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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

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!

***

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

2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who Is Sufficient?

04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.

Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.

Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

…34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

…46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.

Paul says that God

2 Corinthians 2:14 …through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…

When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:

Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.

Who Is Sufficient?

This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question ‘who is sufficient for these things?’

Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?

This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:

Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God’s judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God’s authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.

Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word ‘sufficient’ or competent. ‘Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.’ Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.

For We Are Not…

Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer ‘no one!’ Paul begins as we would expect ‘for we are not…’ Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul’s answer. He says:

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?

Not Peddlers of the Word of God

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,

Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb ‘we speak.’ As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.

But others are speaking God’s word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God’s word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.

We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God’s word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others’ right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?

Listen to Paul’s requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, … 3 … not a lover of money.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be …not greedy for dishonest gain.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be … greedy for gain,

Peter exhorts:

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? ‘We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.’ Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.’

So many are peddlers of God’s word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.

Of Sincerity

That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. ‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul said

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’s conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul’s conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don’t have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.

Of God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God.’ Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God’s words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; ‘as commissioned by God.’ The NIV has ‘as those sent from God.’ The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul’s authority and Paul’s message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.

Directly Before God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.’ Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or ‘in the sight of God.’ Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.

Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God’s presence.

In Christ

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.

There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.

It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.

Summary

Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God’s presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.

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

April 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment