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2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Producing Thanksgiving

11/17_2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Producing Thanksgiving ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191117_2cor9_11-12.mp3

What are you thankful for? What should we be thankful for that we may not be? Is your heart characterized by gratitude? How is thankfulness developed? What can we do to grow our gratitude? Here’s another question: Is there anything that we can do to affect the thankfulness of someone else?

In Paul’s instructions on generosity and cheerful giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9 he gives some important insight into thanksgiving.

2 Corinthians 9:11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

Paul says that there is a way to produce thanksgiving to God. He says that what we do can overflow in many thanksgivings to God. If we want God to be glorified through our lives, then we should be very interested in what he has to say here.

Paul is talking about giving. He builds everything he says on God’s grace, God’s undeserved gift to us in Jesus. He looks to God as the ultimate giver, the source of every good thing. Anything we give to others is actually a re-gifting of what God has first given to us, and that is what he intends for us to do.

Simpleness or Generosity

He says in 2 Corinthians 9:11 “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.” This word translated ‘generous’ is a word we saw before in 8:2. Some interpretation has to happen in translation, and most English translations use the word ‘generosity’ because the context is clearly one of financial giving. But the word itself means simplicity, singleness or sincerity; free from pretense or hypocrisy; not self-seeking; an openness of heart. In Ephesians 6 and in Colossians 3 it is used in the context of a servant’s obedience to his master.

Ephesians 6:5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,

Colossians 3:22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

It is with an undivided heart, as to the Lord, not only while they are watching, but at all times eager to please the Lord. There is to be openness, integrity. Paul used this word to point to his own integrity in 2 Corinthians 1:12

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity…

Simplicity, transparent openness and integrity.

The first translation of the Bible into English, the Wycliffe Bible in 1382 translates like this: “that in all things ye made rich wax plenteous into all simpleness”

A more modern literal translation might read something like this: ‘in all enriched to all simplicity, which works through us thanksgiving to God.’ That doesn’t make great sense in English, so a good translation will put the words in an order that makes sense in the target language, and will pick up clues from the context as to how a word is being used. Paul is talking about an undivided heart, single or simple, seeking in all things to please the Lord, loving the Lord with a whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself. This includes generosity, but it is bigger than generosity.

Enriched to Simplicity

‘In all things enriched to all simplicity.’ You will be enriched in every way to be single-hearted in every way. What does it mean that we will be enriched in everything or in every way? This is defined by the context.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

God will supply everything needed so that we can abound in every good work. He will give us what we need to live a righteously, to distribute freely and give to the poor; he will supply and multiply our seed for sowing and increase our harvest of righteousness. We will be enriched in every way for a simple whole-hearted love for God and neighbor.

What About Poor Christians?

Do you believe this? Do you believe that God will supply all your needs? Does this mean that no Christian will ever be poor? Paul himself said he knew how to be content in plenty and in want. At times he went hungry. The Macedonian believers were in the depths of poverty. The collection was for the poor saints in Jerusalem, because they were poor. Our brothers and sisters are beaten and imprisoned and even killed because of their love for God. How do we account for this?

God doesn’t here promise exemption from poverty. He doesn’t say that as long as you’re following him, you will have enough money for your own needs and extra to give away. Apparently the Macedonians didn’t have enough for their own needs, but they gave anyway. If we view this as a financial formula, we will have to turn a blind eye to all of church history right up through our present day, or we will have to write them all off as not having enough faith.

But if we understand that God will give you all his grace so that you can stand firm in your faith and continue to love God and neighbor even in the worst of circumstances, then this is realistic and reliable encouragement for us.

Bigger Than Humanitarian

2 Corinthians 9:11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

God gives us everything we need so that in every circumstance we can love God and neighbor which will produce thanksgiving to God. Do you believe this? Do you believe that you can live to the glory of God regardless of your circumstances? Do you believe that you can stay faithful to God and serve others even if you have nothing? This is the word of God! This is the promise of God to us. Do we live this way? Do we step out in love and serve, trusting that God will be enough?

Paul says that through us this will produce thanksgiving to God. Paul was involved in the transaction. He was orchestrating the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. He understood that God would use him and his companions to deliver this gift, to be the connecting link between Jew and Gentile churches. He believed that this would produce thanksgiving to God. Paul’s goal was bigger than a humanitarian mission. He was all for alleviating suffering where possible, but his purpose was bigger than that. Paul’s ultimate goal in everything was to bring glory to God. And he shows us how this humanitarian collection will produce thanksgiving to God in verse 12.

2 Corinthians 9:12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

The ministry of this service not only does this, but also does that. Not only does it supply what is lacking in the saints; it does that, as he said back in 8:14 that your abundance will supply their need. It does meet a real need, but it is bigger than that. It is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

Service and Worship

How does it do this? Paul uses an interesting word to describe this ministry. He uses two different words that have a large area of overlap to describe the collection. Both words could be translated ‘ministry’ or ‘service’. It is ‘the ministry of this ministry’ or ‘the service of this service’. The first word has a more a sense of administration or stewardship. It is where we get the word ‘deacon’. It is ministering or administering practical service or help.

The second word is less common, and it comes from the context of the Old Testament priest. John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest, and we are told in Luke 1

Luke 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

And then it says:

Luke 1:23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

That’s our word; his time of priestly service. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word shows up often in connection with the tabernacle and then the temple. It has to do with approaching God in worship. It is where we get our English word liturgy.

Paul describes giving to the poor out of a single heart a service or ministry of priestly worship. Paul refers to this collection as a priestly service in Romans 15.

Romans 15:25 …I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.

Giving is an act of worship. Paul describes his own ministry in these terms.

Romans 15:15 …because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

His language pictures himself in terms of a priest at the altar, presenting a holy sacrifice pleasing to God, only his service is not at the temple, but in the gospel; and his offering is not an animal sacrifice or a grain offering, but people, Gentile people made holy by the Spirit of God.

He uses similar priestly imagery in Philippians 2

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

Here he describes his own life as the offering being poured out on the sacrifice and priestly service of their faith.

Paul has told the Corinthians

1 Corinthians 3:16 …that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 …For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? …

2 Corinthians 6:16 …For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

We are the temple. We are the place of meeting with God. Peter fleshes out this imagery when he says:

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

You are the temple. You are a holy priesthood. You are to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. You get to proclaim the excellencies of him! This is worship. To proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Paul tells the Romans

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Our bodies are the sacrifice, made holy by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus for us. He goes on to tell us more specifically how:

Romans 12:5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity (or simplicity); the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Use your gifts to the glory of God. Through love serve one another.

The book of Hebrews, which focuses on Jesus as our greater High Priest, also exhorts us:

Hebrews 13:15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

A sacrifice of praise; lips that acknowledge his name. Do good and share what you have. In single simplicity love God with all your heart and love and serve your neighbor as yourself.

2 Corinthians 9:11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

The ultimate motive is always God centered. We are always to pursue the glory of God in all things. God the giver deserves to receive the overflow of gratitude for the gifts he has given. When we love and serve others in the strength that he supplies, he gets the glory; we produce thanksgiving; many will overflow in thanksgiving to God.

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

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

2 Corinthians 9:7; God Is a Cheerful Giver

10/27_2 Corinthians 9:7; God Is a Cheerful Giver; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20191027_2cor9_7.mp3

2 Corinthians 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

God loves a cheerful giver. What does it mean to be a cheerful giver? What does this imply about those who don’t give cheerfully (or at all)? Why does God love a cheerful giver?

Proverbs 22:8-9 [LXX]

Paul takes his ideas from Proverbs 22:8-9. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Proverbs 22 reads like this:

Proverbs 22:8 (lit. trans.) The one who sows worthlessness/evil reaps bad, but will fully complete the punishment of his works. A cheerful man and a giver God will bless, but will fully complete the futility of his works, 9 The one who is merciful to the poor, he will himself be maintained, for his own bread he has given to the poor

Then in verse 11 it says:

Proverbs 22:11 (LXXE) The Lord loves holy hearts, and all blameless persons are acceptable with him:…

A cheerful man, even a giver God will bless. The Lord loves purity in heart, the one who is merciful to the poor, who gives his own bread to the poor. God loves a cheerful giver. God will bless a cheerful giver.

A Single Eye

Proverbs 22:8-9 in the ESV reads:

Proverbs 22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail. 9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

He who has a bountiful eye; literally a good eye. What does that mean? Jesus picks up this idea about eyes and money in Matthew 6

Matthew 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy [ἁπλοῦς], your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Jesus says literally ‘if your eye is single’ or ‘simple’. Paul used the noun form of this word to describe the generosity, or literally the simplicity of the Macedonians back in 2 Corinthians 8:

2 Corinthians 8:2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [ἁπλότητα] on their part.

As we have seen, this word translated ‘generosity’ is literally the word for simplicity or single-hearted devotion to the Lord. Paul uses this word again in 9:11 and 13 to describe the heart from which they give. It is simple or single. It is not divided or double minded. Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus said the most important thing is:

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

A cheerful giver gives out of simplicity, eager to please one Master. There is no duplicity or double mindedness. The cheerful giver gives out of single-hearted devotion to Christ.

A Cheerful Giver

What does it mean to be a cheerful giver? We can learn something of what it looks like to give cheerfully, out of a single heart by looking at what Paul describes as the wrong motives. He said in verse 5 that it would be willing and not as an exaction, literally not as greed or covetousness. A greedy or covetous heart is not a cheerful heart.

He says in verse 6 that we should not sow sparingly or stingily, looking at the loss we might incur. That is not cheerful giving.

Verse 7 says that we are not to be reluctant or under compulsion; not out of grief or sorrow, not under pressure or necessity. That is not cheerful giving.

What he says positively is that it should be ‘as he has determined in his heart’ (9:7); out of an abundance of joy, riches of simplicity (8:2), giving themselves first to the Lord (8:5), begging for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints (8:4); a genuine love (8:8); a will and advance desire (8:10-12); out of abundance (8:14); for the glory of the Lord himself (8:19) a predisposed desire and zeal (9:2). They were making preparation (9:2-3), It was a promised blessing (9:5); it was to be upon blessings (9:6)

Upon Blessings

What does he mean in verse 6 to sow bountifully, literally ‘upon blessings’? ‘The one who sows upon blessings, upon blessings also will reap.’ He says in verse 5 that he is sending the brothers to prepare in advance their promised in advance blessing, so that it is ready as a blessing. To bless is to speak or pronounce God’s grace to others. To sow upon blessings is to sow out of a heart that has received God’s blessings; a heart overflowing with God’s blessings. When we have richly received and experienced God’s grace, we can widely scatter God’s amazing grace to others. A cheerful giver is one who liberally scatters blessings because he has lavishly experienced God’s blessings.

God’s Unconditional Love

God loves a cheerful giver. But what does that imply about those who are not cheerful givers? Or not givers at all? Does God not love those who are not cheerful givers? Doesn’t John 3:16 say that God so loved the world? Doesn’t God love everyone?

Let me put this another way. If we say that God loves the world, everyone, and cheerful givers are one subset of everyone, therefore God loves them, it makes this statement meaningless. It would be equally true to say that God loves the grudging givers, and those who give nothing at all. They are also subsets of the everyone whom God loves. Saying that God loves the cheerful giver must be saying something different than that God loves the sinful world or even than God loves all who trust in him.

You may have heard it said ‘there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than he does right now, and there’s nothing you could ever do that would make God love you less.’ God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is based on his own character, not on your performance. You didn’t do anything to earn his love, and you can’t do anything that would turn his love away from you. This is good news. This is grace. That God loves us not because of anything we have done or ever will do.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— …8 …this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

In this there is profound freedom; freedom from striving, freedom from performance, freedom from attempting to impress God.

Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

We must understand grace. Before we can give we must receive. Grace upon grace. And all our giving must flow out of these multiplied blessings poured out on us.

Consequences of Not Giving Cheerfully

But the Bible also talks like this: God loves a cheerful giver.

Jude 1:21 keep yourselves in the love of God…

John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. There is an ‘if’; if we keep his commandments, then we will abide in his love. God loves a cheerful giver.

This implies that there is a way to abide and a way to not abide in his love. That he loves a cheerful giver and is grieved when his people give sparingly or grudgingly or not at all.

The puritan pastor John Owen gives us categories to help us make sense of this. He draws a distinction between union and communion. We are united with Christ by grace alone through faith alone. Nothing we can do or fail to do will change our union with Christ. We belong to him. But how we respond to him can and does affect our communion with him, our day to day fellowship with him, our enjoyment of our union with him.

Think of the marriage relationship. We took wedding vows before God and in the presence of witnesses ‘to love, cherish and serve, in sickness and health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, ’til death do us part.’ I might act rudely toward my wife, and that won’t change her commitment to her vows before God, but it will affect the level of intimacy we enjoy in our relationship. It doesn’t change our union, but it will affect our communion.

Notice Jesus exhorts us to abide in his love for our joy, that our joy may be full. We will enjoy our relationship with God more if we walk in his ways, if we follow his commands, if our hearts are overflowing with gladness in him. We ought to pursue cheerful generosity, because cheerfulness is more enjoyable than being grudging or greedy or stingy.

God Is a Cheerful Giver

But there is a deeper, a more important reason that God loves a cheerful giver. It is simply this: God loves a cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver. God created us in his own image, and he loves to see his own character reflected in his people.

Look to God the cheerful giver!

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Every good gift is from God. God is the giver of every good. God himself is the greatest good.

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

Psalm 21:6 For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

God is our greatest good. And he does not withhold good from us.

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?

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

He graciously gave us his own Son. He will with him pour out every spiritual blessing on us.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God is the giver. God gave his only Son, and Jesus gladly gave himself.

Galatians 2:20 …I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It was his joy to give himself up for us.

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

Why does our motive and attitude matter to God? Why does our cheerfulness in giving matter? Because we image him, and when we don’t give cheerfully, we lie about him, we misrepresent him. God is not a stingy giver, he is not reluctant, not a grudging giver, he does not give out of compulsion or obligation, he does not sow sparingly. We could say God is lavish, excessive, prodigal. over the top, extravagant. God love a cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver.

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

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

2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First to the Lord

08/11_2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First To The Lord; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190811_2cor8_5.mp3

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Review

Paul is talking about giving. He is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously. But he avoids using the word ‘giving’ or ‘collection’ or ‘offering’; instead he fixes our attention on the grace of God given. God is the giver. It is God’s gift of grace that necessarily precedes and motivates any acceptable giving. We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19); we give because he is the supreme giver and first gave freely of himself to us.

God’s grace was given and this was evidenced in the overflow of a wealth of generosity. Generosity is an interpretive translation based on the context; literally it ‘superabounded in the riches of their simplicity’. Simplicity is a word Paul uses to describe single-hearted devotion to Christ in contrast to double-minded or divided affections. God’s undeserved grace poured out on the Macedonians ignited in them single-hearted affections for the Lord, and this spilled over in an urgency to extend grace to others. They begged for the grace and the fellowship of the ministry to the saints.

This service, this ministry was a grace; it was ‘favor;’ it was undeserved. They didn’t earn the ability to serve others; it was given to them. First of all it was grace to them. Then it welled up into grace from them. It was grace in that they gave freely, not under compulsion. They were eager for the opportunity. They were not the originators of the grace, but they were a channel; they passed it on to others. Freely they had received; freely they gave (Mt.10:8).

This ministry was grace and it was also fellowship; it was communion. They were ‘taking part;’ it connected them to the community of faith; to other believers; to the saints. They were eager for the connection, for the fellowship that bearing one another’s burdens created. They were eager for connection with the wider body of Christ.

Paul is holding up the Macedonians as an example, but not primarily an example of giving or generosity. They got grace; they did not receive grace in vain; it changed them. God’s undeserved grace freely given to them ignited in them a single-hearted affection for the Lord, and an eagerness to extend grace and fellowship in service to others. They understood that following Jesus was costly; they were in a severe test of affliction. They were in the depths of poverty. And yet in the midst of those circumstances, God’s grace created in them an unquenchable overflow of joy in Jesus. This is what Paul is eager to see formed in the Corinthians, and in us. He is after not our money but our hearts. What we do with our money is merely an outward indicator of where our affections are.

Given to the Lord

Their single-hearted service was according to their power, even beyond their ability.

Look at verse 5. And not according to what we had hoped; but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

They gave. This passage is about giving, and this verse says that they gave. But it doesn’t say that they gave their money, their resources. It says they gave more. Themselves – that’s emphatic – their own selves they gave.

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

They gave themselves first to the Lord. ‘First’ doesn’t mean only first in time. It means first in importance. Most importantly they gave themselves to the Lord. What does that mean? How do you give yourself to the Lord? We use those words, but what exactly does it mean? What does it look like to give yourself to the Lord?

You Are Not Your Own

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. God owns you. He paid dearly for you. Romans 7:4 says that ‘you died …so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.’ How does one give oneself to the Lord if you already belong to him? Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6 is helpful here

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

He tells them what is true. As believers in Jesus, they belong to him. They are under new ownership. They were bought. His exhortation is based on their identity. Therefore, because of whose you are, live consistent with your new identity, your new ownership. Because you are owned by God, you should seek to glorify God in your body. He uses this again as a foundation for his argument in the next chapter:

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

Because you have a new Master, don’t divide your interests and sign up as a slave of someone else. Live consistent with what is true; be who you are. This is the Christian life. This is what following Jesus looks like. Learn to live in line with your new identity in Christ.

The Macedonians had responded to the call of Jesus when Paul preached the gospel to them, and so they belong to Jesus. And now they are living consistent with who they belong to. They gave themselves first to the Lord.

All You Have Is Not Yours

In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul says:

1 Corinthians 4:7 …What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

We need to remember this. Everything we have is a gift, grace, given to us by a good God.

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

King David wrestled with this question when he was making a collection for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. In 1 Chronicles 29:6 it says:

1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work.

Then it says in verse 9:

1 Chronicles 29:9 Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.

The leaders made freewill offerings. Pay attention to the language here. They had given willingly, with a whole heart, offering freely to the Lord. They were under no compulsion; they were free, they chose to do it, and they did it gladly. It brought them joy to give, and it brought joy to the king. But listen to how David prays in the next verses:

1 Chronicles 29:10 Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.

Do you hear what he is wrestling with? Everything belongs to God. Everything in heaven and in the earth. Riches and honor come from the Lord. Even our strength comes from the Lord. All things come from you. And yet the people are giving freely and willingly of all that is in their power, of all that belongs to God. Who am I? There is this tension between God’s ownership of everything and our ability to give freely, of our own will. How are we able to give willingly when everything we have is yours? You already own everything we have given. It came from you and it belongs to you. How is it then that we can offer it back to you?

He continues:

1 Chronicles 29:16 O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

It is with upright hearts that they freely and willingly and joyously gave. They gave to God what already belonged to God. And God was pleased with their hearts. God tests the hearts of his people by putting in our possession some of what belongs to him. God is pleased when with upright hearts we freely and joyously give back to him what is his.

And then David prays:

1 Chronicles 29:18 O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

David understood that even their willingness, the purpose of their hearts, even that was from God. God directs the hearts of his people, so he asks God to ‘keep such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people’. David doesn’t praise the people for their willingness; he praises God for the willingness of the people, and he asks God to maintain and sustain their joyful generosity.

This is grace! God first freely gives to us, and his gift ignites a response of joyful generosity in us; a single-hearted simplicity of affection toward him, an eagerness to please him, to extend his grace to others.

Paul here in 2 Corinthians tells us that this is ‘by the will of God.’ ‘Themselves they gave, first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.’ They gave, and they gave by the will of God. The other place we see this phrase is in the opening lines of both his letters to Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus…

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

This is the sovereign will of God, calling Paul as his apostle, and Paul gladly responded. Paul recognized the same sovereign purpose of God at work in the Macedonians, as they gladly and single-heartedly gave themselves by the will of God to the Lord and to him in response to the grace of God that had been given to them.

Application

So what does this look like for us? What does it mean to give ourselves first to the Lord? It must start with receiving God’s grace. We can attempt to do things for the Lord and give things to the Lord, but if we haven’t first experienced his grace toward us in Jesus, then it is self-effort and self-righteous performance, and it is actually offensive to God. First we must receive before we can give. We receive his grace, we receive forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus. We receive new life and the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside. In response to God’s free and undeserved grace, we gladly see that all that we have and all that we are come from the Lord and we can eagerly give ourselves back to him.

In the words of Romans 12,

Romans 12:1 …by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In Colossians 1 he prayed that they would have the spiritual wisdom to know God’s will

Colossians 1:10 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.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Jesus said:

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ …40 …‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

These are some of the ways we can give ourselves first to the Lord. Does Jesus have first place? First priority? Does he have access to all that you have? To all of you?

***

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

August 11, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Grace Received and Expressed

08/04_2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Grace Received and Expressed; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190804_2cor8_1-4.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul takes two chapters here, toward the end of his letter, to address issues of grace. He has used the word ‘grace’ six times so far in this letter, three times in chapter 1, once each in chapters 2, 4, and 6. In these two chapters alone, he will use this word ‘grace’ ten times (even though in our English translations it is not always translated as ‘grace’). He will use it twice more in 2 Corinthians before he is done. Over half of what he says about grace in 2 Corinthians is here in this section.

The Collection For Jerusalem

Anyone who reads these two chapters would agree that Paul is talking about giving. He is talking about a fundraiser. He is collecting money from Gentile believers to bring relief to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He referred to this in Galatians 2:10. He mentioned this in 1 Corinthians 16. He will mention it again in Romans 15. We see it played out in Acts (24:17).

But just as Paul intended to reshape our thinking and understanding of ministry in 2 Corinthians 2-7, that ministry is self-sacrificial service for the good of others, that ministry looks like Jesus in his suffering for others, so he aims to reshape our thinking about giving. He uses the word grace, he uses the word simplicity or singleness, he uses the word fellowship, he uses the word ministry or service, he talks about an expression of love. He even uses words like ‘blessing’ and ‘liturgy’ or a sacred act of worship in chapter 9.

He does use the word gift, but only to point us to God’s grace, God’s gift that has been given to us; and he points to the Macedonians who gave themselves to the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 16, where he talked about this same issue, he used the word ‘collection’ and ‘collecting’, but even there it was ‘your grace’ that was to be carried to the saints in Jerusalem. By his very choice of words, he is causing us to rethink giving.

Grace Given

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.’ This is important. There is something we need to pay attention to.

Remember where we are in 2 Corinthians. In chapter 7, Paul picked up his narrative about Titus that he left hanging back in chapter 2. He finally connected with Titus in Macedonia, and God comforted him through Titus, and through the news he brought of the Corinthians’ grief and repentance. God worked a grief in them that produced repentance and salvation. Paul rejoiced over this work of God in them.

Now in chapter 8 he moves his attention to the grace of God given to the Macedonians. Paul rejoices over the work of God in the Corinthians, and he rejoices over the work of God in the Macedonians.

Reciprocal Joy

As we have seen, there is a theme here of reciprocal joy. Titus rejoices over the work of God at Corinth, and Titus’ joy causes Paul to rejoice. And he tells the Corinthians that they brought him joy by bringing Titus joy so that they can join in the rejoicing. There is a communal escalation of joy. We find joy when we rejoice in the joy of another. Now Paul turns our attention to God’s work in Macedonia to further increase our rejoicing.

God’s Grace

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.’ God’s grace. This rich word grace; unearned, freely given favor and kindness. In verse 9 he focuses our attention on the grace of our Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us. Grace. Unmerited. Unearned. Undeserved. We had no claim. We could make no demand. Grace is free. Grace is gift, freely given. Romans 4 teaches us that grace is the polar opposite of wages. Wages are owed. They are worked for and earned, and they create debt. Grace is free, unworked for, unearned. There is no obligation. God gave grace in the churches of Macedonia.

This should cause their hearts to sing! We deserved God’s wrath; the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.6:23). We worked and we earned eternal separation from God. But in the gospel he treats us contrary to what we deserve; he pours out his love on us; he pays an infinite price and adopts us, he treats us as his very own sons and daughters. We have tasted his grace. We have experienced his love. And when we hear that God has given his grace to others, it should cause our hearts to leap! God has freely extended his grace to more sinners! We have more siblings! Enemies overcome, transformed by grace into friends, brought near by the blood of Christ! God is rich in grace, abundant, lavish.

Grace in Affliction

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their sincerity,’

The context of this gift of God’s grace is affliction. Pressure. Squeezing. He says they were ‘in a severe test of affliction.’ They were undergoing persecution. They were in the middle of a trial. On Paul’s first visit to Macedonia (Acts 16-17), he and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi and then asked to leave. In Thessalonica, the jealous Jews incited a mob and set the city in an uproar. Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and some other local believers before the city authorities, accusing them of treason against Caesar, and proclaiming another king, Jesus. Paul and Silas were sent off by night to Berea, but the Jews from Thessalonica followed them there and stirred up the crowds, so Paul was sent off to Athens in Achaia.

Here on his return visit to these churches in Macedonia, Paul writes

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

Paul tasted their affliction when he visited. He doesn’t tells us what kind of persecution they were now suffering but it is described as ‘a severe test of affliction.’ Verse 2 goes on to describe their situation as ‘their extreme poverty,’ literally, ‘their according to depth poverty’. Their poverty was deep. They were down in the depths of poverty.

Transforming Grace

But the grace of God had been given. And God’s grace is transforming grace.

‘that in much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their sincerity,’

They had a superabundance of joy in the middle of the test of affliction. This is grace. Note carefully that God’s grace is transforming grace, but it doesn’t transform their circumstances. We are not told that they were rescued out of the severe test of affliction. God’s grace transformed them. They had superabundance of joy in the middle of the severe test of affliction. God is able to change our circumstances, but he is more interested in transforming us. This is supernatural joy. They were in intense affliction, and their overflow of joy poured into the deep depths of their poverty and a nuclear reaction took place. It exploded out in a superabundance of riches of sincerity. God’s grace transforms the depths of poverty into divine riches, divine wealth.

Simplicity

Paul uses another word, here translated ‘generosity’. Its usual meaning is ‘simplicity’ or ‘sincerity’, literally singleness, in contrast to duplicity or a double-minded or divided heart. Jesus said ‘that the eye is the lamp of the body; if your eye is single your whole body will be full of light (Mt.6:22). He said this in the context of ‘no one can serve two masters’ and ‘do not be anxious about your life’. There must be a single Master and a single focus. There must be a sole aim to please the Lord.

This is a word he had used (probably) back in 1:12

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

Notice there as well, that Paul’s simplicity and sincerity is by the grace of God.

He uses this word ‘simplicity’ or ‘single-mindedness’ here in 8:2, and in 9:11 and 13, and once again in 11:3.

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

There is only one Master. There is a single-hearted devotion. ‘In much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their single-hearted devotion, that according to ability (and I testify) beyond ability voluntarily, with much encouragement begging us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints.

God’s gift was expressed in a superabundance of joy in the midst of affliction that struck against the depth of their poverty to spark an explosion of single-hearted devotion to Christ. God’s free gift of grace found expression in their eagerness to graciously give in service to others. God’s grace changes us. God’s grace toward us ignites grace in us toward others. We become eager to show kindness and love to those who don’t deserve it, our brothers, even our enemies.

Do you see the wealth of their singleness of heart? It was voluntary. There was no pressure from Paul. There was the pressure of persecution that helped to focus their affections on Jesus. But there was no pressure, in fact Paul was reluctant to allow them to participate. It was according to their ability, even beyond their ability. They did more than they could. How? Because God’s grace makes things possible that are impossible. They did that which was beyond their power to do. God’s grace enabled them to do it.

Out-Giving God?

I want to be careful here. We are talking about money, giving, and there is a common saying that you can’t out-give God. There is truth to that. But don’t misunderstand that to mean that if you give a dollar that you will get more than a dollar back somehow. That would be duplicitous. I’m going to give not because I just want to give, but because I want to get something in return. There is nothing in this passage that says anything about their situation of poverty changing. It was out of the depths of their poverty that they gave, and that would serve to increase their poverty. They ended up with less money than they started with. When they gave, they weren’t thinking, ‘this is a foolproof scheme to manipulate God into giving us money and improving our material situation.’ No, they embraced the fact that they were going to have to get by with less.

But here’s the beautiful thing. It increased their joy. They demonstrated that their joy did not come from their circumstances, from having all their material needs met; their joy came from God. They were recipients of God’s grace! God was more satisfying to them than a shirt on their back or a roof over their head or a meal that would take the edge off their hunger. Their wealth was their single-hearted devotion to God.

Grace Expressed

Paul, it seems, was inclined to discourage their giving. He saw that it was beyond their ability. But with much encouragement they begged us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints. We are rightly nauseated by the stereotypical tele-evangelist (rather tele-extortionist) begging people to give. But here the apostle is saying ‘no, you really shouldn’t, it’s beyond your ability’ and they are saying ‘Please, we want the grace, we want the fellowship. We have received God’s grace and it has stirred in our hearts a longing to express that grace in sacrificial service to others. We want the fellowship, the communion, the having things in common with other believers, the bearing one another’s burdens. You can’t deny us the privilege of communion and extending grace!

You see how this connects with the rest of the letter? He started by talking about the comfort or encouragement that God brings to us in our affliction when we share in Christ’s sufferings, Christ’s afflictions.

Here he is talking about money, about generosity and giving, but he is after not our money but our hearts. He is pursuing our single-hearted simplicity of devotion to Christ, a genuine experience of God’s grace, not receiving the grace of God in vain; but an experience of God’s grace that so profoundly changes us, that it must necessarily overflow in joyous generosity, extending grace to others. He is pursuing our connection, our fellowship, our joyful communion with all the saints.

Are you eager for opportunity to live out your fellowship with other believers? Are you eager to extend grace to others? Begging for the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens? Are you willing even to embrace affliction, to increase your own discomfort, in order to lovingly serve others?

This comes from God. This is the overflow of God’s grace given to you. Are you overwhelmed that God has made you a recipient of his grace? Look! Look afresh at God’s grace. Wonder, marvel, be amazed that God would love you! Unearned, undeserved! That God would show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7). Receive his grace and be transformed!

***

August 4, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

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

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

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

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

But

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

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

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

Earthen Vessels

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

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

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

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

The Potter and the Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 64 describes us:

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

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

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

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

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treasure

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

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

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

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

The Power is God’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 1:12-14; Mutual Boasting in Transforming Grace

11/05 2 Corinthians 1:12-14; Mutual Boasting in Transforming Grace; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171105_2cor1_12-14.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

Connections: Thanksgiving and Boasting

Paul has just finished saying that when the believers unite in working together with God by prayer on behalf of someone in need, thanksgiving is multiplied because many faces are turned toward God.

And now in verse 12 he brings up boasting. How do these things go together, thanksgiving and boasting? Thanksgiving is multiplied in response to God’s grace extended to the needy in answer to the prayers of many. Verses 12 – 14 is a section that is marked off by boasting; that begins and ends with boasting.

He moves from suffering in verses 3-10 to thanksgiving in 11 to boasting in 12-14. In verses 6-7, he invites them into (koinonia) fellowship in suffering,

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

In verse 11 he invites them to labor together in prayer and thanksgiving for him.

2 Corinthians 1:11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Here in verses 12-14 he is inviting them to join him in his boasting; our boast in you and you in us. The relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is strained and tense. All of this is designed to encourage and highlight the Corinthians connection with Paul. They are to fellowship with him in his sufferings, to be co-laborers in prayer, and to mutually boast together in one another.

Boasting; Good or Bad

Paul talks about boasting more in 2 Corinthians than any other book. He even indulges himself in a little foolish boasting in chapters 11-12. But in Galatians 6 he says

Galatians 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

How do we put this together, that Paul refuses to boast in anything but the cross of Christ, and here in 2 Corinthians he seems to let loose and boast, even inviting the Corinthians to boast in him?

We see at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

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

God saved us in the way he did in order to exclude human boasting. (see Judges 7:2; Eph.2:9) The only appropriate boasting for the believer is boasting in God.

Paul is quoting Jeremiah 9

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 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.”

We are not to boast in self; we are to boast only in God. Later in 2 Corinthians, he records that:

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (cf. 2Cor.11:30; 12:5)

Paul’s boasting is not boasting in his own abilities but in his weaknesses and the demonstration of God’s power through his weaknesses. Paul glories in, exults in, boasts in God. So when Paul boasts, he is boasting not in himself, but in what Jesus has accomplished in him. We will see this clearly in this passage as we look more closely at it.

The Testimony of Conscience

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

Paul calls his conscience to testify to his conduct, his manner of life in the world and especially among the Corinthians.

What is the conscience? The conscience is the inner voice that bears witness, the inner awareness of the rightness or wrongness of actions, accusing or excusing (Rom.2:15). The conscience can be weak (1Cor.8:7-12), creating feelings of guilt where God’s objective standard has not been violated. The conscience can be defiled, wounded, or seared (1Tim.4:2; Titus 1:5) so that it no longer functions as the warning system it was intended to be. Although the conscience is not an infallible guide (1Cor.4:4), it is a very valuable guide. As Luther said “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” [Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521].

Hebrews tells us that under the Old Testament “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (Heb.9:9). Hebrews goes on to say:

Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The conscience can be purified by the blood of Christ. Purified from dead works to serve the living God. Our hearts can be “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb.10:22). We can “appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet.3:21).

Conduct in the World; Simple and Transparent

What is the testimony of Paul’s conscience and that of his co-workers?

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

His conduct in the world was in simplicity and sincerity of God. Paul’s conduct was single, not duplicitous. He was not two-faced; no hidden agendas. With Paul, what you see is what you get. He was simple and he was sincere. This word literally means ‘judged by the sun’. Expose something to the light of the sun to examine its genuineness. Paul’s life was transparent, vulnerable, he lived out in the open; nothing hidden or secret. He demonstrated this in verses 8-10, where he informed them of his weakness and desperation in response to so great a trial.

Paul’s simplicity and transparency was not due to his own strength of character or natural constitution. His simplicity and sincerity were godly, literally ‘of God’. The source of his integrity was God. Paul was a messenger sent to communicate God’s simplicity, God’s transparency in the gospel. His clean conscience was a result of gospel cleansing that transformed a persecutor into a fellow-sufferer.

He makes this explicitly clear in the next phrase. He contrasts fleshly wisdom with the grace of God. His life operated not out of fleshly wisdom, the wisdom of this world. He didn’t make his decisions based on what would be best for him. He lived in God’s grace; everything he did was done in grace; he moved in the realm of God’s undeserved favor. He made decisions based on God’s grace. His filter was not ‘what makes most human sense?’ but rather ‘what is an expression of God’s grace? How has God treated me in Christ?’

His conscience bore him witness, that in the world, and superabundantly toward the Corinthian church, he conducted himself simply, transparently, graciously. All this was no credit to him, but all credit to the life transforming power of the gospel at work in him.

Writing and Understanding; Hermeneutics

Paul continues:

2 Corinthians 1:13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—

Paul here writes about his writing. This is an incredibly helpful little verse on the subject of hermeneutics, how to understand or interpret the Bible. Paul applies what he said regarding his conscience not only to how he lives, but to what he writes. He writes with simplicity, with transparency. He communicates God’s grace in Jesus, not fleshly wisdom. He does not hide his meaning, there is not some deeper truth encoded in his letters. He does not intend his readers to read between the lines and hear what he is not saying. His writing is simple, plain, straightforward. He is transparent. He means exactly what he says. We can take it at face value. We aren’t writing anything other than what you read. Paul uses the root word ‘to know or understand’ four times in this sentence. The word for ‘read’ is a compound word literally meaning ‘to know again’. The word for understand is ‘to know upon’ or ‘recognize’. We don’t write anything other that what you receive and perceive, and I hope you perceive completely just as you have even perceived us in part. Paul is partly understood. But he hopes they will completely understand him as they take what he says at face value and believe him.

Paul is not so concerned that they believe him as much as that they believe the gospel. But the gospel is the gospel he and the other apostles preached. To disbelieve or distrust him and his writing was to distrust the gospel.

Paul wants them to fully understand him, his heart, his motives, his simplicity and transparency, his integrity. He wants them to understand the simplicity of the gospel, the beauty of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Eschatological Perspective

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

Paul returns to the topic of boasting. His boast is the testimony of his conscience as to how he lived and what he wrote. Here he looks forward to the final outcome of their knowledge of him (and really their understanding of the gospel). Paul looks forward to the day of our Lord Jesus, the day when Jesus comes again to rule and reign. On that day there will be mutual boasting; not in the sense of ‘wow, look at how great I am and all the great thing I did,’ but rather ‘look at God’s grace on display in the life of our faithful Apostle!’ Look at the magnificent grace of God who transformed the sinners in Corinth into saints through the foolishness of my preaching!’

Paul puts an eschatalogical (or end times) perspective on the tension in their relationship. They were questioning the integrity of their apostle. They were doubting the straightforwardness of his communication. Paul’s soul was in turmoil over this wayward church. Harsh words had likely flown in both directions. Reconciliation needed to happen. Fellowship needed to be restored. Healing of a strained relationship. Paul asks ‘what will our relationship look like for eternity?’

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.

We are going to be mutually boasting in one another for eternity. There will be mutual exultation in God’s grace evidenced in them and in their relationship with one another. I will be proud of you and you will be proud of me; what God has accomplished in me and through me for his glory. If that is what our relationship will be in glory, why not pursue that kind of relationship now? Why not enter in to the fellowship of suffering now, labor together now in prayer and rejoice together now in thanksgiving for God’s gracious answer, why not overlook the faults and offenses and boast in one another now?

Just think, God used the weaknesses of the Apostle and the weakness and wandering of the Corinthian church to occasion the writing of a letter that has served to equip and encourage the saints through the centuries and even down to our church here in Ephraim Utah! What amazing riches of God’s boundless grace in using our weakness, our brokenness, even our damaged relationships for his glory and our eternal good.

***

-What is the state of your conscience? Weak? Seared? Blood washed and gospel transformed?

-How do you make decisions? Fleshly wisdom or gospel informed grace?

-How do you respond to criticism? When your character is undermined?

-Could you allow an eschatological perspective on your differences and conflicts to move you toward reconciliation and deeper fellowship? Can you boast in the evidence of God’s grace in the life of someone who has hurt you?

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

November 7, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment