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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

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

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

Authentic Ministry

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

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

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

Make Room!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Integrity

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Affection

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

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

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

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

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

To Die and Live Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:11

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

Peter says it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

He says in John 12

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

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

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

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

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

Union and Communion in Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:7-10; The Paradox of Ministry

03/31_2 Corinthians 6:7-10; The Paradox of Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190331_2cor6_7-10.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul is giving his resume for authentic ministry. He is commending himself in everything as God’s minister. He purposes that no fault may be found with the ministry. He refuses to create stumbling blocks for anyone in anything. He will allow no stumbling block but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In verses 4-7 he gives a bullet-point list of 18 ways he commends himself, each introduced by the word ‘in’. He introduces the list by the way he faced adversity; in much endurance. Then he gives three general hardships, three specific forms of persecution, and three voluntary hardships, all in the plural.

Starting in verse 6 he lists four character qualities, fruit of the Spirit in his life: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness; followed by four divine enablements for the ministry: in the Holy Spirit, in love unhypocritical, in the word of truth, in the power of God.

The Means of Ministry

Now after 18 bullet points of adversity and how he responds to it, all beginning with ‘in’, he switches prepositions; starting at the end of verse 7 he uses ‘through’ three times, followed by seven uses of ‘as’, introducing contrasts or paradoxes.

We are all called to minister, to serve others in love for their good. Ministry is conflict. Ministry is tension. Ministry is war!

You cannot please everyone ever. Jesus said ‘Woe to you when all people speak well of you’ (Lk.6:26). There will always be something someone doesn’t like about something you do. Expect it! Expect tension in ministry.

7… through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; [διὰ τῶν ὅπλων τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῶν δεξιῶν καὶ ἀριστερῶν,]

Paul uses a military metaphor here. Ministry is war. He endures hardships in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness. He is equipped to respond this way in or by means of the Holy Spirit, God’s unhypocritical love, the word of truth, the power of God. He is equipped for war!

He uses this word ‘weapons’ in 2 Corinthians 10:4 also in the context of the power of God.

2 Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

He is thoroughly equipped from right to left, for the battle. His weaponry consists in righteousness or justification. ‘The one who knew no sin, on our behalf was made to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2Cor.5:21). In Ephesians 6, righteousness is mentioned as the breastplate. Clothed with God’s righteousness in Christ he now stands ready, both for offensive and defensive, as with sword and shield. God’s righteousness is a weapon both offensive and defensive.

The next two contrasts are also introduced by ‘through’, indicating that all four of these nouns could be seen as part of his weaponry.

8 through glory and shame, [διὰ δόξης καὶ ἀτιμίας,]

through slander and praise. [διὰ δυσφημίας καὶ εὐφημίας·]

Paul’s sequence is positive-negative, negative-positive; sandwiching the negative inside the positive.

Glory is how he describes the new covenant ministry in chapter 3; the far-surpassing glory of the ministry of the Spirit; the lasting ministry of righteousness and life. It is a glorious ministry, but there is little glory in it. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor [in-glory], but we in disrepute [ὑμεῖς ἔνδοξοι, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄτιμοι. (adj)].

It is a glorious ministry, but its ministers are held in disrepute or shame. We understand how glory or honor could be considered a weapon, part of our equipping for ministry, but shame or dishonor?

In Acts 5,

Acts 5:40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor [ἀτιμασθῆνα (v)] for the name.

Did you hear that? They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonored in the name of Jesus! Worthy to be shamed! They counted it an honor to be publicly dishonored. They remembered what Jesus had said in Matthew 10:

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, …17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Look at what Jesus is saying. You will be dishonored. You will be shamed. But in the midst of betrayals, even beatings and arrests is an opportunity to testify; to give Spirit empowered witness to Jesus. They saw slander and shame as an opportunity; an offensive weapon to bring glory and praise to Jesus!

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 4 to describe his role as a spectacle to the world, as fools for Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered [δυσφημούμενοι (v)], we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul is slandered, treated as scum and refuse, yet through it all he implores all to be reconciled to God. Shame and slander, glory and praise, in it all his desire is to make Christ known; to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere (2:14).

It is particularly in the slander and shame that we become like Christ.

John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

1 Corinthians 2:8 …they …crucified the Lord of glory .

Peter says:

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Seven Paradoxes in Ministry

Paul switches in the next seven pairs to ‘as’ to introduce contrasts or paradoxes in ministry. Ministry is paradoxical. It is not always what it seems. Paul has already described gospel ministry as paradoxical; there are differing responses to the gospel between different groups of people; to those who are perishing and to us who are being saved. The same message of the cross sounds stupid to some and comes with power to others (1Cor.1:18). The same aroma of knowing God stinks like death to some and smells alive and beautiful to others (2Cor.2:14-16).

as deceivers, and yet true; [ὡς πλάνοι καὶ ἀληθεῖς,]

Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians (15:15) that ‘if Christ has not been raised… We are even found to be misrepresenting God’. Jesus was accused of being a deceiver in speaking about his own resurrection (Mt.27:63). Some perceive him to be a deceiver, yet

2 Corinthians 4:2 …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.

9 as unknown, and yet well known; [ὡς ἀγνοούμενοι καὶ ἐπιγινωσκόμενοι,]

Paul was unknown in the sense of being unrecognized, not considered authentic. His character was being questioned. Yet…

2 Corinthians 5:11 … what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

Even if you don’t know me, don’t recognize me, God knows me fully, and that is all that matters.

1 Corinthians 13:12 …Now I know [γινώσκω] in part; then I shall know fully [ἐπιγνώσομαι], even as I have been fully known [ἐπεγνώσθην].

as dying, and behold, we live; [ὡς ἀποθνῄσκοντες καὶ ἰδοὺ ζῶμεν,]

Paul was all to familiar with death. He said in chapter 4 that we are…

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the [dying] of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Paul faced death daily (1Cor.15:31). Yet he interjects an exclamation Look! Behold! We live!

2 Corinthians 5:14 …one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

We died with Christ, and his resurrection life is now at work in us!

as punished, and yet not killed; [ὡς παιδευόμενοι καὶ μὴ θανατούμενοι,]

These two statements echo the language of Psalm 118.

Psalm 118:17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. 18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.

If we look at the content, we see the Psalmist in his affliction, surrounded by the nations, crying out to the Lord, and the Lord as a valiant warrior bringing victory with his right hand. Then the gates of righteousness are opened so that the righteous may inter in. Psalm 113-118 were traditionally sung at Passover, and these Psalms were likely sung by Jesus and his disciples at the last supper. Only a few verses later we find this familiar paradox:

Psalm 118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.

The rejected stone is the cornerstone. Hosanna! Save us we pray! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Paul is embracing the paradox of ministry shaped by his Master. “As dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed.”

Isaiah 53:4 …we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,…

The punishment that brought us peace was on him.

Throughout this Paul is identifying with the suffering servant. He is willing to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; [ὡς λυπούμενοι ἀεὶ δὲ χαίροντες,]

In a life of ministry, there is sorrow, but there is always joy. Paul writes from prison to Philippi:

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

There is sorrow, mingled with joy. Like Jesus,

Hebrews 12:2 …who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul writes also to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. There is joy in the midst of sorrow when in our service we sacrifice for the good of others.

as poor, yet making many rich; [ὡς πτωχοὶ πολλοὺς δὲ πλουτίζοντες,]

How does someone who is poor make others rich? When Peter and John encountered the lame beggar, Peter said “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you” (Acts3:6). He gave him something of greater value than what he was seeking.

Paul fleshes this out most clearly in 2 Corinthians 8

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

Matthew 8:20 …the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Paul voluntarily embraces a life of poverty in order to open the riches of eternal wealth to them.

as having nothing, yet possessing everything. [ὡς μηδὲν ἔχοντες καὶ πάντα κατέχοντες.]

How does someone have nothing while at the same time fully have all things? In Mark 10 Jesus asked the rich young ruler to give away all that he had and come follow me.

Mark 10:28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

This is the paradox of the Christian life and ministry. You can give up everything and find that you have lost nothing. If you seek to preserve you life, you will lose it; you must lay down your life to truly find it (Mk.18:35)

This is the way of the cross; are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus? Are you willing to risk everything to experience the joy he promises in following him? Do I “ count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”? Am I willing to “suffer the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”? Is my supreme desire

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

?

***

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

April 1, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

The Manner; Four Essential Characteristics for Ministry

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

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

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

6 In Purity [ἐν ἁγνότητι]

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

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

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

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

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

In Knowledge [ἐν γνώσει]

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

But as Paul had already made clear,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both patience and kindness are attributed to God in Romans 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Means; Four Divine Enablements for Ministry

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

In Holy Spirit [ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ]

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

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

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

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

In Love Unhypocritical [ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἀνυποκρίτῳ]

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

7 In Word of Truth [ἐν λόγῳ ἀληθείας]

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

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

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

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

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

In Power of God [ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:4-5; Paul’s Resume of Afflictions

03/17_2 Corinthians 6:4-5; Paul’s Résumé of Afflictions; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190317_2cor6_4-5.mp3

Paul’s Resume

Last time we looked at the cover letter to Paul’s résumé:

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

He is commending his ministry as a ministry of integrity, a blameless ministry. He removed obstacles from the gospel so that it would have maximum effect. God alone saves, but he did everything in his power to eliminate stumbling blocks to clear the runway for the gospel. The only offense he allowed was the offense of the gospel itself, the message of the cross.

Paul gives his resume in verses 4-10. Don’t open your Bibles, and let me read to you Paul’s resume:

‘I’ve successfully planted over 20 churches all around the Mediterranean, I’ve brought the gospel to every important city, preached to huge crowds, made an impact everywhere I’ve traveled, packed out every venue. I’m a skilled communicator to both large and small groups. I’m a gifted writer; I’ve authored at least 11 best sellers. I’m driven and tenaciously faithful; I had to part ways with a co-worker who just couldn’t keep up with my pace. I was even instrumental in correcting one of the Lord’s own original twelve when he got off track. I’ve mentored countless people in successful ministry techniques and developed leaders. I’ve seen the risen Lord face to face, he speaks to me in dreams and visions. I have an abundance of spiritual gifts, not to mention my charitable work collecting and distributing funds to the poor and oppressed.’

Although most of that is true, and these are the things we would expect anyone to highlight in a resume, that is not what Paul says. This is not the kind of resume anyone would expect. If you haven’t already, please open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 6 and look at what Paul lists as his credentials that commend him as an authentic minister.

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

As I said last week, this passage is lyrical, poetic, it has a rhythm and cadence to it, it is memorable, and as worthy of memorization as 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. This passage is structured in a way that does not come through in many translations; there are three different prepositions; in (ἐν) 18 times in verses 4-7; through (διὰ) 3 times in verse 7-8; and as (ὡς) 7 times in verses 8-10. After the introductory statement in verses 3 and 4, he lists ten hardships in verses 4-5 that he faced in ministry, beginning with the way he faced them (in much endurance) followed by three general hardships (in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities), three specific types of persecution (in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots), and three voluntary hardships (in labors, in sleeplessnesses, in hungers). In verses 6-7 he lists eight characteristics of ministry; four fruit of the Spirit (in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness) and four means of grace (in Holy Spirit, in love unhypocritical, in word of truth, in power of God). In verse 7 he gives us a picture of how he fought the battle of ministry (through the weapons of righteousness for the right and the left), introducing nine paradoxes of ministry (through glory and shame, through slander and praise, as deceivers yet true, as unknown yet well known, as dying yet behold we live, as punished yet not killed, as sorrowful but always rejoicing, as poor but making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing everything).

This is not what the Corinthians expected ministry to look like They were being led astray from the way of Jesus by false impostors who painted a worldly picture of ministry as glamorous, prestigious with plenty of fame and fortune. For them the sign of God’s blessing was outward and material. For Paul, the evidence of authentic ministry was ministry that followed in the footsteps of the Master.

The authenticity of a ministry is not demonstrated so much in God’s external blessings, but rather in how one responds to adversity.

In Much Endurance [ἐν ὑπομονῇ πολλῇ]

Paul starts his list with ‘in much endurance’. The word endurance literally means to remain under.

Paul lists endurance or patience in chapter 12 where he says

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

Here we get insight into what he means by the signs of a true apostle. In Mark 13 Jesus warns:

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

It is not merely supernatural signs and wonders that evidence authenticity; it is primarily character, especially under adversity. Just a few verses earlier in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says:

2 Corinthians 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships (ἀνάγκαις), persecutions, and calamities (στενοχωρίαις). For when I am weak, then I am strong. 11 …I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

Paul repeats in the context of the signs of a true apostle two of the terms he lists on his resume here in chapter 6; hardships and calamities, with much endurance or patience.

As we will see later in this list, this endurance in the face of adversity is not a mere stoic resolve to tough it out, but a gift of the Spirit of God. It is divinely enabled endurance, the ability to remain under adverse circumstances with joy that demonstrates authenticity.

General Adversity; In Afflictions, In Hardships, In Calamities

[ἐν θλίψεσιν] [ἐν ἀνάγκαις] [ἐν στενοχωρίαις,]

Afflictions, hardships, and calamities are broad general categories of circumstances that call for endurance. Affliction means to be hard pressed or squeezed. Hardship means necessity or distress. Calamity means anguish, or literally narrowness. The verb form of this word in 2 Corinthians 4:8 is translated ‘crushed’. Afflictions, hardships, calamities; under heavy pressure, in distresses, experiencing anguish. Together these words paint a picture of hardship, the trials and stresses of ministry.

Jesus promised his followers affliction or tribulation.

John 16:33 …In the world you will have tribulation (θλῖψιν). But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In his parable about the sower and the soils, Jesus warned that affliction would cause false believers to fall away (Mt.13:21; Mk.4:17). Jesus said in Matthew 24

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation (θλῖψιν) and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. …13 But the one who endures (ὑπομείνας) to the end will be saved.

In Acts 14, Jews from Antioch and Iconium pursued Paul to Lystra and persuaded the crowds to stone him. He was dragged out of city, assumed to be dead. But he rose up and went back in to the city, the next day continuing on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue (ἐμμένειν) in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations (διὰ πολλῶν θλίψεων) we must enter the kingdom of God.

I can imagine what Paul looked like after being stoned and left for dead, and I’m sure hearing from his lips was a vivid picture of what kinds of afflictions they may have to endure in following Christ.

At the opening of 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of God’s comfort that he has experienced in the midst of his afflictions, and he invites them to join him in patiently enduring suffering so that they too might experience God’s comfort in affliction.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 3:3 that no one be moved by these afflictions (θλίψεσιν). For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction (θλίβεσθαι), just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. …7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress (ἀνάγκῃ) and affliction (θλίψει) we have been comforted about you through your faith.

There is that word distress or hardship. Paul experienced distress and affliction out of concern for the faith of the young believers who were experiencing affliction.

Paul is painting a picture that affliction, hardship, even calamities are all part of normal ministry, part of following Jesus.

Specific Persecutions: In Beatings, In Imprisonments, In Riots

[ἐν πληγαῖς] [ἐν φυλακαῖς] [ἐν ἀκαταστασίαις]

Beatings, imprisonments, and riots are more specific forms of adversity that require endurance; while the others can be purely circumstantial, these three forms of persecution are carried out by people.

Up to the time of writing of 2 Corinthians in the narrative of the book of Acts (20:2-3), Luke only records one imprisonment and beating (Philippi – Acts 16:22-33), and one riot (Ephesus – Acts 19:23-20:1). We learn from this and other statements in Acts that Luke did not record every event that happened everywhere; he was selective. In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul mentions ‘countless beatings’ specifically listing five lashings, three beatings with rods, and one stoning.

Acts 16 records one beating and imprisonment in Philippi:

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Acts 19 records a riot in Ephesus:

Acts 19:23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. …26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. …28 …they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Notice that this riot was a response to what Paul preached, and the fact that people had believed his message. His preaching was a threat. It challenged their culture and beliefs.

Several months later, Paul gathered the elders from Ephesus:

Acts 20:18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Here we see Paul embracing afflictions and even imprisonment as an expected part of gospel ministry.

Voluntary Hardships: In Labors, In Sleeplessnesses, In Hungers

[ἐν κόποις] [ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις] [ἐν νηστείαις]

Labors, sleeplessness, and hunger are things voluntarily endured in the service of Christ and the advance of his gospel. They are not necessarily unavoidable, but they are embraced by the genuine servant of God.

Labor can mean trouble, toil, wearisome work. It could refer to manual labor, that Paul worked with his own hands to support himself in ministry. It can also refer to the labor involved in preaching, teaching, and making disciples.

Sleeplessness could refer to times Paul went without enough sleep because he was working night and day to support himself (1Thess.2:9; 2Thess.3:8). It could also refer to the long hours of ministry (Acts 20:31). Often it refers to being vigilant or watchful in prayer. Paul mentions praying earnestly night and day (1Thess.3:10; 2Tim.1:3). It is not that Paul had trouble sleeping; it was that the demands of ministry often required him to serve well into the night.

Hunger can mean fasting, voluntarily abstaining from food to focus on prayer; or Paul could mean that he simply went without enough food. As he says in Philippians 4

Philippians 4:12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Cross-Shaped Ministry

All this points to circumstances that are both physically and emotionally draining; weariness, fatigue, exhaustion that comes through serving others. Paul understood what it was to be brought to the end of himself so that he would rely not on himself ‘but on God who raises the dead’ (2Cor.1:9).

Last time we saw that Paul seeks to give no offense but the cross, and this is exactly what the Corinthians are offended by; that his life and ministry is characterized by the cross. He endures suffering in service to others, because his Master is the Suffering Servant. He took up his cross to follow Jesus.

He said back in chapter 4 as a description of his ministry ‘we are:

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Paul endured, not by sheer strength of will, but by divine enablement, by the resurrection power of Jesus at work in him.

And he invites us to share with him in the sufferings of Christ.

***

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

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

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

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

1. ——–working together with God

We appeal to you

3. ——–giving no obstacle

4. ——–commending ourselves

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

The Offense of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:

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

When Offense is Fruitful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purpose: A No Fault Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commending Ourselves

Paul says:

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

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

He says in chapter 4

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

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

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

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

Ministers of God with Faultless Ministry

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

-Is your ministry blameless or blameworthy?

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation

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

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

Intro:

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

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

Recap:

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

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

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

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

Our Role in Reconciliation

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

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

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

The Gift of the Ministry of Reconciliation

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

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

Entrusted with the Message of Reconciliation

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

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

Romans 10 tells us that:

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

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

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

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

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

We are Ambassadors for Christ

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

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

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

Begging on Behalf of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Reconciled to God

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

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

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

Reconciling the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:11-13; An Audience of One

01/13_2 Corinthians 5:11-13; An Audience of One; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190113_2cor5_11-13.mp3

Who are You Seeking to Please?

You serve in the church. Maybe you volunteer to teach or host a bible study, maybe you help with nursery or Sunday school, maybe you clean or do maintenance or yard work, maybe you serve the youth, maybe you’re into administration, or maybe you give generously, maybe you make a meal for someone, maybe you write a note of encouragement, or visit someone who is sick, maybe you talk to everyone you run in to about Jesus, maybe you spend a lot of time in prayer for others, maybe you have people over to your house. Maybe I haven’t mentioned the thing you do, and you’re wondering if I’ll get to it.

Who notices? What if no one notices what you do? What if no one says thank you? What if no one seems to care? Do you get discouraged, wonder if it’s really worth it?

What if people do notice your service, and they criticize you for how you do what you do? Or what if no one comes to you, but you hear that people are talking about you and they don’t like the way you are doing things?

Or what if you happen to be there when people are talking about someone else’s service?

This is what was going on in Corinth. This is one of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. We learn from reading the letter that people were talking about Paul. Some were questioning his character, his motives, his authenticity. Some who didn’t know him were questioning his gifting, his calling, his fitness for ministry. And some who did know Paul were hearing these conversations, but they were not coming to his defense. Maybe they were even being pulled in.

Recap/Outline

We are in 2 Corinthians 5:11-13. We have been away from 2 Corinthians for some time, so we need to orient ourselves on where we are in this letter.

Chapters 1-7 explain the characteristics of genuine ministry; gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Real ministry is service that embraces suffering for the good of others.

Chapters 8-9 encourage an experience of God’s grace to overflow in practical generosity to others.

Chapters 11-13 confront the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

In chapter 4, Paul described his apostolic ministry as cross shaped ministry. To follow Jesus is to go the way of the cross, a life laid down in service to others. He concludes:

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.

Paul has an eternal perspective. He is keeping his eyes on the unseen realities. He spells out his hope in chapter 5, that he has certainty of what comes after death for the believer. In fact he has a deep longing to be at home with the Lord. In verse 9 he gives his prime motive for ministry.

2 Corinthians 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul desires, more than anything else, to be pleasing to the Lord. One of the unseen motives that drives him is appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. We each will stand face to face with Jesus and give account for what we have done. This is a sobering prospect, a reality that should make each of us pause and ask some questions; Am I in Christ? Will I be found genuine? Have I made it my aim above all else to be pleasing to him? Have my attitudes, actions, and thoughts been pleasing to him?

Paul views this coming day of judgment with sober joy. He knows that for those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation. He longs to be with the Lord, to see him face to face. But this is no casual flippant occasion. This is weighty, serious. Serious joy.

Persuading People

In light of this, he says in verse 11

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

Knowing the fear of the Lord. Aware of the coming judgment, we persuade men, people. In Acts 18, when Paul first came to Corinth, it says:

Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

He reasoned, he talked through, his goal was to persuade people of the truth of the gospel. Paul understood (as he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4) that

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.

And he understood that it is only

2 Corinthians 4:6 …God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” [who must shine in their] hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But this truth did not prevent him from working hard to persuade others. Using the scriptures, using logic, using history, and his own experience, he sought to persuade people. But he never manipulated.

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word…

But he did seek to persuade. He understood that every person will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and he would do everything in his power to persuade them to put their trust in Jesus alone. He understood his responsibility to them and sought to discharge his duty well. He understood that faith is the gift of God (Eph.2:8) and he understood that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Rom.10:17).

Manifest to God

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Paul sought to persuade all people to believe in Jesus, but he was having now to persuade the Corinthians of his own legitimacy. He again attests to his openness before God. What we are is known or manifest to God. He used this verb just in verse 10, where he said ‘we must all appear [or be made manifest or shown] before the judgment seat. Now he says ‘to God we are manifest.’ To God we are openly shown and known. But, he says, I hope in your consciences we are also manifest, known and shown.

Back in chapter 4, Paul said

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

By making the truth of the gospel manifest and open, we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the presence of God. If this is his stance before unbelievers, surely the consciences of the believers in the church he planted ought to recognize him. Back in chapter 3 he said:

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, …

‘We are beginning to commend ourselves to you again!’ We shouldn’t need to go over introductions again. Here in chapter 5, he says

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

Outward Appearances

Don’t look at this as a letter of introduction; you already know us! Instead, look at this as a reminder of the gospel and who I am in Christ. You can then use this as a defense against those who judge by outward appearances. Here we get to the heart of the issue. Corinthian culture was all about status and position and eloquence and presentation, how much you made and how much you were worth. It was superficial. It was about how you were perceived by others.

I know none of you can relate to this, a culture so caught up in outward appearance, so I’m going to have to work really hard to help you see any kind of application that is relevant to us today. You don’t know anyone focused on outward appearances, do you?

There were false apostles in Corinth who were undermining Paul, raising doubts, questions about his character, his credentials, his credibility. Much of this was based on outward appearance. He was despised and rejected by many, all too acquainted with suffering and grief. If they would look closely, they would see that his life reflected his Master.

This wasn’t just a power struggle; we find out in chapter 11 that they are being led astray to a counterfeit jesus, a false gospel. Paul’s character is being criticized, the church he invested in is being led astray, no one in the church seems to be standing up for him or for what is right. How does he respond?

His response is to patiently instruct them. Paul is not eager to defend himself; but he is passionate about protecting the church. And in this case that means showing them how to defend their apostle.

Ecstatic or Maniac?

2 Corinthians 5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Verse 13 can be understood in more than one way. The word ‘we are beside ourselves’ is used differently in different contexts. Its usual meaning is to be astounded or amazed, usually at something supernatural. It is used this way 15 times in the gospels. Only once, in Mark 3, is it used with the sense of ‘to not be able to reason properly.’

Mark 3:21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

There is a different word ‘mania’ that is less ambiguous, that always means to be crazy or to not be thinking rightly. If Paul wanted to be clear that this was his meaning, he could have used ‘mania’, as he does in 1 Corinthians 14:23.

The noun form of the verb he uses here is where we get our word ‘ecstasy’. The noun is used four times for amazement, and three times for being in a trance. It is possible that Paul is referring to his ecstatic spiritual experiences. In 1 Corinthians he told them

1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

The Corinthians were enamored with the showy overtly supernatural gifts. They were focused on outward appearance. Paul’s focus was on building them up, not impressing them with a demonstration of his own spirituality. It may be that he is saying that if we (apostles) have ecstatic experiences, it is between us and God. That is not the basis of our leadership. The false apostles may make a big deal about their ecstatic experiences. But Paul would rather speak five words with his mind in order to instruct others. In Colossians, Paul warns of those who would disqualify you, who were

Colossians 2:18 …going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to [Christ]

If we are of sound mind, it is for you. Paul really doesn’t care if outsiders are impressed with him. He is willing to be misunderstood, to be thought a fool, as long as the church is being built up. His aim in all things is not to please people, but to please the Lord. He does not need the applause of people if he can stand before the Lord on judgment day with a clear conscience.

Boasting Only in The Cross

Paul is giving them reasons to be confident in him. He is re-framing their thinking to see as God sees, to see the cross not as shameful, to be shunned, but beautiful, to be embraced. Others were boasting in outward appearance. Paul gives reasons, grounds not only for defending him, but for boasting in him. Now how does this fit with Paul’s statement in Galatians 6:14 that he boasts in nothing but the cross?

They can boast in their apostle, because his life and ministry is shaped by the cross, so their boasting in him is in reality a boasting in the cross.

You see, Paul viewed the day of judgment as a day of boasting, not in himself; he said ‘that we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers’ (2Cor.3:5-6). In chapter 1 he boasts of the testimony of a clear conscience, but he goes on to say that he conducted himself by the grace of God (2Cor.1:12), a grace that is unearned, undeserved. He looks forward to the day of judgment,

2 Corinthians 1:14 …—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

There will be mutual boasting; ‘this is my church, the church I gave myself to! Look what God has done in them! Look how Christ is formed in them!’ ‘This is our apostle! Look what God has done in us through his ministry! He did not just tell us about the cross, he showed us the cross through his life and sufferings!’ They can boast in each other, and it is a boasting only in the cross, in the transformational power of the cross.

People naturally look at outward appearances. And the cross is not glamorous.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

‘It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe’ (1Cor.1:21). We must learn to see past the surface. We must begin to see as God sees; because it is what God sees that matters. Man looks on the outward appearance; the Lord looks at the heart (2Sam.16:7).

What we are is known to God. To God we are open and manifest. And if we are pleasing to God, it shouldn’t matter too much what others think of us.

***

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

January 14, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

The Secret of Not Losing Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Disparity Between Outer and Inner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perspective Matters!

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

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

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

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

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

Momentary vs. Eternal

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

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

Light vs. Weight of Glory

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

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

Exceedingly Exceeding

As Paul says in Romans 8,

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

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

Whose Glory?

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

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

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

Afflictions Work Glory

But look carefully at what he says.

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

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

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

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

And we see it in James 1:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

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

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

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

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

But

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

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

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

Earthen Vessels

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

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

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

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

The Potter and the Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 64 describes us:

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

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

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

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

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treasure

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

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

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

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

The Power is God’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Said

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

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

The Power of The Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of Darkness, Light Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John’s gospel begins this way.

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

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

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

The Means of Conversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he goes on to explain:

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

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

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

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

The Glory of God is the Glory of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ.

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

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

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