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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Our Pleasure -His Pleasure

11/11_2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Our Pleasure – His Pleasure; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181111_2cor5_9-10.mp3

Paul is staring death in the face. Or rather he is looking through death fixing his eyes on the unseen. He is looking at the ultimate result of his suffering and sees that his present sufferings are preparing for him an exceedingly exceeding eternal weight of glory. He looks at death and says his first choice is to be alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus and be overclothed in his glorified resurrection body. His second choice is to depart and be with Christ even if that means being temporarily unclothed, without a body. And his last choice, he is willing if needed to continue on in the body in fruitful labor for others.

Paul’s desire, his groaning, his longing, is to be at home with the Lord, to be in the presence of Jesus. God has made him for this, and has given his Spirit as a guarantee. But part of being in the presence of Jesus for Paul brings up the issue of judgment.

2 Corinthians 5:6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Is this a category you think in? When you think of heaven, do you think of judgment? Most of the jokes I’ve heard picture Peter at the pearly gates, and if you answer the questions right, you get in. (It is wise to evaluate where you pick up your theology. If it comes mostly from jokes or cartoons, that’s probably not a reliable source.) Paul here tells us that we must all appear before the Lord to give account of what we have done in the body. Is this your expectation? Paul is leaning forward, longing to be in the presence of the Lord, and he knows that that means to appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

Is your primary desire to be with the Lord? And are you eagerly awaiting the judgment? Paul is.

How? How can the prospect of judgment be a desirable thing and not a fearful thing? Or can it be both? Today I want to explore what the bible says about this coming judgment, how it can be both an eager expectation and a fearful thing, and how we should live in light of this coming judgment.

The Gospel: No Condemnation

I want to start by looking at the gospel, because the gospel keeps everything in perspective. The good news of Jesus is that we are unworthy, lost in sin, enemies of God, hopeless. We cannot earn God’s favor no matter what we do. We deserve God’s wrath. Jesus, God the Son, came down to us to live as one of us. He came to take our sin, our our guilt, our condemnation, into himself and pay the price in full on the cross. Jesus said:

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans lays out the good news message, that none are righteous, all have sinned and have earned God’s wrath (ch.1-3). But we are made righteous by grace as a gift through the wrath-satisfying sacrifice of Jesus (ch.3). This gift of forgiveness and righteousness comes not to those who work for it but who simply receive it, by faith; believing, trusting, depending (ch.4). We now have peace with God and strong hope for the future (ch.5). Even the continuing struggle with sin we experience will not win in the end (ch.6-7). In chapter 8 he reaches the climax: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation!

Romans 8:33 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. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that …[nothing, nothing, nothing!] 39 …will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are in Christ through faith, depending on him alone. The Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone to the glory of God alone. All who are in Christ through faith have no need to fear condemnation on judgment day.

Judging our Works and the Fear of the Lord

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

There is scholarly debate over who this passage applies to. Does ‘we all’ include all humanity or only believers? In the context Paul is talking about ‘we’ believers, we who have been given the Spirit as a guarantee, ‘we’ who have confidence in the face of death because we will be with the Lord. So whether he broadens the ‘we all’ here to include all humanity, or keeps his focus only on believers, there is no dispute that believers are not excluded. ‘We all’ either is believers or includes believers. We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Each one will receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul says in Romans 14, clearly talking to believers:

Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Each of us believers will stand before the judgment seat of God and give an account of himself to God. Each of us will receive what is due for what we have done in the body, good or bad.

Jesus said:

Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

People will give account for every careless word they speak.” Let that sink in. You will give account for every careless word you speak.

I’ll conceal the names to protect the guilty, but recently one of my children accidentally recorded themselves on my phone telling a friend that they had lied to their parents. I know some of you may be shocked to discover that my kids aren’t perfect. Let me shatter more of your imaginary world; neither are their parents.

I think Numbers 32:23 was one of my parent’s favorite verses:

Numbers 32:23 …be sure your sin will find you out.

We had some fun with that recording. I am tempted to play it back for you right now, but that would expose the guilty party. But imagine if someone was recording your entire life, every careless word you speak. (Some of you do that to yourselves already on Facebook!) But imagine every careless word recorded, and someone could play it back to you, so that ‘by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.’ That is a terrifying prospect. Remember, for the believer, there is now no condemnation because Jesus paid for it with his blood.

Jesus said:

Luke 12:2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Jesus is telling us to fear God, the judge of all the earth. Paul in the next verse (2Cor.5:11), concluding his thought on the judgment seat of Christ says “therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord.” In verse 1 he said ‘we know we have an eternal home in the heavens.’ In verse 6 ‘we know that to be at home in this body is to be away from the Lord.’ In verse 11 he says that we know the fear of the Lord, and it motivates us to action. ‘For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.’ It is necessary, mandatory that we appear, that we are exposed, made manifest, laid bare. This awareness of the coming judgment is meant to put the fear of God into us.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 25 describing the kingdom of God.

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 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.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 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.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

In Luke’s version of this story the master answers:

Luke 19:22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! …

Continuing in Matthew,

Matthew 25:26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus in this story holds out both the hope of reward and eternal joy, and the warning of eternal judgment. Many people struggle with passages of warning in the Bible because they sound like they contradict justification by faith alone. When we run into warnings in scripture, we shouldn’t try to explain them away. They are there to warn us. We should heed the warning. The scripture is clear that our works do not contribute to our salvation; that justification is a gift received by faith alone. But the scripture is also clear that the faith which justifies is never alone.

1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Works are never the grounds for justification. But works naturally flow out of the life of one who is forgiven by grace alone. Even in the story of the talents, it begins with the gift of the master, entrusting his own property to each one. I believe the warnings are there because there are some who claim to believe, but who will be revealed to be false on the final day. The possibility of hearing “I never knew you, depart from me” (Mt.7:23) is meant to put the fear of God in us. Jesus, and Peter and John and Paul and James and the author of Hebrews are warning us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2Cor.13:5), and they urge us to make adjustments now, before it is too late.

In Matthew 12, where Jesus says that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” he says that “a tree is known by its fruit,” (v.33) and it is “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v.34). Bearing fruit does not change the nature of the tree; it demonstrates the nature of the tree. Actions and words do not change the heart, they demonstrate what is in the heart. If the fruit is bad, we should take a careful look at the root and ask God by his grace to change our hearts.

When Our Pleasure is His Pleasure

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

Paul is energized by the prospect of the judgment seat of Christ and being forever in the presence of the Lord, so that whether at home or away, he makes it his aim to please him. What he is most eager for, what he pursues with all his heart, what is of highest value for him is to please the Lord. This is truly amazing – did you know that we CAN please him? Now, in these fragile earthy bodies, we can bring pleasure to God! We know that ‘all our righteous deeds (when by them we seek to earn favor with God) are filthy rags’ (Is.64:6). ‘Anything that is not of faith is sin’ (Rom.14:23). But there are good works that flow out of faith that are pleasing to the Lord.

Colossians 1:9 …we …pray …that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will… 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

We can be fully pleasing to him. We can bear fruit that corresponds to the Spirit who lives inside us!

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How do we do this?

1 Peter 4:11 …whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ….

When our good works are a response of faith to the grace we have been freely given, they bring glory to the Father. When we serve in faith, in dependence on God who gives the strength, then God gets the glory.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Because we have been freely forgiven, promised eternity with him, sealed with his Holy Spirit, our hearts naturally overflow with a desire to please him. We want to please him, not in order to get something from him, but because we have been freely given so much.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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November 12, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just and Righteous

02/21 Just and Righteous; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160221_just-righteous.mp3

We have been looking at the character of God, specifically at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people. Today we will look at God’s justice and righteousness, which is his goodness expressed by rewarding each one according to his work, and treating the righteous and the wicked distinctly (Bavinck, p.206, 215).

In Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, God replies:

Exodus 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

In the next chapter God proclaims his character.

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

There seems to be dissonance in this verse. We might be inclined to replace the comma with a full stop in the middle of verse 7. We like to hear about a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” But it might make us squirm a bit, and it is clearly contrary to our cultural climate to finish the sentence. We might not be so bold as to take out our black highlighter and strike the words from the page, but our voice might trail off, a bit embarrassed, and mumble the last lines under our breath. But we must finish the sentence! We want to know God, not as we wish for him to be, which would be to form a god after our own image, and worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator, but we want to know God as he truly is, as he reveals himself to be. And he revealed himself to Moses as a God “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

God is just. God is righteous. God will not let sin go unpunished. God will by no means clear the guilty. We might naturally recoil at this idea, or be embarrassed by it. We might feel a bit like the child of a father who easily loses his temper and flies into a fit of rage. The child is embarrassed by the actions of his father, especially if an outburst happens in front of his friends, but he loves his father and tries to downplay his imperfections, drawing attention rather to his better qualities. But to feel this way is to reveal that we misunderstand God’s justice, God’s righteousness, God’s wrath. To view God this way is to impose the limitations and imperfections we see in sinful creatures on the perfect and sinless Creator. We should not be embarrassed by God’s righteousness, or try to explain away his wrath. Rather we should delight in the justice of God, as an aspect of God’s goodness, because God delights in his own justice.

The Lord Delights in Justice and Righteousness

Listen to how the Bible speaks about God’s justice and righteousness.

Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Hear this: the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice. The Lord delights in practicing justice and righteousness. God’s justice is a grounds for our boasting. God delights to reward each one according to his work. God is exalted in his treating of the righteous and wicked differently, as they each deserve.

Notice also, how justice and righteousness are coupled with his steadfast love. God’s justice and righteousness are not the opposite of his grace, mercy and steadfast love, they are not contrary to or in tension with his other attributes. Rather, God’s justice and wrath, and his love, mercy, and grace, rightly understood, are in perfect harmony.

Justice and righteousness are a positive expression of God’s goodness. To clarify this, it may be helpful to imagine a god who had no concern for justice, who was soft on sin and tolerated evil, who allowed the wicked to prosper and the upright to be persecuted. When we see images of persecution and slavery, of racial inequality and child prostitution, drug lords and terrorists, when we see wicked men prey on the innocent and helpless without consequence, our hearts cry out with the Psalmist “how long O Lord?”

Psalm 94:1 O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 ​Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! 3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6 They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 ​and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

The Psalmist sees injustice and cries out for the Judge of the earth to repay to the arrogant proud wicked evildoers what they deserve; he cries out for the God of vengeance to shine forth.

Many times in Scripture, we see God pouring out on his enemies what they deserve as a ground for worship

Revelation 19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39-43; Revelation 11:15-18; 16:4-7; Psalm 96, Psalm 98, etc.)

That God is just, that he punishes evil is grounds for worship. That God does what is right, that he rewards the righteous and punishes evildoers is something to rejoice in.

The Judge of All The Earth

In Genesis 18, God came down to give promises to Abraham and to punish Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The Lord is revealing his own just and right dealings with these wicked cities as an example for Abraham to learn justice and righteousness. He is teaching him to keep the way of the Lord by modeling his own righteousness and justice.

Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

The Lord does not fly off into a fit of uncontrolled rage. The outcry was great and their sin was grave, so he investigates. He goes down to see.

Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Abraham understood that the Lord is the Judge of all the earth. And as judge, he must do what is just. Abraham understood that it is unjust to sweep away the righteous with the wicked, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, to treat the righteous and wicked in the same way. For the sake of 10 righteous people God would spare the entire city. In the next chapter, we see the angels seizing Lot and his wife and his two daughters by the hand and bringing him out and setting him outside the city. The angel said “escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.”

Peter holds this episode up alongside Noah and the destruction of the ungodly world with a flood to demonstrate that

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

The Judge of all the earth will do right. He differentiates between the righteous and the wicked, giving to each what he deserves.

God Repays Each According to his Deeds

Jeremiah 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The Lord does not judge based on appearances. He searches the heart and tests the mind, he judges every man justly. Jesus says

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

Peter says to the church,

1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed … 19 …with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Our Father judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. Paul spells this out in Romans. In chapter 1, he says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In chapter 2 he says:

Romans 2:2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

God shows no partiality. God is a righteous judge, and his righteous judgments will be revealed on the day of wrath, when he renders to each one according to his works.

The Soul Who Sins Shall Die

In Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31, God clarifies a misunderstanding of his people when he said that he will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut.5:9). There came to be a proverb ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Jer.31:29; Ezekiel 18:2), implying that God punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers. This, indeed would not be just. But fathers need to realize that they set patterns for generations to come. There is a tendency for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, and the children will not be able to excuse their sins because of the bad example of their parents. God says:

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Ezekiel 18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As we have seen, God is good, he is inclined to extend undeserved mercy and overwhelming grace. He is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands [of generations].’ He prefers to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. He invites us to turn and live!

The Good News of God’s Righteousness

But if God is just and righteous and will by no means clear the guilty, if he must treat us as our works deserve, if he must punish sin, then that leaves us all in a whole heap of trouble, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s the point of Romans 1 and 2, that ‘every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.’

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.

We return to the tension we felt in the beginning. How can God be merciful and gracious, abundant in steadfast love, inclined to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he is just and will by no means clear the guilty? How can God forgive, and yet repay each person according to what he has done? This is the power of God and the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel that addresses the problem for us of the wrath of God.

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

God’s righteousness. Righteousness given to believing sinners by grace as a gift. We are all guilty. To get what we deserve is to experience hell. But if we will cry out to God for mercy, if we depend on the work of another, we can be given a gift we do not deserve. We can be declared righteous as a gift through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus. Jesus became our substitute. He took my place, and I take his place. All my sin was laid on him, he became sin for me, and God’s righteous wrath was propitiated, satisfied, in him. My sin got what it deserved; death. I now get what Jesus’ perfect obedience earned; the declaration of righteousness, and the reward; eternal life. Notice the concern to demonstrate God’s justice and righteousness.

Romans 3:25 …This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…

God’s own justice does not allow him to merely pass over sins. God’s righteousness is upheld both in punishing the evildoer in the person of the Lamb of God who became sin for us, and in rewarding the righteous, as I now come to be in Jesus through faith and enjoy his inheritance.

We see this same emphasis on God’s justice in 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we turn and agree with God about our sin, his justice is satisfied, because we see sin as it really is, as an offense that must be punished, and he is just to forgive and cleanse us, because the punishment has been poured out on Jesus. This is no mere outward declaration. It changes us. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, then we are righteous. We are born anew, given a new heart, given the Holy Spirit, and we begin to hate what God hates and to love him above all else. The Spirit begins to bear fruit in us, and God, who searches the heart will give to us according to the fruit of our deeds.

May we praise God for his justice! We don’t want a God who doesn’t take sin seriously. A God who is soft, compromising, inconsistent is not worthy of our worship. The cross of our Lord Christ is a public demonstration of both the justice and mercy of our overwhelmingly loving God.

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

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , | 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 3:5-9; The Nature of Christian Ministry

05/19 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The Nature of Christian Ministry;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130519_1cor3_5-9.mp3

  1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

5 Τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι δι’ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν. 6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν· 7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων, ἀλλ’ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός. 8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον, 9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί· θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε.

 1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is addressing the unhealthy immaturity of the believers in Corinth. They think they are advanced, spiritual, ready for meat doctrines. Paul points to their division, their quarreling, their party spirit, their jealousy and strife, and says that although you have God’s Holy Spirit living inside you, you are acting as if you were merely unregenerate humans, people controlled by fleshly instincts.

In mentioning the party divisions between the followers of Paul and the followers of Apollos, he is coming back to the issue he identified as the root of their problems in 1:12. The intervening chapter and a half laid the groundwork for them to understand what true wisdom is. God’s wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified. To follow a leader who is not popular but instead got himself executed as a common criminal seems foolish. But this message is not only wisdom but power. God in Christ is turning the wisdom of the world on its head and bringing it to nothing. Through this foolish message he is saving people; not the wise and well-to do cultural icons, but the low, the losers, the nothings. The method of the preacher fit the message; not polished oratory, but plain proclamation of the truth, the simple facts of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was crucified in the place of sinners. This message is not able to be understood by those whose minds are twisted and darkened by sin. It is a spiritual message that can only be received by those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit of God. So we who have seen the beauty of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, we who have received the Spirit of God so that we can understand the things freely given us by God have received a great treasure. We have been given the mind of Christ.

But although the Corinthian believers had been given this greatest of all treasures, although they had received the Holy Spirit of God, they refused to grow up. They had not passed out of the self-centered phase of infancy where all they can say is ‘mine’. Although they possessed the mind of Christ, they were not living lives of humility, love, and self-sacrifice, putting the interests of others before their own, which is characteristic of the mind of Christ. Instead they were operating out of divisiveness, jealousy and strife.

The Nature of Spirituality (2:10-16)

First, Paul had to set them straight on the nature of spirituality. A spiritual person is not a person who has achieved a more advanced level of spirituality than another Christian. Instead, a spiritual person is a person who has received the Spirit of God, which is characteristic of all believers in Jesus. The unspiritual person is the person who does not have God’s Spirit, and is perishing. The believers in the church in Corinth were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross. Their competitive division, jealousy and strife were evidence of immaturity.

The Nature of Christian Ministry (3:5)

Now he goes on to clarify for them the nature of Christian ministry. In Corinth, there was a tendency either to overvalue or to undervalue those who had been placed in leadership roles in the church. Some elevated their favorite minister to celebrity status and acted like groupies in their fan club; others, those who considered themselves more spiritual, asserted that they didn’t need any leader. They had a direct connection with Christ and were above the need for any Christian leadership.

Paul asks ‘what is Apollos, what is Paul? Not who but what. Not the dynamic and powerful speaker and teacher, not the plain speaking persecuted apostle and evangelist and church planter. You are rallying behind the names and persona’s of these figureheads, but what are they?

Paul shifts his metaphor from a mother nursing her newborn infant with milk to servants who wait tables to a field with farmhands, to temple construction with hired laborers.

He says that we (Apollos and Paul) are servants. Diakonoi [διάκονοι], where we get our word deacon, meant a lowly household servant. Cook the meal, serve the tables, clean up after the meal, take out the trash, prepare the next meal. You are placing us on pedestals as heroes to be worshiped, but we are servants. Servants through whom you believed, not in whom you believed. Remember, in 1:13 he asked the absurd rhetorical question ‘was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?’ Of course not! Paul did not die for your sins. Jesus did. You believed in Jesus and were baptized into the name of Jesus. You didn’t believe in Paul or Apollos. You believed through, or because of, or on account of. They were the instruments God used to bring you to faith in him. So don’t undervalue them. Thank God for them. Without them you would not have believed, as Romans 10 says:

Romans 10:14 …And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

God used them to bring you to faith in him, so treasure them, honor them, thank God for them, but don’t put your faith in them. Don’t put them on a pedestal as an object of your devotion and allegiance. Paul tells the Galatians (1:8) that if we (the apostles) flake out and start preaching a different gospel then let us be accursed! The central issue is not the messenger but the message. Many Christians talk about their favorite pastor or bible teacher or denomination as if they were almost divine and worthy of worship. Paul asks the question ‘what are we?’ and answers ‘we are servants, a means to an end, and the end is not us!’ The goal is you believing in Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus. We are servants pointing you to him.

This view of ministry as servants comes straight from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were eager to outdo one another. They were continually jockeying for position, and eager to secure the title of ‘great’ for themselves.

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus holds himself up as the ultimate example for greatness in Christian ministry. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So if you want to be great, you must learn to serve others. The one who is truly great is not the one who wins the popularity contest or the one who gains the most followers. True greatness is a life of humble self-sacrificial service born out of love for others.

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

The Lord assigned to each his role. Literally ‘and to each as the Lord gave’. We are given our assignments by the Lord. We don’t even get to pick what we want to do. Paul will say in chapter 12 about spiritual enablements for service that the ‘Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills.’ We are servants following orders. We might look around the church and say ‘I don’t like my role. I’d rather be doing what he or she is doing’, or ‘I think my role is less important or less valuable than their role, so I’m just going to stay home’ or ‘I think it would be much more effective if I did it this way instead.’ That is jealousy and strife, evidence of immaturity. At the bottom, that is rebellion against an all wise King, assuming that we know better and would arrange things better if we were in charge.

Agricultural Illustration

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul uses an agricultural illustration. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. There are a lot of factors that go into good farming, there is technique and skill and good old fashioned know-how that goes into successful farming. But even the best farmers can lose a crop. Unless the weather cooperates, all is lost. Without the proper amount of sunshine and rain, seeds do not germinate. A late frost can destroy; wind or hail can strip a field. Too much sun or too much rain can drown or scorch a crop. Success in farming is dependent ultimately on God who sends the weather.

So it is with Christian ministry. We each fulfill our God-given roles. We work hard. Hopefully we work with ever increasing skill and diligence. But only God can give growth. That is his gift to give.

Interdependence in Christian Ministry (3:6, 8)

Paul’s illustration shows the interdependence of Christian ministry. I planted, Apollos watered. Without the seed sown in the soil, there will be no crop. Apollos could water the barren earth all day every day, and the only thing it would produce is weeds. The seed has to be sown. If Paul planted good seed into dry ground and there was no water, the seed would lay dormant in the soil. There would be no growth. He who plants and he who waters are one. The Corinthians are dividing between following Paul and following Apollos. Paul says we are not in competition with one another. We are on the same team, working toward the same goal. We find out in chapter 16 that Apollos is actually with Paul in Ephesus when he pens this letter. Paul says:

1 Corinthians 16:12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

We are together, we are united, we are on the same team! Imagine Apollos saying ‘I’m so good, I can irrigate twice as fast as you can plant.’ And half the Corinthian church is cheering him on. Stop it! You’re just going to make a muddy mess. No, the field workers work together toward a common goal. The goal is a fruitful harvest for the owner of the field. Get the seed in the ground, give it sufficient water, and trust that God will produce growth.

Reward for Faithful Christian Ministry (3:8)

Paul says that ‘each will receive his wages according to his labor’. Notice that the wages are not according to fruitfulness but according to faithfulness. Because fruitfulness is ultimately up to God. Some in Christian ministry faithfully till the hard soil with little or no results. When God called Jeremiah (7:27), he told him up front that he is to speak, but the people will not listen. What a discouraging mission – knowing up front that there will be no fruit! But wages are not based on fruit but on faithfulness. Others may be sent to a field that is ripe for harvest and put in half-hearted effort and see amazing results, but they too will be rewarded not for their fruitfulness, but for their labor.

And notice who evaluates the labor of Christian ministers. The Corinthians were all about giving their opinions on how Paul and Apollos were doing. They had their critique of what they did well and what they should have done differently. Some liked one minister better than another, issues of style and personality and technique and delivery. It seems that Christians can easily become connoisseurs of teaching. Tasting, sampling, comparing, evaluating, critiquing, criticizing, condemning. We tend to think that the one who is able to evaluate and critique is the expert in the field with advanced knowledge, a sign of maturity. Paul is saying that this is not a sign of maturity but of immaturity. You are missing the main point of the gospel. When you become a critic, you cease to be a disciple.

I am human. I have a desperate desire to be liked. I want to be accepted by you. But there are times when I need to fill the role of nurse who administers medicine under the Doctor’s orders. I have to come into the exam room with a big needle and you’re not going to like me very much at all. You might cry and throw a fit and tell me what a horrible person I am for causing you such pain, but I am under orders. I could try to be your friend and get you to like me and empty the medicine down the sink. You might think I’m great for the moment, until the disease spreads and begins to kill you. In the end, that would be a great disservice to you and gross negligence in my duties. Of course I want to be liked, but it’s more important that I be found faithful, that I follow the good Doctor’s orders.

In Paul’s analogy, the church is the field, God’s field. The ministers, the servants are God’s fellow-workers. The evaluation and the wages will come from the Master of the field. The evaluation of ministry, the only evaluation that really matters, is God’s evaluation. And that evaluation is coming. Paul will speak more to this issue of reward for faithful ministry in the next section.

Absolute Dependence on God in Christian Ministry (3:6-7)

Even when the planter and the waterer are in perfect harmony, even when they labor faithfully, unless God causes the sun to shine, there will be no fruit. In chapter 2, we were told that:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul is sowing good gospel seed among natural people. Apollos is coming behind and watering that seed with the water of sound biblical teaching. They are in full harmony and cooperation. But unless God shines the light of his Holy Spirit into the minds of unbelievers, there will be no germination of the gospel seed, there will be no life, there will be no growth, and there will be no fruit. So ultimately, growth is dependent on God. If I refuse to sow the gospel seed, God can hire someone else. If I refuse to water with biblical truth, God can hire someone else. But unless God’s reveals these things to us by his Spirit, there can be no life. ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ Paul says ‘some of you are putting me and Apollos on rival pedestals. We are nothing. Nothing! God is everything! We are servants, hired field hands. God gives the growth. Keep God at the center of your worship. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John said:

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. … 29…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Am I faithfully serving in the ministry I have been given? Am I humbly serving out of love for others? Am I looking to God alone for his approval? Am I serving in absolute dependence on God to give the growth? Is my joy complete when Jesus gets all the attention and I fade into the background?

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

May 19, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment