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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 1:1-8; Train Up Your Children

05/09_Daniel 01:1-8; Train Up Your Children; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210509_dan01_1-8.mp3

Today is mother’s day, and we are in Daniel chapter 1, where we are introduced to four teens who have been ripped from their homes and transplanted into a society where they will be re-programmed to live and think as citizens of a country who is opposed to God and his ways. We are not told who Daniel’s parents were. We don’t know what kind of upbringing he had. But we can look at what the Bible does say about the essential nature of parenting, and I think we can safely infer some things about the upbringing of these four that we are introduced to here in the first chapter of Daniel.

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. …

Preparing Your Children to Live as Exiles

How do you prepare your children for captivity and exile? How do you get them ready to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations? Let’s say that we could predict the future and could see that America and its leadership will continue to decline, and in five years, a foreign military will march in our streets, destroy our infrastructure, take our children captive, haul them away to re-education camps where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How would you parent in such a way as to prepare them to live in a society whose very moral and spiritual fiber is opposed to everything you believe and hold dear?

Or if that seems too far-fetched, lets say that in five years America continues on unchanged, and your child goes off to high school or college, where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How are you preparing them to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations?

Remind Them Of Their Identity

First, lets look at their identity. Verse 6 gives us their names; ‘Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.’ If you are familiar with Hebrew names, you will hear the names of God; ‘El’ and ‘Yah’ in those names.

Daniel “God is my judge”

Hananiah “Yahweh is gracious”

Mishael “who is what God is?”

Azariah “Yahweh has helped” or “will help.”

We don’t put as much significance in a name, but these boys were given an identity. Every time they were called, they would be reminded of the nature and character of God. God is the ultimate and only judge, before whom we all will stand to give account. Yahweh is gracious; he is generous and gives good gifts to those who don’t deserve it. God is holy, unique, in a class by himself; who is what God is? There is no one like our God; he is most high over all. Yahweh will help; whenever we face difficulties or are in need, it is to him we must look. He is our only unfailing source of help.

Daily they were reminded of their identity, that they belong to God, that God is sovereign over all, that God is to be honored, that God is holy, unique, that Yahweh is gracious and that he will help all who call on him. Do you see how their parents were daily involved in reminding them of the character of God, and who they are in relation to this God?

In Babylon, their identity was stripped away. They were given new names, a new identity that replaced the names of the one true God of Israel with the gods of Babylon, Bel, Aku and Nebo. God is my Judge is renamed ‘Bel-belteshazzar’; Bel, protect his life! Yahweh is Gracious is renamed ‘Shadrach’; command of Aku the moon god. Who is what God Is is renamed ‘Meshach’; who is what Aku is? Yahweh will help is renamed ‘Abednego’; servant of Nebo or Nabu.

Parents Train Up Your Children

But these new names couldn’t erase the faithful training of faithful parents who faithfully taught them who God is, and their identity in relationship with that one true God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Parents, we are to know and love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind and strength. We are to walk in his ways, and to non-stop train our children. Whenever you’re at home, talk about the Lord. Whenever you’re out and about, talk about the Lord. When you go to bed, when you get up in the morning, love him and keep his word in your heart and in front of your eyes.

The theological training of your children can’t wait until Bible college; that may be too late. And it can’t be handed over to the church; the church doesn’t tuck your kids into bed at night and drag them out of bed in the morning. The church isn’t often in your homes or on your vacations. The church simply cannot do in one hour on Sundays and maybe an hour midweek what it is your job as parents to do day in and day out.

Remember, training is not just passing on information. Your kids will learn from how you live, the choices they see you make, your attitude, the way you respond to circumstances. They will learn from what you do much more than from what you say.

Prepared for Sacrifice

Daniel 1:3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

The requirement of the king was among other things, that these youths must be without blemish. This is a term that is most frequently used in the requirements that both priests and sacrificial animals must be without blemish to be acceptable to God (Lev.21-22). What we offer to God must be our first and our best. What Nebuchadnezzar demanded was young men without physical defect, but this language connects us back to the sacrificial system. A lamb without blemish or spot is fit for sacrifice.

Parents, think about this. Are you preparing your children for sacrifice? Romans 12 uses this kind of imagery.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Are you teaching your children that they should expect the best in this life, an easy life, that they are entitled to blessings? Or are you teaching them that it is often costly to follow Jesus, but that it is worth it?

Circumstances for these families went as bad as could have been imagined. They lived under the reign of kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Jerusalem was given into the hand of the enemy. The temple was plundered. Their children were carried off into captivity; although we don’t know for sure, they may have been castrated in literal fulfillment of Isaiah 39:5-7. The hope of any grandchildren was lost. We aren’t told what happened to the parents, but it is likely they never saw one another again. Would this fiery trial come to them as a complete shock and surprise, as if something strange were happening to them (1Pet.4:12)? Would it cause them to doubt their faith and question the reality, the goodness, the power of their God?

Jesus promised us who follow him that ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (Jn.16:33), and he promises us his peace in the midst of adverse circumstances.

What are your expectations for your children? Is your heart set on the American dream, or are you preparing them to present themselves to God as living sacrifices? To endure suffering for the sake of his name?

Show Them Where True Joy Is Found

Sacrifice is difficult, so we must prepare them for suffering, but pleasures often prove more lethal than persecution. Don’t neglect to teach your children where true joy is found.

Daniel and his friends would face great temptations where it was expected they would indulge their flesh. ‘The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank.’ This was the best available. They were far away from home, out of reach of all accountability. This would appeal to all their senses. And it seems no one else was resisting. How could they possibly stand up to this kind of temptation?

The best way to inoculate our children against temptation is to expose them to greater pleasures. Psalm 16:11 says

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

Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore are found in the presence of God. Moses, in similar circumstances,

Hebrews 11:25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

The pleasures of sin are real, but they are fleeting. Worldly treasures are real, but they pale in comparison to the eternal reward, against which ‘all the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom.8:18).

The king of Babylon showed them what they had to gain by allegiance to him. He invited them to feast on the abundance of his house and to drink of his own wine. But listen to Psalm 36

Psalm 36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Is the Lord’s steadfast love precious to you? Savor the preciousness of God’s grace to you in the gospel daily, and it will put your mouth out of taste for the sweets of this world.

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! …

You have got to taste for yourself the sweetness of God. Our kids must see us drinking deeply of the river of his delights. And we must give them the opportunity to taste and see for themselves.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Teach them not to trust their deceitful desires (Eph.4:22); teach them where every truly good gift comes from.

The Wisdom of Humility and a Biblical Worldview

It seems that Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel were equipped with a comprehensive view of God’s sovereignty over all things, even the worst imaginable circumstances, and they trusted that he is judge, he is gracious, he is above all other gods, and he is the source of their help. They must have had a taste of something better, so they were able to resist the temptations that appealed to their deceitful desires.

But they had been selected because they were ‘skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.’ This was greatly flattering. They were to be taught ‘the literature and language of the Chaldeans.’

… They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

This was a huge boost to the ego, and an incentive to forget their pain and plunge themselves into learning and literature.

But all literature, every story, every song is leading somewhere, engaging the emotions, teaching something. Stories shape our world view. Can these four be immersed in the world view of the Babylonians without losing their own?

In verse 17 we read ‘God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.’ God gave them the wisdom to learn what was taught, to discern what is true, and to hold fast to him.

They had been given the humility to know that what they knew was a gift from God.

Know, Love and Serve Jesus

Parents, teach your kids humility. Show them where true joy is found. Prepare them for suffering and sacrifice. Remind them of their true identity. Remind them whose they are. Prepare your children to live as sojourners, as exiles. This world is not their home. Entrust them to a faithful God who loves them more than you do and who is able to keep them.

More than anything else, here’s what I want for my kids. I want you to know and love and serve Jesus.

Know him, get to know him, enjoy being with him, be in constant communion, in communication, in relationship with him.

Love him; affections inflamed, not motivated by duty but by delight. Look! Look at the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ for you (Eph.3:18). We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19).

Serve him; spend your life to bring him glory and praise, to bring others into the joy of knowing him.

The order matters. I want your life and service to flow out of relationship and love, not out of obligation and duty. You have to know him and love him before you can offer any acceptable service to him.

***

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

May 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:13-18; Parental Provision

03/07_2 Corinthians 12:13-18; Parental Provision; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210307_2cor12_13-18.mp3

Paul is pouring out his heart to this troubled church. They have put him on the defensive by giving a willing ear to false apostles preaching another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel (11:4). He has indulged in foolish boasting, to make a mock parody of the things that were celebrated by them, power, prestige, popularity, supernatural signs and wonders. Paul points to his perseverance under suffering for the sake of Jesus and in the advance of the gospel as the genuine marks of a true apostle.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

I am not inferior, but I am nothing. I ought to have been commended by you. You experienced firsthand my authenticity. You saw my sufferings. Your hearts were transformed by the gospel I brought to you. I’ve endured with great patience. You ought to have known better, but I’ve put up with you.

Not a Burden

Then he says:

2 Corinthians 12:13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

In what way did I denigrate you, treat you worse than all the rest of the churches? This one way; I did not overburden you.

He is picking up the issue that he dealt with back in chapter 11, his refusal of support from the Corinthian church. They were offended because he refused their money. There he said he robbed other financially poorer churches in order to serve them. He asked if he committed a sin by humbling himself by preaching God’s gospel freely as a gift. Here he asks them to extend grace to this injustice!

This was evidently a sore issue for them, as he brings it up now a second time. The Corinthians believed that nothing worth anything is free, and the more they paid, the more status and prestige they earned. If they could hire the best teacher at top dollar, they had bragging rights over others, and that teacher became obliged exclusively to the family who hired him. Paul refused to fall in line with this culture, withholding the gospel from the poor, selling out to the wealthy, becoming obligated to cater to their every whim. Rather, remaining ‘free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them’ (1Cor.9:19). He refused to cater to their culture, because their culture was an affront to the gospel itself, which is the greatest gift that comes at infinite cost to the giver, but is freely given to those who don’t deserve it. Any attempt to earn it or pay for it is an affront to God’s grace.

Ironically, even this commitment to decline pay for the free advance of the gospel was used against him. The false teachers’ spin was that he refused pay because he knew his teaching was sub-standard and worthless. They obviously were much better teachers; look how much they charge! Paul himself taught (1Tim5:18) that the worker is worthy of his hire, so Paul must know he is not genuine because he declines payment. They overlooked the fact that although it was a legitimate right of an apostle to be supported by those he served (1Cor.9), it was not required of an apostle to make use of that right; Paul was willing to ‘not make use of that right, so as not to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel’ (1Cor.9:12).

Paul sarcastically asks them to forgive him the injustice of not charging them for his services.

Seeking Relationship

2 Corinthians 12:13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! 14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. …

Paul is writing from Macedonia, having just reconnected with Titus who gave him an update on the situation in Corinth. Paul is sending Titus back to them with this letter just ahead of his own visit to them, to give them a chance to prepare themselves for his visit. He re-affirms his commitment to his policy of refusing their support. He said back in chapter 11

2 Corinthians 11:9 …I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

He will not be a burden to them. Here he gives this reason; ‘I seek not what is yours but you.’ He is determined by his actions to demonstrate to them that he is not after their money. He is after much more than that, he is after all of them. He is seeking a restored relationship with them. He is not interested in taking anything from them. This ought to highlight the contrast with the false apostles who were all too eager to take what is theirs. They don’t really care about you; they are taking advantage of you for their own gain. Paul is seeking them, what is best for them, even if that is difficult and painful, even if it means he has to confront them and risk offending them. I seek not what is yours but you.

Saving, Spending, and Being Spent

2 Corinthians 12:14 …For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

Paul continues to talk in monetary terms, but he is talking about much more than money. He is seeking a restored relationship, and so he reminds them of their relationship. Back in 1 Corinthians 4 he said:

1 Corinthians 4:15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Here he reminds them of his relationship to them as a parent to a child through the gospel. The reason I haven’t been sponging off of you for my daily sustenance is that as your parent in the gospel, I ought to be treasuring up for your future. He’s clearly moved beyond talking about money here. There will be a time when he’s not around any more, and he ought to be preparing them to be spiritually self-sufficient without him. By saving up, he is talking about pouring into them, investing in them for a stable future when he’s gone.

He will most gladly spend and be spent for them. He will pay his own way if that is what it takes to make sure they really get the gospel of grace. But again, his language moves beyond literal spending of money. He is also willing to be spent, to pour out his energy and even his life for their good. He is interested in their eternal souls. He is looking beyond earthly provision and an earthly inheritance to a heavenly one.

He said something similar to the church in 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.

He is willing to be broken and poured out for their faith; to be entirely spent for their souls. Notice in both of these verses he is aware that ministry may cost him literally everything. He is willing to lay down his life for the believers (1Jn.3:16).

Hedonistic Spending

And in both of these passages notice the attitude that accompanies his sacrifice. He is glad; he rejoices. He is willing to spend and be spent, and he is most glad to do it. In verse 9 he said he will boast most gladly in his weaknesses. It is sweet to him. The word he uses is ἥδιστα; this is the root from which we get our word hedonism; to spend and be spent for their souls is not grudging toil; it is his greatest pleasure.

You parents understand this. Sacrificing for your children is no sacrifice; whatever the cost it brings you pleasure to provide for their needs and do them good. Paul is glad to pour out his very life for their faith, for their souls.

Love Lacking

He asks them this probing question: if I love you more, am I to be loved less? The translation loses some of the emphasis of the original. If I love you super-abundantly, am I to be loved less?

This word ‘superabundant’ occurs only 13 times in the New Testament, and over half of those in this letter. In 2:4 he speaks of his desire to communicate the super-abundant love that he has for them. In 7:13 he rejoiced super-abundantly at the joy of Titus toward them, because (7:15) Titus’ affections super-abounded toward them. And here again he uses this word to emphasize the extent of his love toward them. He loves them super-abundantly.

If as a parent he loves them beyond measure, and that expresses itself in not taking from them but rather spending and being spent for them, ought he be loved the less in response? In their culture it was a child’s duty to show gratitude, honor and love to his parents. He had fulfilled his duty; they had shamefully failed to show him the appropriate love in response. They wanted to obligate Paul to themselves by supporting him, but he is the parent, and they are indebted to him.

He had already addressed their lack of love for him back in chapter 6:

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.

And again in chapter 7:

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

And here he confronts their lack of reciprocal love head on. In the midst of correction and confrontation, he has affirmed his love for them repeatedly. If he loves them super-abundantly, ought they love him less?

Parental Betrothal

Remember, Paul has made it clear that he is not a jilted lover, wishing to win back their affection for himself. He is a parent, and he has betrothed the church as a virgin bride to her husband Christ (11:2-3). He is jealously guarding her affections to keep her from being turned away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Paul plays the role of the father of the bride; “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn.3:29-30). Like John, Paul is content to be spent, poured out, to be nothing, if only he can have the joy of presenting her a pure bride to her husband.

Paul the Crafty Deceiver

Verses 16-18 address another accusation that was being leveled at Paul in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty [πανοῦργος], you say, and got the better of you by deceit.

Not only are they offended that he won’t take their money, but they are also suspicious that he actually is taking their money. The spin here is that Paul is using the guise of a collection for the saints in Jerusalem to actually steal their money. It seems that, like Judas, who cared not for the poor, but was a thief and helped himself to what was put into the moneybag (Jn.12:6), the false apostles were eyeing the money that the Corinthians were setting aside for the poor, and wanted to get their hands on it. If they could convince the Corinthians that Paul’s collection was a scam, they could get access to more of that cash. So using cunning and deceit, they accused Paul of what they themselves were guilty of; cunning and deceit.

Paul expressed his fear in chapter 11, that the Corinthians were being led astray from Christ by satanic cunning. In chapter 4, he stated plainly ‘we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning’. Now he answers the charge dripping with sarcasm; ‘I was cunning and took you by deceit’.

His defense? He had been careful to be above reproach in all financial dealings. He outlined his policy of accountability in chapter 8, where he let them know that the other churches had appointed a brother to accompany Paul and oversee that their funds were handled properly. At the end of 1 Corinthians, he had invited the Corinthians to send someone themselves to do the same, and Paul was willing to step away and let them do it without him.

Here he asks:

2 Corinthians 12:17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

These accusations are absurd, and they know it. Paul and all those he sent to them have been above reproach.

Walk in the Spirit

He asks ‘did we not walk in the same spirit?’ The false apostles were encouraging them to receive a different spirit. Paul writes the Galatians and the Romans to walk in the Spirit, not according to the flesh. Paul and Titus walked in the same footsteps, controlled by the same Holy Spirit. This is in direct contrast with the false apostles, who walk in and promote a different spirit. Paul and his co-workers walked in gospel unity.

Paul responds to their accusations with dripping sarcasm, but even this it is saturated with his own tender affections for them and his self-sacrificial pursuit of their good. He is willing to spend and be spent, it brings him joy to lay down his rights to serve them.

How is your heart toward those who question your integrity, who doubt your intentions, who undervalue your relationship? Can you find joy in spending and being spent for others? Are you willing to walk in the Spirit, to display the gospel with your life, that although there is infinite cost to the giver, it is freely extended to those who don’t deserve it?

***

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

March 12, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus: What Makes Jesus Mad? Do Not Hinder Them!

09/06 What Makes Jesus Mad? Do Not Hinder Them (Mark 9, 10); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200906_children-come.mp3

As followers of Jesus, we are to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples to obey Jesus and who teach others to follow and obey Jesus.
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Indignant [ἀγανακτέω]
If we claim to love and follow of Jesus, we want to do what he says. The last thing we would want to do is what we know displeases him. There is a word that shows up 7 times in the New Testament, translated ‘indignation’; ‘moved with indignation’ (ASV), ‘much displeased’ (KJV), angry (NLT, GNT) or furious (ISV). It’s a compound word ‘much – grief’, to be greatly afflicted.
Let’s look at how this word is used. The ten disciples were indignant that James and John leveraged their mom in an attempt to secure for themselves the best places in the coming kingdom (Mt.20:24; Mk.10:41). All the disciples were indignant at the woman who wasted her costly ointment on Jesus (Mt.26:8; Mk.14:4). The synagogue ruler was indignant because Jesus was healing on the Sabbath, and told the people to come on the other six days to be healed (Lk.13:14). In Matthew 21, the chief priests and scribes were indignant because the blind and lame were made whole by Jesus, and the children were crying out in the temple.
Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
These things caused them much grief because they refused to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. They were convinced he was leading people astray, and they were indignant.
Matthew 21:16 …And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
What Makes Jesus Indignant?
There is only one place where Jesus is said to be indignant. This word is used of Jesus in Mark 10.
Mark 10:13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
The disciples were trying to protect Jesus, rebuking the parents and restricting access to him. They were hindering children from coming to Jesus. And their action caused Jesus great grief. He was much displeased. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them…”
Why was Jesus indignant? His disciples were thinking wrongly, and their false beliefs needed to be corrected.
False belief # 1: Jesus is too important to take time for children. The disciples seemed to feel that Jesus was too important to have his ministry interrupted by children. He clearly has better things to do and shouldn’t be bothered. But ‘he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them’ (Mk.10:16). Jesus pushed his disciples and their agendas aside and made time to bless the little children. He came to love and serve the least. He came down from heaven ‘not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mk.10:45).
False belief #2: Kids are in the way of ministry; they aren’t the target of ministry. Adults are the ones we need to address, and get the kids out of the way. Actually, children are welcome, and adults need to become more like children if they are to participate at all in Jesus’ kingdom.
Mark 10:15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Kids eagerly accept a free gift. Adults are skeptical, asking how much it costs, and what is the catch.
We looked earlier at Matthew 21, where the chief priests and scribes were indignant toward Jesus because he was healing. It was the children who were captured by wonder and cried out in the temple ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. It was children that recognized him for who he really was, it was children who welcomed him and heralded his coming. The adults were the ones who were skeptical and doubting and didn’t believe. They needed to become like children, willing to freely receive.
Who is the Greatest?
Why was Jesus indignant? If we look just one chapter earlier, we see something went down that should have clued his disciples in to be more sensitive to children.
Mark 9:33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Just take a moment to imagine how that argument among the twelve might have gone. What were they saying?
Peter: remember when he said ‘blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah… you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church?’
Andrew ‘I followed John the Baptist, and I’m the one who brought you to Jesus’
James and John ‘we’re the sons of thunder, and our mom already made a deal with him’
Thomas ‘I doubt it’
Judas: ‘He trusts me with the finances’
Nathaniel ‘I’m an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’
Philip ‘but I’m the one who introduced you to him, and you said ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
John ‘I’m the disciple Jesus loves, and I can outrun you!’
When Jesus asked them what they had been discussing, ‘they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.’
Mark 9:35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Jesus shows them that true greatness is serving others, not vainly pursuing celebrity status and power.
Mark 9:36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Jesus gave them a vivid object lesson. Receive children in my name. Receive children because I receive children. My Father receives children. If you want to be great, lower yourself to serve others, serve the least, serve children.
So in Mark 9, Jesus tells them to receive children in his name, because that’s what he is like, and in Mark 10 the disciples still have a worldly gauge of greatness and are hindering children from coming to him. No wonder he is indignant.
False belief # 3: following Jesus is about status and greatness, not about humbly serving others.
Jesus is angry when we get him wrong, and we get ministry wrong. Ministry is about humbly serving others. Jesus took time to love and serve the least. He came for the lost. Kids weren’t in the way of ministry, they were a great example of how we need to receive his ministry, not trying to earn but freely receiving.
How Do We Hinder?
If Jesus is passionate about letting the little children come to him, we need to ask ourselves, ‘How are we hindering children from coming to Jesus?’ Do we individually or as a church put obstacles in the way of children coming to him?
I say individually first and church second intentionally. Because the church is made up of individuals. And we as parents have the primary obligation to train our children to know and love and follow Jesus. This may shock you, but Sunday School is not in the Bible. Sunday School began less than 250 years ago as a way to educate children of the lower classes who were forced to labor in factories the other six days of the week.
Here is what Deuteronomy 6 has to say about training children.
Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
You love God and you hide his word in your heart and you teach them diligently to your own children, sitting in your house, while you travel along, when you go to sleep, and when you get up in the morning. The primary responsibility to train children to love God belongs to the parents. In fact, Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to ‘bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’
As a church we get to supplement what you parents are doing, and we get to serve kids who are not being trained by their parents.
So what are some ways we hinder children from coming to Jesus? Here’s a few that come to mind.
Hypocrisy; when what we teach our children doesn’t match what we do, we are hypocrites. If we don’t love God and hide his word in our hearts, if we don’t put God first in our priorities, how can we honestly teach our children to? Our hypocrisy hinders children from coming to Jesus, and I believe it is a major reason why so many walk away from the faith later in life.
How we view children often hinders them from coming to Jesus. Our society in general views children as a burden not a blessing. From the terrible two’s to the terrible teens, we view them as trouble, an inconvenience to be endured not enjoyed. Our culture in general is having less and less children, well below the replacement rate for our society. And we are quick to turn our responsibility to train them over to others. And we want them to like us so we don’t do what is good for them. Kids can be difficult, so we just don’t get involved. If we struggle with our own kids, we certainly don’t want to take on someone else’s.
Why? Why don’t we ‘bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’? Why are we hindering children from coming to Jesus? I think we embrace some of the same flawed thinking that the disciples used. Jesus is too important to waste his time with children. Adults are to be the focus of our ministry; kids distract and get in the way of ministry. And following Jesus is about status and greatness, not humbly serving others. When we embrace these lies, we hinder children from coming to Jesus.
As a parent, and as part of the church family, here are some practical reasons (excuses) we use for not bringing children to Jesus. I feel ill-equipped. I don’t know how to teach kids. They might ask a question I don’t have an answer for. I’m sorry, but you used that excuse last year. What have you done to remedy it? Get equipped. Get trained. Get discipled. If you used that excuse a year ago, you don’t get to use it again. Get involved. The best way to learn and grow is to start doing it.
But I’m not gifted that way. That’s OK, but if you are a parent, you have been called to it. If you belong to Jesus, you have been called by him to serve others. It’s been said ‘God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.’ God will give you what you need to do what he has called you to do. And we are a body made up of different parts with different gifts. So we should work together, supporting one another and encouraging one another. We need each other. None of us can do it alone.
But I just don’t have time. Make time. Make it a priority. Sanctify time- set it apart. What are you doing that matters for eternity? People matter for eternity. Kids matter for eternity. So cut things out. Change things up. Prioritize and quit the things that are less important that are keeping you from doing that which is most important.
As a parent, as a part of the body of Christ, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Our kids need to know that we all are sinners saved by grace. That we need a Savior and our only hope is Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we could live. Our kids need to see our relationship with Jesus in a way that makes them want to know him too.


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

September 7, 2020 Posted by | church, discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loving Discipline (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12; Matthew 18)

06/28 Loving Discipline (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12; Matthew 18); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200628_discipline.mp3

Last time we saw that Jesus teaches us to pray to God as our Father, that he is a good Father who is eager to see us walking in his image, resembling his character, carrying his DNA, and ultimately bringing glory to him. Jesus instructs us to seek the approval of our Father in heaven, and that he is eager to reward us.

The Revelation and Discipline of Jesus Christ

Today I want to look at the flip side of this. If you are familiar with the book of Revelation, you know above all else it is a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 1:5 …To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. Jesus has given to us a high and holy calling. And Jesus is coming back for us. Revelation begins with a vision of Jesus among his churches;

Revelation 1:12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

Jesus in all his awesome glory walking among the lampstands, his churches, and he addresses seven of these churches each with a letter. He tells them each something about himself, and he praises them for the things that he sees that please him, and he gives a word of warning and correction to those things that are not as they ought to be; he invites them to listen to what he says, and he promises his reward to those who respond to him. Addressing some problems he sees in the church in Laodicea, he says

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

Discipline probably isn’t what we want to hear. Discipline may sound unpleasant, and it is. But understand, discipline is rooted in love. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.’ ‘Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood’ says ‘those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’ Discipline is an expression of God’s love.

Wisdom Warns

Wisdom cries out:

Proverbs 1:22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, 25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, 27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.

Wisdom warns the fool, scoffers who hate knowledge, who ignore wise counsel, who despise reproof. They will get what they wanted; they will ‘eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.’ There are natural consequences for rejecting discipline and correction.

Bad Examples

In the Old Testament we find some epic examples of fathers who failed to discipline their sons and the tragic consequences. The two sons of Eli were priests of the Lord at Shiloh.

1 Samuel 2:12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. …17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. …22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the LORD spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.

It seems Eli had failed to train his sons, and they refused to listen to correction and reproof.

A man of God came to Eli with the word of the Lord:

1 Samuel 2:29 Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’

The sin of Eli was to honor his sons above the Lord God. How many people today elevate their children above the Lord? How many of us treat our children as kings and queens, princes and princesses? ‘You scorn my sacrifices …and honor your sons above me.’

Here’s what the ancient wisdom book says:

Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

The word of the Lord came to young Samuel about Eli:

1 Samuel 3:13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.

God is holding the father responsible because he knew what his sons were doing, and he failed to restrain them.

In 1 Samuel 4, the two sons of Eli died in battle, the ark of the Lord was captured, and when Eli was given the news, he fell over backward, broke his neck and died.

Withholding discipline when discipline is deserved is hatred not love, and it ends in disaster and death. This is one large contributing factor to what is wrong and broken in our society and in our culture.

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Can this be abused and wrongfully applied out of anger and convenience, not out of love? Yes. Should we forsake the clear teaching of God’s word because some use it wrongly? No, we ought to check ourselves and our motives, seek godly counsel and get help.

The wise father says:

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

Jesus says ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’ Loving discipline is an expression of love.

Illegitimate Children

Look with me at Hebrews 12. Hebrews 12 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus who for joy endured the cross; it tells us to lay aside the sin that trips us up and to run the race with endurance.

Hebrews 12:3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

That, my friends, is what is called a rhetorical question. You can probably answer with a long list of names. There’s Johnny and Joey and Bobby and Billy and Betsy and Sue. They are obviously undisciplined. ‘What son is there whom his father does not discipline?’ This is a rhetorical question and the answer is meant to be ‘there is no son whom his father does not discipline!’ Fathers are to love their children, and one of the expressions of a father’s love is loving discipline. Our society is so far out of Biblical bounds that we can’t even recognize this as a rhetorical question and answer it rightly.

Hebrews 12:7 …For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

Your earthly father may have failed you. You may not have had an earthly father who disciplined you out of love for your good. You may not have had an earthly father in your life. The point of this is a contrast. The best of earthly fathers are at best imperfect and inconsistent, flawed and faulted. As I preach this, I am acutely aware of my own failures and shortcomings as a father. I am preaching as much to me as I am to you. But the point is that if we have respect for our imperfect earthly fathers, how much more should we gladly submit ourselves to the perfect Father whose discipline is always perfect, perfectly applied and always for our good?

Hebrews 12:11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Part of being a son is being disciplined. We don’t like discipline; it is painful, not pleasant. But if the Lord does not discipline us, we might rightly question if we are truly his sons at all. The gospel calls us to come just as we are, but the good Lord will not leave us as we are. He intends for us to reflect his own character. ‘I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!’ (Gal.4:19). The Lord disciplines us ‘for our good, that we may share his holiness.’

Some of the most terrifying words in all of Scripture are those words in Romans 1, that ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven’ in that ‘God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts’ (Rom.1:18,24,26,28). God gave them up to do what they wanted to do. God turned them over to the sin they chose. He gave them over; this is not loving discipline but judicial release to run unrestrained into the consequences of their own desires. This is not how God treats his children. If you are sinning and seemingly getting away with it, be terrified that you may be under his wrath. Ask him to adopt you into his family and to apply his loving discipline to you for your good. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’

Restorative Discipline in the Church

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his followers that we need to turn and become like children in order to enter his kingdom, and he warns against those who would cause ‘one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.’ He tells us to deal severely with our own sin, and he shares the heart of the Father in leaving the ninety-nine to go out in search of the one sheep who goes astray. And then he says:

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Jesus teaches his followers that we are to have the heart of his Father in going after those who go astray, in order to bring them back to safety.

It starts with ‘If your brother sins against you.’ If your brother sins against you, go and tell somebody about it. Go tell lots of people about it, go look for sympathy, go put it on social media. Go ask for prayer. Go tell the church leaders about it. No, no, no. Now you are sinning against your brother who sinned against you. You are a gossip, a slanderer, a backbiter, a busybody, and that is sin.

If your brother sins against somebody you know, stand up for them and go tell him his fault. No, Jesus says ‘If your brother sins against you, you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

And the goal is to heap on the guilt and really make him feel bad about what he did to you, to shame him, to make him pay. No, the goal is that he would listen, and you gain back your brother. The goal is reconciliation in sibling relationships. In love, in private, you and him alone, for restoration. And this passage goes on to command us to keep no record of wrong and forgive our brother who sins against us not seven times but seventy times seven.

Only if he does not respond to your private loving correction do you involve others. And then only one or two others. Keep the circle as small as possible. The goal is to go after the straying sheep, to gain back your brother or sister. The motive must be love and the goal must be safe return and restoration to the safety and care of the Good Shepherd.

Remember, just as in the immediate family so in the church family, discipline and correction is loving. To withhold correction and discipline when it is appropriate is to hate. When necessary, give it that way, and receive it as such.

Did you know that is what the Bible is for?

2 Timothy 3:15 …from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Scripture is given for reproof, correction, training. The goal is godly maturity and usefulness in Christ. It is for your good. You must acquaint your children with it. You must acquaint yourself with the Scriptures. And you should put them to use in your own family and in the family of God.

Three Applications:

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph.6:2-3).

‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph.6:4). Fathers and mothers, do not neglect loving discipline of your children in your home for their good.

Brothers and sisters, when a brother or sister reproves, rebukes, exhorts you, when you receive discipline from the Lord, rejoice, it is an expression of love. He is treating you as his own children. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’

***

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

June 29, 2020 Posted by | church, discipleship, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

Paul’s Changing Travel Plans

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Defense of His Changing Plans

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

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

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

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

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

God Is My Witness

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

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

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

It Was To Spare You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When It Is Better Not To Confront

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

Now Jesus is clear,

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

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

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

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

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

Not Lording Over You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Faith you Stand Firm

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

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

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

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

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

Fellow-Workers for your Joy

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

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

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

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

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

Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience

04/30 Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170430_leviticus-26_14-39.mp3

Leviticus is a covenant document between God and his people. Leviticus 26 gives the terms of the covenant agreement. Verses 1-2 are a reminder of the central demand of the covenant, that by entering into this covenant, Israel is promising to have no other gods but the one LORD. They are to trust him by honoring his time and his place. God’s instructions are to be kept and his presence is to be feared. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that accompany obedience; blessings of produce and peace and progeny and most importantly the gift of God’s presence with his people.

But the blessings of the covenant are conditional:

Leviticus 26:3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you …

Verses 14-39 are the consequences of a refusal to follow the terms of the agreement.

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you:

Notice in both cases, it is God himself who is active in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. If you do what I command, I will give you… If you will not listen to me and do… then I will do this to you. God takes his covenant seriously, and will personally bring about either blessings or the curses.

Notice the blatant disobedience that is warned against in these verses; “if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant” A refusal to listen to God’s instructions, a refusal to do what he commands, is followed by an emotional reaction against God’s truth; ‘if your spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules’. This revulsion at God’s commands results in a refusal to obey, and a violation of the covenant contract.

This chapter is essential for understanding the rest of the Bible. This passage provides essential context for the rest of the Bible. It gives the covenant context for the history of God’s judgment on Israel. What happened under Joshua, and then in Judges when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ and ‘the LORD gave them into the hand of’ their enemies, and ‘they cried out to the LORD and he sent’ a deliverer; what happened under the kings who disobeyed and under those who tried to turn the people back to the LORD, what was spoken by the prophets who were sent to confront idolatry and turn the hearts of the people back to the LORD, what happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests and captivities, what was said in the prayers of the captives like Daniel and Nehemiah, even what we today enjoy as New Covenant believers, all find their root in the terms of this covenant agreement between God and his people.

This section of consequences for covenant treason is structured in 5 cycles of escalating discipline. Each section begins with ‘if you will not listen; then I will…’

14-17 general curses – illness, famine, defeat

18-20 Drought and bad harvest

21-22 Wild animals

23-26 War, leading to plague and famine

27-39 War, leading to cannibalism, devastation and deportation

First Stage

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.

God promises to visit the covenant breaker with panic, disease and fever, with stolen productivity, with defeat and oppression, with paranoid fear. God says ‘I will visit you …I will set my face against you.’ God is not absent in the sense that he has merely withdrawn his hand of protection and is allowing bad things to happen; no, he promises to be actively engaged in bringing about these consequences. Hell is not the absence of God; God is everywhere present. Hell will be the presence of God in righteous anger and punishment against those who have rejected him.

Second Stage

Leviticus 26:18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

God here promises to escalate the punishment for continued disobedience. Notice, ‘If in spite of this you will not listen to me.’ There is a hope held out here. At any stage in this discipline, if his people will turn to him and listen to him, the discipline does not have to go any further.

Discipline

This is discipline; discipline is meant to teach, to train, to correct. Discipline is meant to confront, to protect, to restore, to bless. God is saying ‘I want to bless you, but I cannot bless your disobedience, so I promise to do whatever is necessary to bring you around and create in you a heart attitude that I can bless.’ Remember, God loved Israel. God chose Israel. Not because of anything in her, but rather because he loved her (Deut.7:6-8; 9:6). Proverbs reminds us:

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

Discipline is rooted in love. Moses tells the generation about to enter the land that God:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you …that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. …5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

Psalm 94 tells us:

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

Blessed, happy, is the one you discipline; because discipline is for our greatest good. Hebrews 12 lays this all out.

Hebrews 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline is not pleasant, but it is for our good. The things in this chapter are horrific, but that is intended to teach us that there is something worse. A slap on the child’s wrist is painful, but it is nothing compared to the pain of the emergency room visit that it is intended to prevent. The things in this chapter; disease and death and cannibalism and captivity are nothing compared to what they are meant to keep you from; an eternity separated from a good God who loves you.

Greater Accountability

Notice, the discipline of this chapter is promised to God’s covenant people, not to the nations. God has a special relationship with his own people, and these are the consequences for treating carelessly that relationship. Those who have experienced grace; those who have seen the truth and rejected it are judged much more severely than those who have not; Peter warns:

2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Because those who have been offered grace will be held more accountable, God relentlessly pursues us with his discipline in order to bring us back.

Pride

In this second section, to those who have refused to respond to the first stage of discipline, God promises to ‘discipline you again sevenfold for your sins’. This is an escalation of discipline toward those who refuse to listen. God says ‘I will break the pride of your power’. He will prevent the land from producing. So often our hardness toward God is a result of pride. The prayerless person is a proud person. I will not cry out to God for help, because I can handle this without him! God did not create us to be independent, but dependent. We are not to stand on our own; we are to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean into him, to trust him. We are not self-sufficient; he alone is self-sufficient. We are to lean on his all-sufficiency. Repeatedly we hear the warning, when things go well for you, do not thing it is because of your own greatness, but because God has blessed you. Do not become proud, but recognize that every good thing is a gift from God.

O Lord, whatever it takes, break our foolish pride!

Third Stage

Leviticus 26:21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

The third stage is an escalating progression in disipline. If you will listen, I will use the least severe means of discipline available. If you choose to harden your heart, I will be required to use more severe forms of discipline. ‘Then,’ after the first two stages, ‘if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me.’ I will let loose the wild beasts against you’ bereave you of your children. This is opposite of the blessing in verse 6 ‘I will remove harmful beasts from your land’.

‘Wild beasts which shall bereave you of your children’ seems severe, but remember, this is the third stage of rebellion, having refused to listen to the first two rounds of discipline.

Fourth Stage

Leviticus 26:23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Here the goal of all this is clearly stated; ‘if by this discipline you are not turned to me.’ Hear God’s heart in all of this. His heart is toward you, not against you. He knows that there is no good apart from himself. So he intends to turn your heart back to him, whatever it takes.

This is a response to active disobedience. ‘If you walk contrary to me, the I also will walk contrary to you. I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.’ ‘I will …execute vengeance for the covenant’. This is a breach of a covenant that they agreed to. Going after false gods is both foolish and treasonous. God must defend the honor of his glorious name. He will execute vengeance for the covenant. Sword, pestilence, famine. Ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven. It seems polygamy is a curse, not a blessing. You shall eat and not be satisfied. True satisfaction comes only through walking with God, enjoying the good of his presence. Seeking satisfaction anywhere else will leave us eating without ever experiencing satisfaction.

Fifth Stage

Leviticus 26:27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

‘If in spite of this,’ having hardened your hearts through the first four stages of discipline ‘you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.’ This is escalating discipline due to the callousness of the people’s hearts. It takes severe consequences to rip the callouses off and expose their hard hearts to the gravity of their situation. Cannibalism. When Syrian king Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria and caused a great famine,

2 Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” … 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body—

This is a heart-wrenching story, and the king tore his clothes. Tearing clothes is a sign of repentance and mourning. But even this horrific event did not turn the kings heart back to the LORD. Instead he sent messengers to kill the LORD’s prophet Elisha, who had been calling Israel to repentance.

God says ‘I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.’ The way to desecrate a place of worship was to scatter it with bones. This is an ironic promise that God will desecrate the false worship of his people with the corpses of those who trusted in these false gods. And he says ‘my soul will abhor you’. We often hear it said that ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner.’ But here God himself says to the one who persistently violates the terms of the covenant and refuses to repent after extended discipline ‘my soul will abhor you’.

All this sounds horrific, but remember, the punishment fits the crime. The level of horror we have at these punishments, should alert us to the gravity of disregarding the word of the LORD, and turning away from God, spurning his patience and discipline that is meant to bring us to repentance.

Sabbath Rest and Hope

Leviticus 26:34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

God promised that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths while his people are in captivity. God’s people ought to have enjoyed the Sabbath rest God provided for them. Instead the land would enjoy that rest without them. We read in 2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles 36:15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

…20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

But even in this there is hope. There is an end in sight. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 54:7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.

Law and Gospel

God’s heart is to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. In the Old Testament this was rare. Except for a small remnant, the people persisted in their disobedience, hardened their hearts, and refused to respond to his loving discipline. Although there were amazing blessings promised, the law brought a curse. We read in Galatians 3:

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

The law is based on performance, perfect performance, and because no one can ever keep the law perfectly, we are all under the curse. Everything written in this chapter addressed to covenant breakers belongs to us, because we are covenant breakers. None of the promises belong to us, because we have failed to walk in obedience. But once we feel the weight of this, there is amazingly good news here for us!

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

On the cross, Jesus experienced the curses of Leviticus 26 for us. God executed vengeance for the broken covenant on Jesus; The Father turned in abhorrence from the one who had been made sin for us. Why? So that all the promised blessings might come to us who believe in Jesus!

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

May 2, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming The Name

03/19 Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming the Name; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170319_leviticus-24_10-23.mp3

Leviticus 24, like Leviticus 10, reminds us that the five books of Moses are words from God given in a historical context. We think of Leviticus as a book of laws, and it is that, but these are laws given by God to his people in a particular context. God set his people free after 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt. He had demonstrated unmistakably his awesome power and unrivaled superiority over the false gods of the Egyptians. He brought his people out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He displayed that he alone is worthy of worship, and he is not to be treated lightly. He brought them out to worship him, to belong to him. He gave them the rules in Leviticus so that his people would understand what it meant to be in relationship with God, how a holy God could live in the middle of a sinful people, how their sins could be dealt with, how this holy God was to be approached.

Leviticus 24 switches from instruction to a narrative. Like Exodus 32, where Moses was on the mountain, receiving God’s words, and in the camp the people grew impatient, made a golden calf to worship, and broke all of God’s commands. Here, God has revealed to Moses that holy time is to be set apart to celebrate him, that light and bread are always abundant in his presence, and in the camp a fight breaks out.

Blasphemy of a Half-Israelite

Leviticus 24:10 Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, 11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be clear to them.

Notice it is not the fact that a fight broke out that is the problem here. Wherever there are people, there will problems. There will be differing opinions, conflicts, tension, strife. In a camp of well over 600,000 men, this was surely not the only fight in Israel. We know there were disputes. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law encouraged him to appoint elders to help arbitrate disputes because people were standing around waiting from morning until evening for Moses to judge between one and another. The fight was not the issue. If the fight were the issue, both parties would have been apprehended. The issue was blasphemy of the Name.

Neither was the question what should be done with a blasphemer. That was laid out in no uncertain terms already. The third command said:

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

and

Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

If one who cursed father or mother was to be put to death, clearly one who committed the greater crime of cursing the Lord God himself was to be put to death.

Exodus 22:28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

The question here in Leviticus 24 is not what should be done with a blasphemer. The question is how this law should be applied to someone who was not a full Israelite. This was an Israelite woman’s son, but his father was an Egyptian.

Parenting and Discipline

Notice, we are not given the name of the blasphemer. We don’t know the name of the father. But we are given the name of the mother, and the genealogy of the mother. We aren’t given any of the dynamics of this family. We don’t know if the Egyptian dad had escaped Egypt with the family and was still involved, or if he was a slave owner who fathered this child and took no responsibility, or if he may have been part of Pharaoh’s army who was drowned in the Red Sea. Whatever the background and family dynamic, the mother carried the responsibility for how she raised her child. And her name and family line has been preserved for us for thousands of years as the mother whose son was a blasphemer.

Let me use this opportunity to share with you a few verses of parenting wisdom from the Proverbs.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Hear me carefully. This is not a license for child abuse. Do not become so angry or frustrated with your child that you are tempted to injure your child. If that is where you feel you are at, you need to get some help and allow others in the church family to come along side you and speak wisdom and hope into your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for counsel. But do not allow your children to do whatever they want to do. As a parent you have a responsibility to lovingly nurture and train your children. The Proverbs encourage parents to physically discipline their children. Think of it this way. The goal of loving discipline is to use a small amount of pain or discomfort administered carefully to prevent a much greater amount of pain later on. A slap on the hand or the back side stings a bit, but if it is applied consistently to prevent a small child from touching the hot stove, it may spare them from a trip to the emergency room. Loving discipline is hard work, and it is not meant for the convenience of the parent, but for the good of the child.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

In this case, apparently Shelomith failed to discipline her son, and he ultimately suffered the consequences. By his actions he brought shame on his mother, but notice, his mother was not held responsible for his behavior. Even if you had parents who failed to train you, that is not an excuse for your current behavior. You are accountable and will be held responsible for your own sins.

The Native and the Sojourner

The congregation understood the gravity of taking lightly the Name of the LORD. God, our Creator, our Rescuer, our Provider, is not to be dishonored. But what about this half-Israelite? Was he to be held to the same standard that a full Israelite was held to? He was held in custody until the LORD’s will was made known.

Leviticus 24:13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. 17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.” 23 So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.

God makes it clear that the sojourner was to be held accountable in the same way as a native Israelite. Throughout Leviticus, we have seen provision made for the sojourner, the stranger, the alien. In Exodus 12:38 told that a mixed multitude left Egypt with Israel. God revealed himself to be the only true God. Any Egyptian who decided to leave the false gods of Egypt and align with Israel and her God was welcome. In Exodus 12 the sojourner that desired to celebrate the Passover was invited to be circumcised and keep the Passover. In Exodus 20:10 the sojourner was to benefit from the weekly day of rest. Leviticus 17 and 22 allow the sojourner to bring sacrifices to the tent of the LORD, and he was also held accountable for appropriate handling of blood. Leviticus 18 and 20 hold the sojourner living among Israel to the same standards of morality as the native Israelite. Leviticus 19 and 23 command the Israelites to care for the sojourners by leaving food in the fields for them to glean.

Leviticus 19:33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

The sojourners were invited to enjoy the benefits of the covenant relationship with God. But as such they were also held accountable for appropriate covenant conduct. This passage makes it explicitly clear that the foreigners who partook of the covenant blessings were also held accountable to the covenant.

We see this emphasis in the symmetry of the passage. [outline – G. Wenham]

16 blasphemy; the sojourner as well as the native shall be punished

17 take a man’s life

18 take an animal’s life

19 whatever injury he did must be done to him

20 whatever injury given must be given to him

21a kill and animal

21b kill a man

22 blasphemy; the same rule for the sojourner and the native

Verses 16-19 are mirrored in verses 20-22 Verses 16 and 22 require the same standard for the sojourner as for the native Israelite regarding blasphemy. Verses 17 and 21b deal with murder. Verses 18 and 21a deal with killing someone’s animal. Verses 19 and 20 deal with injuring another person. From the lesser offense to the greatest offense the punishment is to fit the crime, and the punishment is to be the same for the sojourner as for the native. There is to be no favoritism.

We also see in the structure of the passage an increasing degree of seriousness for different crimes. Working out from the center, verses 19 and 20 deal with the least serious, injury to another person. The eye for an eye and tooth for tooth provides a reasonable limit to compensation. This does not mean that if you knock out my tooth, I get to send you to the dentist to get your tooth extracted. What it means is that if you knock out my tooth, I am not allowed to go after you with a club and knock out all your teeth, as in the flesh most of us would be inclined to do. You are to compensate me appropriately for the loss of my tooth.

Moving out from the center, if you take the life of my animal, which would be a significant part of my livelihood, you are to compensate me appropriately. The life of an animal is valuable, but it is not as valuable as human life. If you pay me appropriately, I can buy another ox, or another tractor.

But the life of a person is more valuable than the life of an animal. When we move out to verses 17 and 21b, we see that no compensation can substitute for the life of a person. Humanity was created in the image of God, and in murder the life of the murderer is required in return for the life of the one murdered.

The Seriousness of Blasphemy

As we understand the structure of this passage, we begin to appreciate the extreme gravity of the offense. An even greater offense than murder is blasphemy. It is a great offense to deface the image of God in man, but it is an even greater offense to directly attack the character of God. This word ‘blaspheme’ literally means ‘to puncture, to pierce, to hollow out, to strike through’ The word ‘curse’ literally means ‘to make light of.’ If you remember, back in chapter 10, when God’s fire consumed Aaron’s sons who disobeyed God, he said “

Leviticus 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

This word ‘glorified’ means literally ‘heavy or weighty.’ God is to be taken as weighty, substantial, with gravity. He is not to be taken lightly. We might be tempted to read this passage and think ‘Wow, that seems excessive. Murder, sure, that’s serious, but saying some words against God, what’s the big deal? How is that hurting anyone? And they stoned him to death?’

This is where we need to allow Scripture to correct our thinking. We tend to assume that suffering and death are the worst things that can happen to a person, and that a long life is better than a short one. This passage teaches that to make light of God is so serious a crime it is worthy of death. Why? If we understand that we are created to glorify God, and that true human fulfillment and joy can only be found in his presence, then if we make light of him we deceive others to their eternal harm. If God is our eternal good, and those near to him act as if the things of this life are more substantial, more weighty than God himself, we invite others to disregard God and exchange his glory for created pleasures that will not ultimately satisfy. This is what Romans 1 calls ‘suppressing the truth’ about God, or Romans 3 calls ‘falling short of the glory of God,’ and it is worthy of ‘the wrath of God being revealed from heaven’. We must understand and guard ourselves against blaspheming God, lying about his character, and leading others astray by our attitudes.

The Law and the Gospel

Something very interesting to see as we step back from this passage is that this is one of only two narratives in Leviticus. The first, in Chapter 10, God’s glory is revealed and two priests who disobey are consumed by the flame of God. Here in chapter 24, a half-Israelite makes light of God’s name, and he is stoned to death by the people. In both narratives we see death and judgment in connection with God’s holy law. This is exactly what Romans teaches.

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

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

The law brings wrath. The commandment proves to be death to me. The law stops every mouth and makes every person accountable to God. The law makes no one righteous; rather the law shows us our utter sinfulness, and our desperate need.

And in this need, we find good news!

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

Paul reflects in 1 Timothy

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

We have all sinned and failed to live in a way that displays the weighty awesomeness of God. The wages of our sin is death. But even blasphemers can receive mercy. The grace of our Lord overflows to us. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!

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

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 19:1-10; Practical Holiness

10/30 Leviticus 19:1-10; Practical Holiness; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161030_leviticus-19_1-10.mp3

Today we come to one of Jesus’ favorite chapters of the Bible; Leviticus 19. Jesus used the teachings of this chapter as the cornerstone of his famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5; especially verses 43-48. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 19, talking to the rich young ruler about the commandments he needed to keep.

In Luke 17, Jesus told a story to explain one particular word in Leviticus 19, a story we know as the parable of the good Samaritan.

When asked about the greatest command in Matthew 22, he cited one from Deuteronomy 6 and a second like it from Leviticus 19. Jesus said

Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paul took his cue from Jesus. In Romans 13 he said:

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

And in Galatians 5 he said:

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The whole law is fulfilled in one word; all the commandments are summed up in one word. James called this the royal law, the perfect law, the law of liberty.

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

In fact, we could argue that the letter of James is an extended New Testament commentary and application of Leviticus 19. At least half a dozen of his statements are lifted directly out of Leviticus 19.

Peter also drew heavily on Leviticus 19 in his first letter, stating:

1 Peter 1:15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Leviticus 19 deals with everything. It deals with family, with farming, with worship, with employment, with business, with personal relationships, with sex, with time. It deals with the occult, with prostitution, with cutting, with justice and legal issues, with the poor, with foreigners. It even addresses how you should look and what you should wear. It touches each of the ten commandments from Exodus 20; we could even look at it as an application and explanation of how the 10 commandments are to be applied. We will look at the first 10 verses today, an illustration of practical holiness.

Be Holy For I Am Holy

Leviticus 19:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Remember, as we saw last time, Leviticus 19 is in the last half of Leviticus. It answers the question, ‘now that I have been forgiven of all my sins through the sacrifice, how should I live my life?’ This is addressed to people already in a relationship with the LORD God.

This entire chapter is rooted in who God is, and our relationship with him. God demands that we as his people reflect his character in every area of our lives. At first read, this chapter seems like a jumbled up mess of random unrelated issues all thrown together for lack of a better place to put them. But even in this God is telling us something. God is communicating that in all the various aspects of our daily lives, in every area, we are to consciously, intentionally reflect him.

He calls us to be holy because he is holy. But what does it mean to say that God is holy? He is different. He is unique. He is set apart. We are to be a reflection of who he is. But what does that look like? What does it mean to be holy? We need some practical instruction. And this chapter gives us exactly that. This chapter is more than anything else about God. We are to be holy because God is holy, and this chapter lays out what holiness looks like in various everyday situations.

Authority

Leviticus 19:3 Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, (V)

This chapter on practical holiness begins in the home, because holiness must begin at home. It matters how you treat your parents. Whether you are living under their authority, or caring for them when they are elderly, holiness begins by a proper respect for authority. This is a restatement of the 5th commandment, but here rather than saying that you are to ‘Honor your father and mother,’ we are told literally to ‘fear’ them. This is a word that is usually reserved for the fear of the LORD in the Bible, but here it is applied to the authority of parents. Parenting is a weighty responsibility. Parents carry the delegated authority of God in a child’s life. So even if they are not godly, even if they abuse their authority, even if by their character they are not worthy of respect, their position is to be respected. Notice that mother is listed first here in a place of honor. Parenting is a team sport, and it functions best when mother and father work together as a team.

Time

Leviticus 19:3 …and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. (IV)

Honoring sacred time comes next. You shall keep my Sabbaths. This is a restatement of the 4th command.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work,…

Time is something we never seem to have enough of, something we often run out of. Time is a precious commodity that we spend. God is to be honored with our time. We need to be wise with what we spend it on. God demands that we set aside some of our time as holy, set apart for God. We are to rest, we are to remember, we are to worship. We are to be different in the way we use our time.

Idolatry

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God. (I, II)

This recalls the first two commandments. We are to have no other Gods, and we are to make no images. The word here for idols emphasizes the weak and worthless nature of false gods. We are not to turn to worthless things to put our hope in them. It is futile to look for help from the things our own hands have made. God says “I am the LORD your God.” We have the real thing. Why would we turn away to cheap imitations?

Obedient Worship

Leviticus 19:5 “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. 6 It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. 7 If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, 8 and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people.

This looks back to chapter 7, which gave detailed instructions about peace offerings. This was the one type of sacrifice from which the worshiper was invited to eat. But holiness meant that the God’s instructions were to be followed carefully and exactly. That which is holy, set apart, is not to be treated as common or ordinary. We cannot come to God any way that we like. “When you offer a sacrifice… you shall offer it so that you may be accepted.” God must be obeyed in the way that we approach him.

Care For the Poor

Leviticus 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

Holiness means not taking everything for yourself. Holiness in business means not wringing out every last cent of profit. Holiness must be generous. God’s holiness must be reflected in our care for the poor and for the displaced, those from whom we can expect nothing in return. We are to acknowledge that everything belongs to God, and everything that we have is a gift from him, and that he gives us more than we need so that we can give to those who are in need.

This method of giving retains the dignity of the needy and requires little more from the landowner than a heart of generosity. He was not asked to gather extra grain, process it and package it, then identify the most needy in his community and deliver it to them. He was actually invited to do less work. Don’t go back over your field a second time to pick up what you missed. Just leave it. Take enough and leave the rest and then rest. Enjoy what you have. Resist the urge to relentlessly pursue maximum profit.

The needy person was then required to do the extra work, to go out to the field, to pick up what he needed, to bring it home to feed his family. This provided an opportunity for the dignity of honest work to provide for the needs of one’s own. And the one who benefited would recognize this ultimately not as a gift from the landowner, but as a gift from God, who generously provides for our needs.

Ruth

We see this holiness in action in the story of Ruth. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite woman, and a widow. She had married into a Jewish family, and even after the death of her husband, she showed honor to her mother-in-law. Naomi was a bitter woman, and she had lost her hope in God. She even asked to be called ‘Mara’ – Bitter. Naomi was returning to Israel empty handed. Yet Ruth renounced the idolatry of her people, and declared

Ruth 1:16 … where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Ruth was honoring her mother-in-law, even if she was not altogether worthy of that honor. And Ruth honored her mother-in-law in very practical ways. She worked hard to provide for her needs.

In chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz, a worthy man, who is a landowner.

Ruth 2:4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.”

This is a unique relationship between an employer and his employees. This sounds like a pleasant positive encouraging work atmosphere. The boss genuinely cares, and everyone knows it. How often do you hear employees blessing their boss? If you have anyone under you, strive to create this kind of an atmosphere. This is a man who put God first. This is a man who took time to worship God and to serve others.

Ruth 2:14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

This is generosity above and beyond. Boaz had provided generously for the needs of his workers, He ate and had fellowship with them, and he gave to this stranger more than she needed. Then he instructed his employees to be intentionally wasteful and careless in order to provide abundantly for this woman. Boaz is sacrificing his own profitability in order to bless a stranger, from whom he could expect nothing in return.

This is an illustration of what holiness practically looks like. Boaz is obeying Leviticus 19, caring for the needs of his employees, extending love to the stranger, providing generously for the poor. But Boaz is only able to be like this because he is enjoying relationship with a God who is like this.

Jesus

Remember we are commanded to be holy because God is holy. God is the one who demonstrates what it is to love the stranger, the outsider, the foreigner. God is the one who demonstrates lavish generosity to those who can never pay him back.

Romans 5:5 …God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We love because he first loved us. We can love like this because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This is all a gracious gift. While we were weak. While we were ungodly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! What lavish generosity to strangers, even enemies!

Ephesians 2 says:

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Remember. You were separated. You were alienated. You were strangers. You had no hope. But, the boundless riches of his mercy, you who once were far off have been brought near. At what cost? By the blood of Christ! Infinite cost. Unparalleled generosity to those who can never pay back. Now strangers no longer. Aliens no longer. Fellow citizens, saints, members of the house! We have been brought near! He has welcomed the foreigner!

Colossians 1 says:

Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

You were once alienated. Not alienated through unfortunate circumstances, but alienated by your own hostility. Your own open rebellion. You chose to be hostile. You made yourself his enemy. And yet he pursued you! Jesus pursued his rebellious creation by entering into the creation he had made, taking on our flesh and becoming one of us, so that he could pay the ultimate price for us, he died for you so that he could present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. He took away your shame! He took away your indignity. He brings reconciliation to hostile enemies. He brings us in to relationship. Because we have been so loved, we are set free to so love.

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

October 31, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Train Up A Child; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15

05/10/15 Train Up A Child: 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150510_train-up-a-child.mp3

Proverbs 22:6 tells us:

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Historical Sketch of Timothy

I want to look this morning, this mother’s day at Timothy as an example of this. Paul met Timothy in Lystra on his first missionary journey around AD 47-49, where Timothy and his mother became followers of Jesus. When Paul returned to the area on his second journey around AD 49-51, he took Timothy with him as a co-worker in the gospel, strengthening the churches.

Acts 16:1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Timothy was a young man from a divided home. His mother was a believer. His father was not. Timothy became Paul’s companion as he traveled through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, then to Troas in Mysia, then to Phillipi in Macedonia, where Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. Upon release, they went to Thessalonica, then to Berea. Paul was sent from Berea to Athens alone to escape the hostility that followed him there. Silas and Timothy joined Paul briefly in Athens, and then, because Paul was prevented from going back himself, he sent them back to Thessalonica to encourage the believers there.

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

Paul traveled alone from Athens to Corinth, and Timothy and Silas rejoined him there (Acts 18:5). They spent a year and a half in Corinth, and in AD 51 Paul together with Silas and Timothy wrote two letters to the church in Thessalonica. They traveled from Corinth to Ephesus, then to Caesarea in Syria and then to Antioch. In AD 52, Paul took Timothy with on his third journey, and they visited the churches in Galatia and Phrygia, and then came to Ephesus. Paul spent 2 years in Ephesus, and around AD 56, he wrote 1 Corinthians. Around that time he also sent Timothy as his delegate to Corinth.

1 Corinthians 4:17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 16:10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

Toward the end of his stay in Ephesus, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22), then joined them there. From Macedonia, Paul wrote his second letter to Corinth, and sends greetings from ‘Timothy our brother’ (2Cor.1:1, 19). They traveled from there to Greece, where they spent 3 months, during which, around AD 57, Paul wrote his letter to Rome, and sent greetings from ‘Timothy, my fellow worker’ (Rom.16:21). Paul traveled from there up to Phillipi in Macedonia, but sent Timothy along with others to Troas to wait for him. Timothy accompanied him on several other stops in route to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, and spent two years imprisoned in Caesarea, before being sent to Rome. In Rome, again Paul was joined by Timothy, and from prison in Rome he wrote Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon, in which he mentions Timothy as co-author. He says to the church in Philippi,

Philippians 2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Paul was released and traveled to Philippi in Macedonia, and at some point he sent Timothy to Ephesus to keep the church there on track. He wrote to Timothy from Macedonia around AD 62/63

1 Timothy 1:2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: … 3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,

By AD 67, Paul, now an old man awaiting execution, was again in Rome, and wrote a final letter to Timothy. He contrasted Timothy with unfaithful and ungodly people.

2 Timothy 3:10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.

At the end of this final letter, Paul asks Timothy to come to him in Rome.

2 Timothy 4:9 Do your best to come to me soon. …11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. …13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. …21 Do your best to come before winter.

Character of Timothy

Timothy was a brother, a co-worker, a true child in the faith, a man of proven worth. He was trustworthy, competent, sacrificial, well trained in the scriptures, capable of leadership, a true man of of character. Timothy would be a great role model. We should want to be like Timothy, and we should want our children to grow up to be like Timothy. So often our desires as parents are for our children to grow up protected from the evils of this world, to go to a good school, to find a good spouse, to get a good job, to live in a good house, to have good children, and to visit a lot. That is such a small dream for our children. Such a nearsighted dream. We should want more than a good middle-class life for our children. We should long for them to live lives that matter, that count for eternity, lives of integrity and character over the long haul, lives that bring pleasure to the heart of God. That is the kind of life Timothy’s mother launched him on. What do we know about Timothy?

The Training of Timothy

2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Timothy didn’t grow up in ideal circumstances. Not much is said of his father other than that he was a Greek. It is implied that his father was either not a believer, or just not around. But his mother and his grandmother had a sincere faith. They invested in this young man and passed on their faith to him.

I’ve heard some nonsense of parents not wanting to force kids to believe what they believe, but laying out the options and letting the kids decide for themselves. I believe that is foolish and irresponsible. Think of it this way: when your two year old has a fever, you don’t empty the medicine cabinet onto the kitchen table and say ‘here are the options, you decide’. And it’s a lazy attitude, because what it means is ‘I know raising children to fear and love the one true God is hard work, and I’d rather not put in the effort’. And it’s an arrogant statement, because it presumes that you can persuade them to follow what you believe. You can’t. Only God can create new life in your child, but he has given you the responsibility and the privilege of teaching your kids the truth and leading them in the way they should go and praying earnestly for that work of God in their heart.

Unhypocritical

One thing is clear, you can’t pass on a faith you do not own yourself. It was a sincere faith, an unhypocritical faith. You can’t point your kids in the direction you think is right but you are unwilling to go, and expect them to go there. Their faith dwelt in them. It was at home in them. Theirs was not a Sunday faith. It was a Sunday through Saturday faith. It was a faith that was at home in them 24/7. It was a faith that shaped their actions and attitudes and words when they were in public and private, when others were around and when no one was looking. Paul had seen evidence that Timothy didn’t just inherit this faith, he owned it. It was not just what his family had taught to him; it was what he clung to and what he built his life on and what had proved strong enough to carry him through the storms and trials of life. Timothy’s was a faith without hypocrisy. It was genuine. It was the real deal. It had been modeled faithfully by his mother and by his grandmother. They lived it, and that had a lasting impression on this young man.

The Sacred Writings

Paul says to Timothy in chapter 3

2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Timothy had been trained up in the scriptures. He had been taught the truth. From infancy, literally from before birth he had been exposed to God’s written word. That is life shaping! What powerful training for a life of usefulness. To know the scriptures, to know the grand story of which all the stories play a part, the story of a God who always was, a God all powerful, a God who creates, a God who cares for his rebellious creation, a God who is just and holy, but a God who is merciful and compassionate, a God who comes down to provide a way for his wayward creation to be restored to him, a God who sacrifices of himself to heal our hurts and make us whole.

The sacred writings are able. They are powerful. Hebrews tells us ‘the word of God is living and active’ (Heb.4:12). God told Isaiah

Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Timothy had been placed under the powerful influence of the word of God. He had learned, and he had come to firmly believe the truth of God’s word. He was persuaded, he was convinced. He had weighed the evidence and had been won over. It mattered from whom he learned it. His mother, and his grandmother had not just taught it to him or shoved it down his throat. They had lived it before him. They had immersed themselves in the sacred writings. The truth was in them and it had shaped them. They were genuine, without hypocrisy.

The sacred writings, in Timothy’s case, the Old Testament, is powerful to make one wise for salvation. The entire Old Testament is a story of a sovereign God with a good creation gone tragically wrong, and in desperate need of rescue. It is a story of the darkness of human hearts living out from under God’s good rule. It is a story of the devastating consequences of doing that which is right in our own eyes. Even the most well meaning well intentioned people, even the heroes were tragically flawed and broken characters, unable to get it right, in urgent need of forgiveness and healing and help. The scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation by teaching us that

Psalm 14:3 …there is none who does good, not even one.

And

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…

The scriptures make us wise to our need for a Savior. And the scriptures point us to that Savior. The one who is fully man, but so much more than a mere man, the God-man who as man was able to stand in our place and pay our debt, but who being fully divine was able to bear the full fury of God’s infinite wrath against the sins of mankind, Christ Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29)

The scriptures point us to faith, utter and complete dependence and trust on the finished work of another, a champion, one who would fight our battles, conquer our enemies, in whom we have the victory. Trust in the character and nature of God, the one who keeps his word and fulfills all his promises. The one who brings something out of nothing and makes all things new.

2 Timothy 3:15 …the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul exhorts Timothy to continue in, to remain in, to abide in the truth of the scriptures. This would enable him to discern truth from error, to set the example, to stand firmly in grace, and to boldly proclaim the truth.

Do we want any less for our kids? Are we willing to expend the energy to train our children, to discipline them, to invest in them, to live unhypocritically before them, to saturate our own souls in the scriptures, to be real with them, and to point them to something so much bigger than ourselves, to encourage them to live for something bigger than themselves, to live to the glory of God, to be useful in the service of Christ?

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

May 10, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 7:10-16; Marriage and Divorce

11/17 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 Marriage and Divorce; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131117_1cor7_10-16.mp3

1Cor 7 [SBLGNT]

10 Τοῖς δὲ γεγαμηκόσινπαραγγέλλω, οὐκ ἐγὼ ἀλλὰ ὁ κύριος, γυναῖκα ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς μὴ χωρισθῆναι —11 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ, μενέτω ἄγαμοςἢ τῷ ἀνδρὶ καταλλαγήτω — καὶ ἄνδρα γυναῖκα μὴ ἀφιέναι.12 Τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖςλέγω ἐγώ, οὐχ ὁ κύριος· εἴ τις ἀδελφὸς γυναῖκα ἔχει ἄπιστον, καὶ αὕτη συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’ αὐτοῦ, μὴ ἀφιέτω αὐτήν·13 καὶ γυνὴ εἴ τις ἔχει ἄνδρα ἄπιστον, καὶ οὗτος συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’ αὐτῆς, μὴ ἀφιέτω τὸν ἄνδρα.14 ἡγίασται γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ ὁ ἄπιστος ἐν τῇ γυναικί, καὶ ἡγίασται ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄπιστος ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ· ἐπεὶ ἄρα τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν ἀκάθαρτά ἐστιν, νῦν δὲ ἅγιά ἐστιν.15 εἰ δὲ ὁ ἄπιστος χωρίζεται, χωριζέσθω· οὐ δεδούλωται ὁ ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἡ ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις, ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεός.16 τί γὰρ οἶδας, γύναι, εἰ τὸν ἄνδρα σώσεις; ἢ τί οἶδας, ἄνερ, εἰ τὴν γυναῖκα σώσεις;

1Cor 7 [ESV2011]

7:6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband11 (but if she does, she should remainunmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Today we find ourselves in a challenging passage of 1 Corinthians. Paul is answering questions he had received from his church plant in Corinth. The verses we are studying address issues of marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. There was a teaching that had become popular in Corinth that Paul refers to in verse 1; “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”. Paul, as a good shepherd, responds ‘it depends’.

In verses 2-5 he addresses married people, and he says that if you are married, it is good for you to enjoy sexual intimacy. Coming to Christ does not mean that you abandon your existing relationships in a pursuit for greater spirituality. In fact, depriving one another within marriage is sin.

In verses 6-7 he holds up his desire that, in light of the present distress, all would be content in singleness with its advantages for gospel ministry that he will outline later in this chapter. But he acknowledges that not all have received the same gifting, and God’s gifting is decisive rather than his preference.

In verses 8-9 he addresses the unmarried and widows. He may have in mind specifically widows and widowers, or he may be addressing more broadly those who are presently not married, whether single, widowed or divorced. His advice to them is that it is good to remain as they are, but if they are not gifted for celibacy then they must marry.

In verses 10-11 he addresses the married, specifically marriages where both husband and wife are believers.

In verses 12-16 he addresses another category of married people, those marriages where the husband or wife has come to Christ, but the spouse has not.

In verse 25 and following he will take up issues concerning virgins, those who have never married.

The Teaching of the Lord and of Paul

Let’s look at what Paul has to say to believers who are married to believers.

1 Corinthians 7:10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

We know that he is addressing marriages where both husband and wife are believers in these verses, because in the next verse, he addresses a different group (the rest), specifically those who are married to an unbeliever.

He differentiates his instructions to the two groups by saying to the first that the charge comes not from him but from the Lord; where to the rest he says ‘I, not the Lord’. It is very important that we do not misunderstand what he is saying. Down in verse 25 he will say:

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.

Some have wrongly interpreted these statements to mean that Paul is differentiating between divine revelation and his own personal opinion, between inspired and uninspired Scripture. There is no such thing as uninspired Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. As God’s word, all Scripture is authoritative. Paul, as an apostle of our Lord Jesus, was commissioned by our Lord Jesus to instruct his church, and what Paul, controlled by the Holy Spirit, taught was no less authoritative than what Jesus himself taught. Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16) categorizes Paul’s letters as Scripture. In verse 17, Paul will say of his instructions:

1 Corinthians 7:17 …This is my rule in all the churches.

Jesus’ teaching is authoritative in all the churches. Paul’s teaching is also authoritative in all the churches. What he is doing is simply distinguishing between things that Jesus himself spoke to directly, and things that Jesus did not speak to, but by the Holy Spirit equipped his Apostles to address. At the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians, the gospels had not yet been compiled, but there was a body of memorized sayings of Jesus that the churches held dear, to which Paul would be referring here.

The Command of the Lord to the Married

1 Corinthians 7:10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Paul is saying, in the context of the question of the Corinthians about it being good for a man not to touch a woman, that his command, based on Jesus’ own command was that the wife should not separate from her husband and the husband should not divorce his wife. It is not spiritual for a husband and wife to abstain from sexual intimacy in marriage, and it is not spiritual for them to terminate the marriage by separation or divorce. To do so would be to disobey the clear command of Jesus. Jesus’ clearly brought us back to the original intent of marriage as one man and one woman made one flesh by God for life. Jesus taught:

Matthew 19:6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (cf. Mark 10:8-9)

Jesus taught that divorce was allowed and regulated because of the hardness of our hearts (Mt.19:8; Mk.10:5). Sadly, that hardness of heart still exists. Paul is aware that wrongful divorce among believers does happen. His instruction to believers divorced from believers is clear. Remain unmarried or be reconciled. The background for Jesus’ teaching is Deuteronomy 24. This is the passage the Pharisees appealed to as their scriptural basis for divorce. It will be helpful to look back at that passage to help us understand the context of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching.

Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Much of the debate in Jesus’ day revolved around the meaning of the phrase ‘some indecency’. The rabbi Shammai taught that ‘some indecency’ was limited to fornication or immorality. That is the only legitimate ground for divorce. The rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, taught that ‘some indecency’ meant that a man could divorce his wife for anything that displeased him, like if she burned his meal or if he found another woman more attractive than his wife (Adams, p.64). Rabbi Hillel with his broad understanding of ‘some indecency’ was closer to the actual meaning of the phrase. In the chapter immediately preceding, instructions are given to the Israelites to go outside the camp and bury their excrement, so that the Lord would “not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you” (Deut.23:14). This is the same phrase used in chapter 24 of the grounds used for divorce. So the immediate context demonstrates that ‘some indecency’ is much wider than sexual immorality. But both of these rabbis and their schools of thought missed the point. Deuteronomy 24 is not about what constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce, but rather regulates a current practice that was out of control for the protection of the woman. If a man divorced his wife for ‘some indecency’ and she remarried, he could never have her back again, even if her second husband died. Protection and restraints are put in place because of the hardness of human hearts. The passage says that she is defiled by the second marriage, which implies that the reason for the divorce was not legitimate. This fits Jesus comments on this passage in the gospels.

Jesus’ teaching was that divorce on illegitimate grounds did not free a person for remarriage. He clearly states in the gospels that the husband who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mt.19:9; Mk.10:11; Lk.16:18); the divorcing husband causes the wife to commit adultery (Mt.5:32); that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt.5:32; Lk.16:18); that the woman who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk.10:12). However, in Matthew’s account, Jesus states that the only legitimate exception was sexual immorality, in which case the divorce would be legitimate (5:32; 19:9).

Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ teaching is crystal clear.

1 Corinthians 7:10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Believers must not divorce. If, due to hardness of heart, they do separate, they have only two options open to them: remain unmarried, or be reconciled to their original spouse. Even in the exceptional case of adultery, (which Paul doesn’t address here) believers are permitted, but never required, to divorce; rather the goal is repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation. Believers have God’s word to guide them, God’s Holy Spirit living inside them, and God’s church to counsel and correct them. They have everything they need to find healing and hope and help for difficult circumstances and broken relationships. Because our broken relationship with God was reconciled through the blood of Jesus, we now have access to the power of the gospel to reconcile our relationships with one another.

Remain with the Unbelieving Spouse

Paul goes on to address a situation created by the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. As the good news penetrates the darkness of this world, it reaches into homes. Sometimes a husband and wife will hear the gospel and they will both reject it. Sometimes they will both embrace the gospel and together become followers of Jesus. But sometimes one will reject the gospel and one will become a follower of Jesus. What is to be done in these situations? It seems the counsel in Corinth was ‘it is good for a man not to touch a woman’. If the higher spirituality was celibacy, and even married believers were being encouraged to abstain or divorce, then for a believer to have intimacy with an unbeliever would certainly defile them. In chapter 6, Paul warned against a believer joining with a prostitute.

1 Corinthians 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

Paul will warn in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This clearly forbids a believer from entering into a marriage relationship with an unbeliever, or even dating an unbeliever. But if we apply this to existing marriages where one spouse becomes a follower of Jesus and the other does not, we might wrongly conclude that the best thing for the believer to do is to terminate the marriage. This is not Paul’s counsel. Instead he says, if possible, remain as you are.

1 Corinthians 7:12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

The gospel transforms us. A believer is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. New ways of thinking and feeling and acting. A new heart, new desires. New convictions. This total transformation can cause tension in a marriage. The believer is never to sin, compromise conduct or violate conscience to keep a marriage together. However, the believer is never to use the gospel as an excuse to get out of a marriage. If the unbeliever is willing to put up with the gospel transformation in their spouse, and consents to continue the marriage, the marriage must continue. Paul’s reason goes like this:

Because They are Made Holy

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

This seems confusing at first read. We know that salvation is not transmitted from one person to another. Christianity is not genetic. A child is not a Christian because he is born to Christian parents. A child becomes a Christian when he puts his faith in Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus. A husband does not become a Christian because his wife converts to Christianity. He must himself trust Jesus and be born again. If we read ahead it becomes clear that Paul is not talking about salvation here. In verse 16 he asks:

1 Corinthians 7:16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

So the salvation of the spouse is desired, but in no way assured. The holiness he is talking about is not the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. This holiness is holiness in the sense of ceremonial cleanness or uncleanness. In the Levitical laws, if an Israelite, who is part of God’s people, came in contact with a dead body, they would become unclean (or contaminated), and they would have to go through the appropriate process to become clean or holy again (Lev.21:1). The thinking would go like this: If I, a believer who has been cleansed by the blood of Christ, come into intimate contact with my unbelieving spouse, whom the Bible says is dead in their trespasses and sins, wouldn’t I become contaminated or defiled? No, Paul says, it is more like the altar in the tabernacle; whatever touched the altar became holy or set apart to God (Ex.29:37). He uses children as an example. If your children have not yet become followers of Jesus, do you cut off relationship with your unbelieving children because they may contaminate you? Or do you invest in them with the longing to see them become followers of Jesus? How much more should you invest in your unbelieving spouse! Because of their relationship with you, they are set apart, and God is at work! Peter gives instruction to wives with unbelieving husbands.

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

If the Unbelieving Spouse Separates

Paul’s instruction to those with an unbelieving spouse is ‘if at all possible, remain as you are’. But that is not always possible.

15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

So here Paul deals with real life situations. The believing spouse is to do everything in his or her power to make the marriage work, short of sinning. But in this case both parties do not have everything they need to resolve difficulties. The unbeliever may not be willing to listen to the word of God or the counsel of the church, and the unbeliever does not have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work within. The unbeliever may choose to end the marriage. In this case, Paul commands the believer to cooperate with the divorce. In this situation, the believer is not enslaved. This would imply that the divorce is legitimate and the believer now has the freedom to marry a believer. This does not mean that they should remarry, but only that they may. Paul’s counsel in this entire chapter is that, if possible, it is best to remain as you are. His instruction to the separated believers in verse 11, that they must remain unmarried or be reconciled, is not repeated here. Instead he says that the believer divorced from the unbeliever is not enslaved. Paul has told us that this new situation is outside the scope of Jesus’ teaching on divorce in the gospels. His instructions are an application of the principle of peace found in Romans.

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

If you are married to an unbeliever and they are willing to live at peace with you, then stay. If they are hostile toward you and toward the gospel, let them leave.

His last statement brings hope as well as freedom. How do you know if you will save your spouse? If the unbeliever is willing to stay, they may very well, as Peter indicates, be influenced by the gospel transformation they see in you, and ‘be won without a word’. There is hope. But ultimately there is freedom. How do you know if you will save your spouse? Salvation is from the Lord. None of us can save anyone. We may be used by God as instruments in the salvation of another, but God alone is the one who saves. We as followers of Jesus are under obligation to live lives consistent with the gospel. We are called to communicate the gospel. But we are not held accountable for anyone’s response to the gospel. And I should not be so arrogant to think that I am the only instrument God has at his disposal to reach any particular lost person. God is in control and I can trust him. 

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

November 17, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment