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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Ethnic Unity and the Global Gospel

06/07 Obey Jesus; Go Global with The Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200607_global-gospel.mp3

We are disciples of Jesus who obey everything Jesus taught, who are called to make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught. In light of the deep divide that is tearing at our nation today, I want to look at what Jesus taught about ethnic divides.

A Syrophonecian Gentile Canaanite Woman

I want to start with a troubling story from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Jesus had fed 5,000, and Pharisees and Scribes had come from Jerusalem to criticize his ministry. After confronting and offending them, pointing to their heart issues that make them unclean, it says

Matthew 15:21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus went away and withdrew. Mark tells us that Jesus ‘entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden’ (Mk.7:24). Jesus is attempting to withdraw with his disciples, to get out of the spotlight so he can invest in them.

Matthew 15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Mark records that this ‘woman was a Gentile, a Syrophonecian by birth’ (Mk.7:26). The Gentile Canaanites were one of the peoples God commanded his people to drive out under Joshua as they went in to possess the land, lest they be ensnared by their worship practices;

Deuteronomy 12:31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

This woman was descended from some of those people that Israel failed to drive out, that became ‘a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes’ (Josh.23:13). This ethnic divide ran deep, and understand, it was an ethnic divide that God himself created when he chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his own people.

Matthew 15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word.

This woman is crying out to him for mercy, and he is silent. But she is persistent. His ignoring her becomes so awkward, that his disciples attempt to intervene.

Matthew 15:23 …And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus continues to ignore her and answers his own disciples. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Remember Zacchaeus, the filthy tax collector?

Luke 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus described his own mission as ‘to seek and to save the lost. And Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham. He was one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

When Jesus had sent out his twelve back in Matthew 10, he instructed them:

Matthew 10:5 …“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This Canaanite Gentile is outside the scope of his mission. He was not sent to her. But he had come into Gentile territory. He was there. And something we can’t see through the text is his facial expression. We can’t hear his tone. It’s like reading a text message. Be careful not to misinterpret the words.

And pay attention to what he does not do. He does not send her away, as his disciples suggested. It is not clear whether they meant to send her away with or without the miracle she requested. They may have wanted him to just give her what she asked to get rid of her. They were clearly annoyed and didn’t really care about her.

But Jesus cares deeply about people. He is having this conversation in front of her. He makes her feel that she is outside. He did not come for her. But he is not only pushing her, he is pushing his own disciples to deeper understanding.

Matthew 15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

She will not relent. She has a need, her daughter. His words didn’t drive her away, rather they drew her closer. He was sent to sheep, lost sheep. She is willing to humble herself, to come close to him and kneel. She originally addressed him from a distance as ‘O Lord, Son of David,’ but she has no claim to access him as the Davidic king, so she simply addresses him as Lord, ‘Lord, help me.’

Matthew 15:26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch! This sounds so harsh. It comes across as if he is calling her a dog. But something that doesn’t come through clearly in our English translation is that he uses the diminutive form of the word ‘dog’ in the original, which softens the blow. It is still a blow, but it is softened. He uses the word ‘little dog’ or puppy. Most dogs in Israel were wild scavenging mangy street dogs, but his reference is to a house dog that is part of the family. And he is answering her in a parable. The children are God’s chosen people. The bread is the blessings and provision of God for his people. She understands his parable and offers no objection. She agrees. But even the house dogs in their turn are fed.

Matthew 15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus said that it would not be right to deprive the children in order to feed the dog. She agrees, but argues that there is no deprivation with Jesus, but rather excess. The table he sets is full and overflows. She meets his diminutive ‘little dogs’ with her own diminutive ‘little crumbs. Little crumbs for little dogs. She implies that the casting out of a demon and the healing of the sick was for Jesus merely a little crumb, something small from his overflowing surplus, that took nothing away from the children. She would be content with a little nothing of a miracle.

Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus not only healed her daughter from a distance, but also commended her faith. This Canaanite Gentile believed in Jesus to a greater extent than so many of his own people.

A Roman Centurion

This story is parallel to Matthew 8, where another Gentile, a Roman Centurion came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. It would be Roman soldiers under the direction of a centurion who would nail him to the cross. We are not told the ethnicity of the servant, but Jesus does not object; he offers to come to his house to heal him.

Matthew 8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’ This centurion was also willing to humble himself. He willingly acknowledged his own unworthiness, as well as the omnipotent power of Jesus’ word. He believed in him.

Matthew 8:10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

The only two people commended in Matthew for their great faith were a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman. And Jesus goes so far as to say that the unbelieving sons of the kingdom will be thrown out to make room for those coming from the east and the west who will eat at the table in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus pictures an ethnically diverse crowd of those who truly believe in him seated together around his table.

House of Prayer for All The Nations

The thing that stirred Jesus to anger, that stirred him to drive people out of the temple with a whip was that his ‘house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers’ (Mk.11:17). Jesus passionately opened access to every nation to seek the Lord in prayer.

Any who come to Jesus must acknowledge that they have no right to him. We must humble ourselves and ask for his mercy, a good gift we don’t deserve. We don’t demand or presume, we plead. Lord be merciful to me a sinner! Lord, please do not give me what I deserve! I humbly ask for mercy, a good gift that is the opposite of what I have earned.

First Jerusalem

Jesus was sent first to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But his mission was bigger than that. He commissioned his disciples to

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …

Luke 24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus intended his original Jewish disciples to make disciples beginning in Jerusalem but extending to all nations, to the end of the earth. And his disciples followed this pattern, ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (Rom.1:16). Even Paul, who was commissioned to preach the good news to the Gentiles, started by reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue, but when the good news was rejected by them,

Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

The good news of the Jewish Messiah was to be proclaimed to the Jew first, and then to the non-Jew.

Other Sheep Not of This Fold

In John 10, Jesus uses a different metaphor.

John 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Jesus has sheep of another fold. But they are all just sheep. And what characterizes his sheep is that they listen to his voice. His diverse sheep included a Canaanite woman and a Roman centurion. And he intends for us to be one flock under one shepherd. He intends for us his sheep to be one.

Ethnic Reconciliation and Unity

The revelation worship song to the Lamb is this:

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

As it says in Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2:13 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.

He has made us both one. In his own flesh he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross. He has killed the hostility. This is the good news. We must all humbly receive it as a gift we don’t deserve. How dare we try to resurrect ethnic hostility that he was crucified to abolish?

***

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

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

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Disqualified

04/06 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Disqualified;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140406_1cor9_24-27.mp3

1 Corinthians 9 [SBLGNT]

19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω· 20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω· 21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους· 22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω. 23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

24 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε. 25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον. 26 ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως, οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων· 27 ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι.

1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

 

The Corinthians are insisting on their rights. We all have our rights. We have the right to be treated a certain way, to be listened to, the right to be respected, the freedom to do what we want to do. Paul makes a case for his own basic rights, his right to food and provision, and his freedoms, and then he holds himself up as an example of how a follower of Jesus should use those freedoms and rights, not for self interest, but for the sake of the gospel.

Centrality of the Gospel

Central to all of Paul’s living is the gospel. His life has been transformed by the good news that Jesus, fully God, stooped to become man and suffer to save us. His heart has been transformed by the gospel of a God who left his throne in glory to come down to so identify with us that he bore our sins in his own body on the tree so that we might receive the gift of his perfect righteousness. God became man, became sin, to save sinners. Paul is willing to become like Jews to win Jews, to become like Gentiles to win Gentiles, to become weak (because we all are truly weak and helpless in our sin), in order to save those who are weak. Having been transformed by the gospel, his life is now shaped by the gospel. He begins to follow his Master and Lord who, being free from all, took on the form of a servant in order to rescue those who were slaves to sin.

Cultural Flexibility in Evangelism

Paul models for us the principle of cultural flexibility for the sake of evangelism. In order to win Jews to Christ, the Jew did not have to abandon his cultural heritage. Neither did Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved from their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus do not have to become Western to come to Jesus. When bringing the gospel to lost people across the street or around the globe, we must be careful to discern what is the unchangeable core gospel message and what are the flexible cultural externals. We, we who have been transformed by the cross of our Lord Jesus are to be the ones to move to bridge the cultural divide for the sake of the gospel. We are not to stand on our culture or preference or style or tradition and demand that lost people come to us and become like us. We are to go to them. That Christ, the promised Messiah-King died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he presented himself alive to many eye-witnesses, that is the gospel message. What you eat, what you drink, what you wear, where you meet, what kind of music you prefer, those are issues in which we are free to move toward lost people in order to win them to Christ.

Understand, also, that there are clear limits to our flexibility. Paul never said that to the idolaters he became an idolater, or to win the sexually immoral he became sexually immoral, or to reach the drug addicts he began to use drugs, or to win the gossips he became a gossip. With the Gentiles he could eat a pulled pork sandwich, and with the Jews he could eat a kosher hot-dog because Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mk.7:19). But he was not free to hate or lust or covet or be proud or grumble or gossip. He was under obligation to love. Love God and love others.

Could an Apostle Go to Hell?

Paul raises a question in verse 23 that he fleshes out in the rest of the chapter. He says

23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Paul says that he becomes all things to all people with the purpose of winning them to the gospel, and he does this in order that he might become a fellow-partaker in the gospel. Does this mean that he fears he will not participate in the gospel, that he will not share in gospel benefits if he didn’t life his life to win as many as possible? Is it possible for an apostle who was assigned by Jesus to preach the gospel to fail in the end to be saved by that gospel? It was Jesus who said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.10:22; 24:13; Mk.13:13). Paul holds himself up as a dire warning for the Corinthians and for us to examine our own hearts to see if we are walking in the gospel. The Corinthians felt they had freedom in the gospel to participate in idolatry. Paul has warned them of the danger their participation posed to those with weak consciences who might be led astray, those for whom Christ died. Now he warns that by their participation in idolatry, they themselves might be disqualified.

 

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul is comparing the Christian life to an athletic contest. The Corinthians were rolling out their lawn chairs and sipping umbrella drinks. Paul is saying ‘wake up! Start running! You are in the race! You are in danger of being disqualified!’ The Corinthians were very familiar with the Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games and held every other year just outside of Corinth. The Corinthians loved their sports, and they understood what it cost to compete as an athlete. No one showed up on race day in their toga and flip-flops, finishing off their milkshake and pizza expecting to do well in the race. There were at least 10 months of rigorous training, strict diet and spartan lifestyle leading up to the games. The life of the athlete was characterized by the most severe self-discipline and self-denial for the purpose of winning the prize. No one entered the stadium to run with the goal of coming away with a t-shirt that read ‘I ran in the Isthmian games’. There was great honor for the winner, so much so that one emperor complained that the sports hero received more honor than the general returning from battle victorious. Every athlete has his eye on the prize. Every athlete that enters the race runs. Every athlete runs to win. And the prize at the Isthmian games was a wreath of wilted celery!

Agonize for the Prize

Paul is placing their beloved sporting event next to the race that every follower of Jesus has entered. The word translated ‘athlete’ in verse 25 is (ἀγωνίζομαι) which is where we get our English word ‘agonize’. This word paints a picture of an intense struggle with an adversary. Following Jesus is not easy. It is a struggle. The Christian life is often compared in Scripture to an athlete, a farmer, a soldier. Difficult, demanding, grueling, exhausting. That is what we have signed up for. But take heart, comrades, it is worth it. There is a prize to win. It is of infinitely more value that a wilted stalk of celery. Remember in the context, what Paul is out to win. He becomes all things to all men for the sake of the gospel, in order to save as many as possible. He intends to win Jews, to win those under the law, to win those outside of the law, to win the weak to Christ. Our prize is not a stalk of wilted celery, our prize is eternal fellowship with those we have won to Christ. We will share with them in the blessings of the gospel for all eternity.

Jesus taught in the parable about the soils:

Matthew 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Genuine believers bear fruit. We were created to reproduce. In the beginning, God made all creatures according to their kinds and blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will produce more healthy followers of Jesus. Jesus said:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Run to win. Win as many as possible to Christ. We do not run to receive a perishable wreath. We run to increase our joy in the gospel by sharing the gospel with as many as possible.

We do not run to receive the honor and applause of men, but of God. We run to hear these words:

Matthew 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Self-Control

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

He specifically highlights the self-control necessary to compete effectively in the athletic world. There are things we must give up in order to win. There are things that are legitimate rights that we have that we must surrender if we are to win. Nobody says that the athlete does not have the right to stay out late the night before the big race eating and drinking. Nobody says that he doesn’t have the right to wear his bathrobe and flip-flops in the race. Nobody says he doesn’t have the right to carry a backpack filled with his most prized possessions as he runs. No one will say that he does not have the right to stop and text a selfie to his girlfriend in the middle of the race. He has the right, but everyone will tell him that he will never win if he enters the race weighed down, encumbered and distracted with all those things.

Every one who agonizes toward the prize does not walk around with a backpack, gathering up all his rights and entitlements. The athlete who wins lays down and lets go of everything that does not push him toward the goal. He has power over desires, pleasures, rights, appetites. He controls them; they do not control him. Paul holds himself out as an example.

26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul has the gospel always in focus. He does not wander here and there. He does not waste time on side pursuits. He adds the metaphor of fighting to that of running. He does not miss his opponent. He lands every punch. And the adversary he is fighting is his own body, his own appetites, his own desires, even his rights. He is ruthless in keeping his bodily appetites under control. Literally, he says I punch my body under the eye and lead it around as my slave. Because we are bodily creatures, often we allow our bodies to control us. We listen to our bodies. ‘I’m hungry, I’m tired, I need to be amused, I need to be pampered, I need a break’. We need to take charge over our bodies and say ‘enough! You have had enough. Now get up, there is work to do. There are lost people to reach. We have a race to win.’

Disqualified

The stakes in this race are so high. Paul says he does it all to avoid disqualification. In the context of winning others to Christ, preaching to others, saving others, his meaning is clear. There is the real possibility that the one who declares the message of the gospel to others, if he has not believed the gospel himself, if he has not been transformed by that gospel, in the end will not be saved by the good news that he has preached to others. Jesus warned:

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

This is a sobering prospect. In 2 Corinthians Paul challenges them to

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

The same word translated ‘fail to meet the test’ is translated here as disqualified. It means to be tested and proven false; demonstrated not to be genuine. The apostle Paul himself says that he aggressively exercises self-control “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Assurance of Salvation

Does this mean that the apostle lived in doubt and fear, uncertain of his own salvation? And what would that mean for us? No, this same apostle also wrote:

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

He wrote at the beginning of this very letter to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:7 …our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Romans he wrote:

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And in chapter 8:

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

The apostle John wrote

1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

Paul never says that he fears that he might be disqualified or doubts his own salvation. He expresses bold confidence in Christ, in whose hands his eternity is secure. But he does say that he exercises self-control so that he will not be disqualified or tested and proved false. How does this fit together? If salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, where do our efforts at discipline and self-control fit? I think Philippians 2 gives us some help.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We are clearly commanded to work out our own salvation, and this is connected with obedience. We are not told to work for our salvation. Underneath our work of obedience is God’s prior causative work. We work because God works in us. God’s work in us is the cause both of our inclination and our energy to work. Our work is the fruit which grows out of divinely regenerated soil. Or as James would say it, our works are the outward demonstration of genuine faith. So, we do not sit still and do nothing because we say that salvation is all of grace. Instead, because salvation is all a gift of God’s grace, we run the race all the more diligently, because we know that it is God who freely supplies us with both the desire to run and the energy to run.

In 1857, the Princeton theologian Charles Hodge wrote:

What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth or hell could ever separate him from the love of God. Rom 8:38, 39. The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, “O wretched man that I am;” and, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” Rom 7:24, 25. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian who is always in doubt.” (C.Hodge)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

As followers of Christ, we must be willing to lay aside our rights and serve others in order to win them to Christ. We are not aimless, we are not purposeless. Our goal is clear. Strict self-control is necessary. Become all things to all people in order by all means to win some. 

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

April 6, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 7:17-19; Remain as Called; Circumcision is Nothing

11/24 1 Corinthians 7:17-19 Remain As You Were Called; Circumcision is Nothing;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131124_1cor7_17-19.mp3

1Cor 7 [SBLGNT]

17 Εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ κύριος, ἕκαστον ὡς κέκληκεν ὁ θεός, οὕτως περιπατείτω· καὶ οὕτως ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις πάσαις διατάσσομαι. 18 περιτετμημένος τις ἐκλήθη ; μὴ ἐπισπάσθω· ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ κέκληταί τις; μὴ περιτεμνέσθω. 19 ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν, καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ. 20 ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω. 21 Δοῦλος ἐκλήθης ; μή σοι μελέτω· ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι. 22 ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν· ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ. 23 τιμῆς ἠγοράσθητε· μὴ γίνεσθε δοῦλοι ἀνθρώπων. 24 ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ.

1Cor 7 [ESV2011]

7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

In chapter 7, Paul has begun to answer questions from the Corinthians. Chapter 7 addresses the hot topics of sex, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and singleness. In verses 17-24 we come to the core of this passage, where Paul gives the underlying principle that he is applying to these various relational situations, and he demonstrates how he is applying it with two extreme scenarios. At first it seems abrupt and out of place to address circumcision and slavery in the middle of a chapter about marriage and singleness, but we will see how this relates to what he is teaching throughout this passage. It will be helpful to look at the broad flow of the passage and see where verses 17-24 form the core of this chapter, where he lays out his guiding principle, remain as you are.

Structure of Chapter 7

In verse 1, he repeats the Corinthian slogan ‘it is good for a man not to touch a woman’ and he begins to apply a different guiding principle to various relational circumstances; ‘each one should remain in the condition in which he was called’.

2-5 mutual obligations of marriage – remain as you are: do not deprive one another (unless temporarily by agreement for prayer)

6-9 to the unmarried and widows; good to remain as they are, (unless not gifted for celibacy then they must marry)

10-11 to the married where both husband and wife are believers; remain as you are (unless separated; then be reconciled)

12-16 to the married where the husband or wife is not a believer; remain as you are (unless the unbeliever leaves; then you are free)

17 principle: as the Lord has gifted and called, so walk

18-19 circumcised or uncircumcised; remain as you are

20 principle: each remain in your calling

21-23 slave or free; remain as you are (unless you can be free)

24 principle: each remain in your calling

25-26 to the virgins; remain as you are

27-28 remain as you are; free from or bound to a wife (unless you desire to marry – it is not a sin)

29-31 temporality of this world

32-35 advantages of singleness

36-38 virgins free to marry (but better to remain)

39-40 widows free to remarry (but better to remain)

Jesus Overcomes All Ethnic, Social and Gender Barriers

Paul widens his discussion from the roles of men and women in singleness and marriage to include other major societal issues of circumcision/uncircumcision and slavery/freedom. This parallels what he taught to the Galatian believers.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Our relationship to Jesus tears down all major social and cultural barriers. The major ethnic barrier between Jew and Greek (or circumcised and uncircumcised) is nullified in Christ. The major social status barrier between slave and free is abolished in Christ. The major gender barrier between male and female (including all the various sub-categories of single, married, divorced, widowed, remarried) are all made nothing at the foot of the cross. This does not mean that ethnic, social or gender differences no longer exist; those differences are very real, but that they have no bearing on how one is rescued by Jesus. This is the great truth of Revelation 5 and 7 that people from every tribe and language and people and nation will be worshiping Jesus together around his throne. But a person of Jewish descent and a non-Jewish person both enter into a relationship with Jesus in the same way. A slave and free person, or a social outcast and a CEO must both humbly seek forgiveness for their sins at the cross. A man and a woman both equally must believe the good news about Jesus to be saved. The Corinthians were asking if there was a higher spirituality to celibacy over marriage, if abstinence within marriage earned extra points with God, if asceticism was spiritually beneficial. Paul says no, remain as you are. Whether you are male or female, single, married, widowed, divorced, none of this changes your status with God in the smallest degree. There is no spiritual advantage to any ethnic group, any social standing, or any marital status.

Assigned

1 Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Paul states the foundation principle for everything he has said in this chapter. He says ‘this is my rule in all the churches’. This is not special instructions for a special situation in Corinth, he is not singling them out for unique treatment. This is the same teaching he would give any other church in any other circumstance, including our church in our society today. The principle is universally applicable. He points them and us to walk in the way that the Lord Jesus has assigned and that God has called. This idea behind the word ‘assigned’ is divided or distributed. This connects back to what he said in verse 7.

1 Corinthians 7: 7 … But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

God distributes his gifts as he sees fit. God gifts some for singleness and some for marriage. Each one has his own gift from God. We have a natural tendency toward the greener grass syndrome. We are discontent with who we are and where we are and want to be on the other side of the fence. But Paul tells us to enjoy the grass on your own side of the fence! The Lord Jesus is the one who assigns to each his own particular gifting and situation, and Paul advises us to walk in that.

He says ‘let each person lead the life’ Literally that could be translated ‘let each person walk this way’ Walking is a favorite metaphor of biblical authors for steady progress in Christian living. We are to walk in the pasture that God has placed us in and not seek to unnecessarily jump fences. If you are single, divorced, or widowed, be that for the glory of God. If you are married, be married for the glory of Christ. Don’t always seek something different. Learn to enjoy who you are where you are. Learn contentment. We make steady progress in holiness when we embrace what God has allotted to us.

Called

He adds ‘and to which God has called him’. Calling plays a significant role in this passage. A form of the word ‘called’ shows up 9 times in these 8 verses; we saw it once in verse 15; it showed up 5 times in chapter 1. In 1:1, Paul was called by the will of God to be an apostle. In 1:2, the believers in Corinth were called to be saints. In 1:9, God called us into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In 1:24, it is God’s call that differentiates between those who hear the gospel, believe, and are being saved; and those who hear the gospel, reject, and are perishing.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. …26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, …

God’s call cuts across social and ethnic barriers. God called both Jews and Greeks. God’s call came to the foolish, the weak, the low, the despised, the nothings of the world in order to eliminate human boasting. When we get to chapter 7, we find that God called divorced people. God called widows and widowers. God called single people into a relationship with him. God assigns gifts as he wills, and God calls different people who find themselves in different situations. Paul’s instruction is:

1 Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Circumcision and Uncircumcision

Paul demonstrates this principle by fleshing out its application to two extreme situations; circumcision and slavery. He starts with circumcision, the outward sign of the Old Covenant people of God. In order to become part of God’s people in the Old Testament, you had to be circumcised. Circumcision was a big deal. When the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, was extended to the Gentile nations in Acts, this became a big dispute among the believers. Did Gentiles have to undergo circumcision and become Jews in order to become followers of the Jewish Messiah? In Acts 10, God sends Peter to the house of a Gentile with the instructions “what God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). By Acts 15 this had become such a major issue that the first church council was formed to answer the question of circumcision for Gentile believers. Peter relays that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9) and he concludes “…we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11). Paul writes his Galatian letter to adamantly oppose the Judaizers who were insisting on the circumcision of Gentile believers as a requirement for their salvation. He says:

Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Apparently this legalistic Judaizing influence was not a problem in the church in Corinth. He doesn’t attack the issue like he does in Galatians; instead he uses it as an example.

1 Corinthians 7:18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.

This sounds strange, because circumcision is an irreversible procedure. But we find in the writings of Celsus documentation of a surgical procedure that was the equivalent of plastic surgery to reverse the appearance of circumcision. In the time of the Maccabees, there were Jewish men under Roman rule that would have this procedure done to hide their Jewish identity when they participated in the Roman gymnasium (the word ‘gymnasium’ literally means to exercise naked; the original Olympic games were carried out naked). Paul applies the principle that we are to remain as we were called to the issue of circumcision. He says that anyone who was uncircumcised at the time of his call should remain uncircumcised, and anyone already circumcised should not seek to reverse the procedure. In the context, Paul is addressing issues of marriage and singleness. We could take circumcision as a metaphor and apply it to his previous discussion on marriage. In the marriage union, two become one flesh, and we should not seek to reverse the irreversible. ‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’ (Mt.19:6).

Circumcision Counts For Nothing

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is amazing.

1 Corinthians 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

This is amazing, because we could easily argue from the Old Testament that circumcision is clearly a commandment of God (Gen.17; 21:4; Lev.12:3). The requirement for circumcision even superseded the Sabbath laws if the eighth day fell on a Saturday (John 7:21-24). But Paul here says that in our New Covenant relationship with Jesus, whether you are circumcised or not is irrelevant and meaningless. How can Paul contrast circumcision with keeping the commandments of God, when circumcision was one of the commandments of God?

If we look to Jesus teaching in John 6, we begin to gain some clarity. Some people asked Jesus this question in the context of gaining eternal life.

John 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus made it clear that going through the motions of obedience to God was worthless without a relationship with Him. Jesus repeatedly teaches that belief in him is the one thing that is required for eternal life.

In 1 John 3, John teaches us what it looks like as believers in Jesus to keep the commandments.

1 John 3:22 …because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

Jesus taught that the greatest command was to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength (Mt.22:37; Mk.12:30). We cannot truly love God if we do not believe that he is who he says he is. But when we believe in Jesus and experience God’s great love for us which he expressed at the cross of our Lord Jesus, that love can then overflow toward others around us. So love for others becomes the expression and overflow of belief in God and love for him.

God never intended us to view his commandments as a list to check off in order to earn his favor. All the way back in Deuteronomy he says:

Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

What God requires is a genuine love for him, to love and serve him with all your heart and soul in response to his love for us. Real circumcision is circumcision of the heart.

Deuteronomy 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

This is fulfilled in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans:

Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

It is in this sense that Paul can say to the Corinthians that what counts is not circumcision or uncircumcision but keeping the commandments of God.

He makes parallel statements to this in his letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Paul is saying just what Jesus is saying. Faith or belief in Jesus powerfully expresses itself in love. The inevitable result of genuine belief in Jesus is love for God and love for other people. A chapter later, in Galatians 6, Paul says:

Galatians 6:15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

A new creation is what counts with God. He says ‘I don’t boast in circumcision; I only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’ Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am now a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

As a new creation, I have new desires, new motives, new loves. My heart has been transformed by God’s love to love God and love others. I no longer seek to earn God’s favor by my performance. Rather I have been transformed by Christ and now naturally do the things that please him. My love for him is a response to his love for me (1Jn.4:19).

When we take these three parallel statements of Paul together and allow them to define each other, we get the full picture of what he is saying. It is not following the letter of the law that gains any standing with God, but becoming a new creation through the new birth. As a new creation we trust Jesus. We believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and we believe that at the cross Jesus took all our sins upon himself. Our belief in Jesus expresses itself in love, an overflow of love for God and love for others, which is a genuine keeping of the commandments of God from the heart.

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

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

November 24, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment