

2:17 confidence to be people of sincerity /integrity

confidence as (sent) of God and in the presence of God

confidence to speak in Christ

3:3 confidence that through our ministry Christ has been written on your tender hearts with the Spirit of the living God

This is staggering confidence! Startling boldness! Would you be able to claim this sort of confidence?

Means and Scope of Confidence

Where does he get this kind of confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

The means of his confidence is ‘through Christ.’ Oh do not slide casually over words in the text of Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2Tim3:16). Every word of God proves true (Prov30:5). Not the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away until all is fulfilled (Mat5:18). It is easy for us to just slip past words that God gave us for our building up. We can only have this confidence through Christ or not at all. It is through faith in Christ, by means of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for my sins that I can have boldness and confident access through grace into the presence of God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ that I have any good message to give to sinners alienated from God. The only means of our confidence is through Christ.

The scope of his confidence is ‘toward God.’ As a kid, you talk big with your friends, but when the powerful or important or intimidating person is in the room, suddenly all that confidence gets deflated. Are there people around whom you have more confidence than others? In your circle of friends, around those you know love and accept you, you have a level of confidence. But around those you are intimidated by, that confidence evaporates. Paul says that his confidence is ‘toward God.’ That is an amazing statement. Who is possibly more intimidating than God, the God of the universe, the holy and just judge, against whom we have sinned, the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. He is the one we ought to be most intimidated by, and we are constantly under his watchful eye. If we can be confident in his presence, no human power ought to intimidate us. And Paul says that it is toward God that he is confident. He is confident of his identity, and he is confident of where his identity comes from. Yes, Paul is a sinner, the chief of sinners, who fully deserves the just wrath of the all-holy God. But Paul knows peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Paul knows the love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us. Paul knows his identity. He is a pardoned sinner, washed clean, given new life, reconciled fully, loved extravagantly, accepted, adopted. Paul knows who he is, and he knows where his identity comes from. It is through Christ that he has been forgiven, cleansed, set free, reconciled, loved.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

He has confidence of his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel to spread the knowledge of Jesus all the time in every place, to those who are being saved the aroma of life to life, to those who are perishing the aroma of death to death. He is confident of his competence before the all watchful eye of God the Father.

No Sufficiency From Ourselves

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

Paul is confident of his identity before God, and he knows where his competence or sufficiency comes from. It is not from himself. It is not internal. It is from outside himself; it is a gift given to him.

In 2:16, after describing a ministry that brings eternal life to some and eternal death to others, Paul asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ Here he answers his own question. ‘We are sufficient, but our sufficiency does not come from us.’ We have confidence of our sufficiency in Christ before God, but our sufficiency does not come from ourselves.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim [lit. to reckon, suppose, conclude or think] anything as coming from us. This is humbling. Any ministry I do, I am not to draw the conclusion that any of that was from me. I can’t take credit for anything. That’s what the text says. Any competency, any sufficiency, I am not to think that anything, anything, ANYTHING came from me. I am not sufficient, I am not competent, I am not adequate in myself. Didn’t Jesus say ‘apart from me you can do nothing? (Jn.15:5)’ Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. I am not sufficient to think of anything as coming from me.

Full-Time Ministry

How many of you are in full-time ministry? Show me hands. How many of you claim to be followers of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in full-time ministry. We use that phrase to describe people who earn a living by their ministry. And that is legitimate. But I don’t care where you earn your living, if you follow Jesus, he has called you to full time ministry. In your family, with your friends, at your work, in your free time, you are a minister. But at my job, they don’t allow me to talk about Jesus. That’s fine. You are a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel by your quiet character and integrity, your faithfulness, your diligence, your self sacrificial service for the good of others. Let me ask again, how many of you are in full time ministry? Ministry means service. Service to others.

We tend to think of ministry in terms of preaching and outreach and church service. And that is important. Paul is talking here primarily about his own apostolic ministry. But I want you to see all of life as ministry. Paul’s apostolic ministry wasn’t only when he was preaching in front of a crowd. Paul at times worked a regular job. How are you serving your employer, your co-workers? How are you serving your spouse, your children? How are you ministering to every person you come in contact with? Paul says that ‘through us God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’ Not only in words that are heard. But in a fragrance that is smelled. Do people around you sense something different about you? Without you having to say anything?

Broken people were attracted to Jesus. Needy people were following him around all the time. It seemed he couldn’t get away from them. They sensed something about him that gave them hope. Are they attracted to you? We have a message that can raise the dead!

This verse absolutely blew my mind when I first read it. I still remember where I was and who I was with. Jesus said to his followers:

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Greater works than Jesus? Jesus was healing the lame, opening blind eyes, cleansing lepers, even raising the dead. Greater works than these? How can that be? Notice, he doesn’t say a few select church leaders. He says ‘whoever believes in me.’ That means me. That means you! Through our ministry the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel, through our ministry he will cleanse people from their sin, through us he will raise dead sinners to eternal life and make them whole and complete in Christ. Greater works than these? Yes!

Are broken people attracted to you? You have a message that can set them free, give them life! Who is sufficient for these things?

Upside-down Confidence

You are, if you recognize that ‘you are not sufficient in yourself to claim anything as coming from you, but your sufficiency is from God.’

Are you weak enough to be confident? This is upside-down thinking. You have to go back to progress; you have to go down to rise up, you have to empty yourself to make room for God to fill you to overflowing. Does your adequacy come from an acute aware of your own incompetence? You have to recognize that your fitness, your competence, your sufficiency for ministry does not come from you. Do you think that anything comes from yourself? To the extent you conclude that you contribute, that you have something you can claim as your part, that you can boast about, to that extent you are unfit for ministry.

Paul said in chapter 1, talking about his afflictions,

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God used affliction to wean Paul away from any self-dependence and force him to rely completely on the resurrecting God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, speaking of his role as apostle,

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. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Do you hear that? Paul considered himself unworthy. But his identity came from God’s grace. And God’s grace transformed him into something he was not fit to be. God’s undeserved kindness is powerful and transformational. And he says, comparing himself with the other apostles ‘I worked harder than any of them.’ But he is quick to clarify. I worked harder than any of them, but none of that was me. It did not come from me. It did not originate with me. It was God’s grace at work in me.

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.

God made us sufficient. Do you feel insufficient? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel unworthy? Good! You should. You are. I am. That is a prerequisite for fruitful ministry. Are you weak enough for God to use you?

So That God Gets the Glory

Remember Gideon? The Angel of the LORD addressed him ‘O mighty man of valor’ (Jdg.6:12) while he was beating out the wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When he was told to pull down his father’s idols burn them and make a sacrifice to the LORD, he did it by night, ‘because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day’ (Jdg.6:27). But it says ‘the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon’ (6:34) and he rallied an army of 32,000 to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites and the people of the East who had assembled against them, who ‘lay along the valley like locust in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

Do you hear what God says? Against an innumerable multitude, 32,000 are too many because you might be tempted to claim something as coming from yourselves. You might take credit. You might boast over God, saying ‘my own hand saved me’.

Judges 7:4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.

10,000 is still too many. God was going to give the Midianites into their hand, and he refused to allow them to think that they contributed in any way. So God thinned the army down to 300 men. And the 300 men were armed with trumpets and empty jars and torches inside the jars. No sword, no spear, not even a sling is mentioned. Just musical instruments, and empty clay pots with a fire burning inside. And the LORD gave the host of Midian into their hand. They were told to make some noise and stand their ground. They could claim nothing as coming from themselves. Their sufficiency was totally from God.

Psalm 115 begins:

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!

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, because not from us, not from us, we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, so no glory comes to us. Instead, to your name give glory. It is your steadfast covenant love, it is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 …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 are sufficient, because we freely acknowledge that we are insufficient in ourselves. Our sufficiency comes from God. He makes what we are not. He makes us sufficient. Sufficient for ministry. Sufficient to be ministers of the life giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant.

Are you weak enough for God to transform lives through your service, because you recognize that you are not sufficient to consider anything as coming from yourself? Are you weak enough for God to use you, are you weak enough to give God all the glory for what he does in you and through you?

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

May 16, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation

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

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

Paul Commends Himself (Again!)

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

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

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

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

In Romans 16, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Our Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter From Christ

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

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

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

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

Ink / Spirit

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

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

Heart of Stone / Flesh

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

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

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

Ezekiel 11:19-20 says:

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

And again in Ezekiel 36:26

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

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

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

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

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

New Covenant Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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