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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 1:8-21; The Grace of God in Affliction

05/23_Daniel 01:8-21; The Grace of God in Affliction; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210523_dan01_8-21.mp3

Last time we looked at Daniel’s resolve. He, along with maybe 50 other Hebrew youth of the nobility had been taken captive, deported to Babylon, enrolled in a re-programming regimen to erase their identity and make Babylonians of them. The name of their God was replaced with the names of the Babylonian deities. They were to be indoctrinated with the culture, the belief system, the world view of Babylon, this great city opposed to God.

Daniel and his friends answered to their new names, submitted to learning the Chaldean material, but Daniel resolved in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food. He would not break the law of God, he would not risk betraying his allegiance to God alone, who is the provider of every good thing. He recognized the danger of appetite, the danger of compromise in seemingly trivial matters like food and drink.

This was risky. To refuse the king’s food would show great ingratitude toward the kindness and generosity of the king. These boys were royalty, and they were being treated royally. The king was extending and expending great hospitality to these young men. To say that the kings food would defile him would be quite offensive. We find out in chapter 2 that Nebuchadnezzar was the kind of king who liked to tear people limb from limb and make their houses a dung heap. So Daniel was taking a great risk with this request.

Daniel’s Tactful Request

Daniel 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

This was risky, but notice also Daniel’s tact. He has resolved in his heart not to defile himself, and he could have made demands out of national pride and arrogance; ‘we Jews won’t lower ourselves to eat your unclean Gentile food; what you pagans eat is loathsome and foul. I would rather die than defile myself.’ Rather he uses tact; he graciously asks for permission. He makes a humble request.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

We are commanded to use gracious speech. We are called to use respect, gentleness, appropriate tact.

1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

God’s Grace in Adversity

Daniel 1:8 …Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,

This is the second of three acts of God in this chapter. In verse 2, God gave the king of Judah and the temple vessels into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Here in verse 9, God gave Daniel grace and compassion in the sight of the one who was entrusted with their care.

Grace. Undeserved favor and kindness. The chief of the eunuchs didn’t owe them anything. He didn’t have to be nice to them. He was under no obligation to entertain any requests from them. But God gave them grace – favor, and compassion – tender love in his sight. This grace came from God. We read in John 1

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is full of grace, and he gives gives grace to his people to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God is the giver of grace, Daniel sought to honor God. Daniel asked, and God gave him grace to help in his time of adversity, when everything seemed against him. Do you look for glimmers of God’s grace in your affliction? Or do your circumstances loom so large that they obstruct your view even of the good God who loves you and shows himself even in the midst of adversity? God gave grace.

Grace to Persevere

Don’t you almost wish that Daniel’s request would have been denied, so that we could learn how Daniel’s resolve would have held up in the face of rejection? Read on! That is exactly what happens.

Daniel 1:9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”

This doesn’t seem to follow. God gave grace and compassion, and the official refused his request. How is this evidence of God’s grace at work? He basically says, ‘I’m sorry, I like you and all (and I don’t know why) – I want to be gracious and compassionate, but I’m scared for my life. I cannot grant your request without endangering my own head with the king.’ So God’s gift of favor with this official doesn’t really seem to get Daniel any help.

Daniel easily could have walked away with a relieved conscience, saying ‘well, I tried. I asked. I got shut down. What more could I do?’

In 1 Corinthians 10, in the context of strong cultural pressure to compromise and eat food sacrificed idols, Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. But God’s grace does not mean giving us what we want. It may not even be giving us what we think we need. We might imagine the escape we think he ought to provide, but his way may be a different way. The way of escape, as in 1 Corinthians, might be that he gives you the grace to be able to endure the temptation. He gives the strength to stand firm, come what may.

Persistence in the Face of Rejection

What does Daniel do in the face of a seemingly closed door? What would you do?

Daniel 1:9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.

Daniel doesn’t argue with the chief of the eunuchs. He doesn’t become obstinate and say ‘let the king take your head, I don’t care! I won’t eat the food!’ He is sensitive to the fears of this man. He genuinely cares for his captors. But he doesn’t give up either.

The chief of the eunuchs didn’t grant his request, but he didn’t say ‘no’ either. He expressed his concern. This was favor. Daniel didn’t deserve an explanation. He wasn’t obligated to give any more than a flat ‘no’. But he gave a reason. So Daniel went down the chain of command to a lower official, and proposes a test. He shows sensitivity to the concern, so he keeps the trial short enough to lower their risk, to give time to change course if things don’t go well.

Grace on Display

Daniel 1:14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

This is God’s grace on display! The steward listened. He was willing to carry out their proposed test. For this steward, lower in the ranks, this may have been a win-win. He got to ‘dispose of’ the king’s food and wine, while he gave up his own vegetable and water diet.

Some have sold books and made a big deal about Daniel’s diet plan. I haven’t read those books, so I can’t comment, but if the focus is the praise of a vegetarian diet, they completely miss the point. This has nothing to do with the health benefits of vegetables and grains; if anything it is the opposite. The the outcome was surprising. The text doesn’t say they were leaner and more physically fit. It says they were ‘better in appearance and fatter in flesh.’ That is the same word that is used in Pharaoh’s dream, where the ugly thin cows ate up the attractive plump cows, and the thin and blighted ears of grain ate up the plump and good ears (Gen.41). Today we might opt for the gaunt thin cows over the plump cows; how fickle is fashion!

When the prodigal’s father commanded a celebration, he didn’t order vegetables; the fattened calf was to be killed (Lk.15:16,23; cf. Prov.15:17). The wayward son had had enough of husks and pods. The point is you don’t get fatter eating vegetables and water. This is God’s grace. This is not natural, this is supernatural. It’s quite possible the steward who ‘took away’ their food and wine was getting fatter too.

God’s Gift of Learning

Daniel 1:17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

Here is the third of the acts of God in this chapter. God gave them the gift of learning, skill in literature and wisdom. These are gifts that Solomon asked for and was given by God (2Chr.1:10-12). The wisdom and learning necessary to rule well are gifts of God. This sets up the rest of the book. Remember, the book of Daniel is not about Daniel and his three friends. The book is about God, who gives good and gracious gifts, God who is greater than all rulers and kings and nations.

Daniel and his three friends display wisdom because God made them wise. They show resolve in the face of adversity, because God was at work in them, taking care of them even in exile, hundreds of miles from home.

Understand, this was not limited to Bible knowledge and theology. I doubt Nebuchadnezzar quizzed them on their monotheistic theology or Bible history or how many Torah verses they had memorized. This was the language and literature of the Chaldeans. God gave them the ability to excel in their pagan education beyond their peers.

Psalm 119:98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.

They had a God-centered world view, and keeping God at the center gave them categories to catalog the information they were exposed to. They knew what to do with what they were taught. And when tested, they proved exponentially better not only compared to their classmates, but compared to their teachers.

Again, this sets us up for the rest of the book. This is not about the wisdom of ‘God is judge’, ‘Yahweh is gracious,’ ‘who is what God is?’ and ‘Yahweh will help’ against the Chaldean magicians and enchanters. This is about God supreme over all the false gods of Babylon. The false world systems are proved incompetent in the presence of the one true God working through his people. Babylon may have conquered Jerusalem, but only because God gave Jerusalem into their hand.

Outlasting an Empire

Daniel 1:21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

What is this about? The chapter begins and ends with a historical note. It begins with the third year of Jehoiachim king of Judah, when Jerusalem and the temple treasures were given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in 605BC. It ends with the first year of King Cyrus, 539BC, who issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, and the treasures that had been kept in the house of Nebuchadnezzar’s god he sent back to Jerusalem.

Daniel was taken captive. But this humble servant outlived his conqueror. He outlived the sons of his conqueror. He outlasted an empire. He saw the rise and the fall of Babylonian empire to the Medo-Persians. Daniel literally lived through the exile to see the treasures that were taken from the temple returned, and the temple begin to be rebuilt.

Questions were raised at the beginning of the chapter, ‘Is Israel’s God really sovereign, is he faithful, is he good? Has he abandoned his people?’

2 Chronicles 36:22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’”

Ezra 1:7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Daniel 1:21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

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

May 24, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 1:1-8; Train Up Your Children

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

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

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

Preparing Your Children to Live as Exiles

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

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

Remind Them Of Their Identity

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

Daniel “God is my judge”

Hananiah “Yahweh is gracious”

Mishael “who is what God is?”

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

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

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

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

Parents Train Up Your Children

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

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

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

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

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

Prepared for Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Them Where True Joy Is Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wisdom of Humility and a Biblical Worldview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know, Love and Serve Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel 1:1-4; Confidence in a Faithful God

05/02_Daniel 01:1-4; Confidence in a Faithful God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210502_dan01_1-4.mp3

Faithful God

Daniel is a book about God. The Lord is the one true God. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, sovereign over the nations. He alone is God over all

And God is faithful to his promises. We can have hope, we can take confidence because God will always make good on his word. He will do what he says he will do, every time. You can bank on it. That is faith. Paul defines faith by the example of Abraham in Romans 4.

Romans 4:20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Promised Blessings and Curses

Back in Deuteronomy 28, before God brought his people into the promised land, God gave his people his word, promises.

Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.

God promised to bless his people if they would walk with him in fellowship, in obedience. But he also promised consequences for disobedience and betrayal.

Deuteronomy 28:14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. 15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

God was very specific with his promises;

Deuteronomy 28:32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. 33 A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually,

Their consequences would even affect the next generation.

Deuteronomy 28:36 “The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.

God promised to bless his people if they walked in obedient relationship with him. But he warned that he would give them into the hands of idolaters if they chose to go after false gods.

Hezekiah and Assyria

Around 701 BC, we see a specific instance of this playing out, recorded by Isaiah. Sennacherib, king of Assyria had taken all the fortified cities of Judah. On defeating Lachish, he sent word to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem that they were next. He warned him not to trust in an alliance with Egypt, and not to trust in the Lord their God, because the Lord had sent him to destroy the land (Is.36:6,10).

Isaiah 37:14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.”

In dependence on the Lord alone, he asked God to defend the honor if his great name so that he would get glory among the nations.

God’s answer came.

Isaiah 37:33 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” 36 And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord alone, and God alone wrought a great defeat of the Assyrian army.

Hezekiah and Babylon

But only two chapters and about 4 years later (705 BC), in Isaiah 39,

Isaiah 39:1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

Assyria was the world power, but Babylon was seeking independence. No doubt word had come to them about the Assyrian defeat at Jerusalem. Babylon sent a present, seeking an alliance. Hezekiah, who responded to the threatening Assyrian letter with prayer and dependence on God, responded to the flattering Babylonian letters differently.

Isaiah 39:2 And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Hezekiah missed an opportunity to give glory to God for the defeat of the Assyrians. Instead he flexed his own muscles, showing off his wealth and military might, showing them what they had to gain by a political alliance with Israel.

Isaiah 39:3 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” 4 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

The prophet Isaiah was sent to confront the king over his failure to trust in the Lord, instead seeking the strength of a political alliance with pagan Babylon.

Isaiah 39:5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: 6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

God Keeps His Promises

100 years later, in 605 BC,

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

God is faithful to all his promises. He is faithful to discipline his people when they are disobedient to him. The carrying off treasures and captives in 605 BC is a direct fulfillment of the word of the Lord to Hezekiah through Isaiah.

This may seem strange comfort, that the Babylonian captivity was a fulfillment of the promises of God. But when all is chaos and seems out of control, it is anchoring to remember that God is sovereign, he is still in control, he has not forgotten, he is active, he is keeping his promises.

Hebrews 12:6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Daniel and his friends could lose hope and give up faith, responding with bitterness and resentment; asking ‘why me?’ But instead they chose to see God’s hand in difficult circumstances, ultimately for their good and his glory. This is not random chance and accident conspiring against us; this is ‘the Lord giving Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

Whose God is Stronger?

Notice what is happening here; Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon takes the vessels of the house of God and puts them in the house of his god, in the treasury of his god. This was more than merely taking objects of inherent value, gold and silver. Kings would war in the name of their gods, and they would credit victory to their gods. A triumph in battle meant the gods of the victor proved stronger. They would honor their gods by taking the gods (idols) of their enemies and putting them in the temple of their gods.

This happened back in 1 Samuel 5, when the Philistines captured the ark of God and put it in the house of Dagon their god. If you remember, that didn’t end well for Dagon or for the Philistines.

That is what is happening here; Jerusalem surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar, so he plundered the holy temple. It must have been strange for him to enter a temple and find no images, no statues, but rather a throne with no one seated on it. In the eyes of the world, Marduk had triumphed over YHWH. But Daniel interprets this differently. He understands that this was exactly what was promised. This was the all-mighty YHWH fulfilling his own decree.

The Philistines learned (and Israel should have understood) that Dagon was no match for YHWH. Sennacherib was shown (and Hezekiah should have paid attention) that the angel of YHWH is mightier than 185 thousand Assyrians and Nisroch his god. Daniel understood that YHWH is more than capable to defend himself. His temple could not be plundered unless YHWH had given it over to be plundered. And this produced great hope and confidence. God still sits enthroned unrivaled, not in the temple of Jerusalem, but in heaven above. He is God over all. God is sovereign and does whatever he pleases (Ps.115:3; 135:6).

The Tale of Two Cities

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

Daniel uses the ancient name ‘Shinar’. This connects us back to Genesis 10; Noah’s son Ham fathered Cush, and

Genesis 10:8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Nimrod was a murderous warrior who established cities opposed to God. We read in Genesis 11,

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Babel in the land of Shinar was established in direct opposition to God and his commands. It was the proud attempt of arrogant man united against God to steal glory from God and make a name for himself. ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (Jas.4:6; 1Pet.5:5; Mt.23:12).

Victory Through Defeat

Like Elijah who challenged the prophets of Baal (1Ki.18:21-40), Daniel sets up his story as a competition between the Lord and the gods of Nebuchadnezzar, between the proud city Babylon in the land of Shinar, and the city of Jerusalem in the land of Judah, where God chose to make a name for himself.

But surprisingly, Daniel is the story of God’s victory through defeat; he wins by losing, he gains by giving away his treasures and his people into the hands of his enemies. He infiltrates the highest ranks of government by sending captives, boys of 14 or 15, to be trained in the language and literature of this pagan nation. His foolishness proved wiser than their wisest of men. The simple faith of these helpless young men in their omnipotent God changed the direction of empires and the hearts of kings and nations.

Hebrews recounts their faith;

Hebrews 11:32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of …the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

God demonstrates his supremacy over the nations by the unlikely means of defeat and exile. But this is God’s way, who shows himself victorious by sending his best, his only Son into exile here on earth, not to be served but to serve, to learn our language, to confound the wisdom of the wise by his simple faith in his Father, to suffer for sins not his own, to go through the fire and come out alive as a testimony that whoever believes in him will not be put to shame (Rom.9:33).

God is faithful to all his promises, promises to bless those who walk with him in obedience, promises to curse those who turn from him. And we all have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Is.53:6). He became a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus all the blessings he deserves might come to us through faith in him (Gal.3:13-14).

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

May 3, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle

02/28_2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210228_2cor12_11-13.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 12. In 2 Corinthians, Paul re-frames our thinking about ministry. He spends the first 7 chapters pointing us to the fact that authentic gospel ministry takes its shape from the gospel it proclaims; the good news of an awesome God who humbles himself, who stoops down to our level, who out of his great love for us takes our sin upon himself and suffers in our place for our eternal good. Authentic ministers carry this gospel treasure in fragile earthen containers, to put on display that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor.4:7).

In chapters 8 and 9 he points to the practical outworking of this transformative good news, which so changes the hearts of believers that they joyfully overflow in practical generosity to others. He invites and exhorts the Corinthians to join him in an opportunity to serve the suffering saints.

In chapters 10-13 we discover that there is a sinister danger set to derail the church in Corinth; triumphalist leaders have infiltrated the church and have been building themselves up by tearing Paul down.

Foolish Boasting

Although no one ought to boast except in the Lord, and it is only the Lord’s approval that carries any weight (2Cor.10:17-18), Paul is forced to defend himself against false accusations. He is forced to boast in his own ministry over against that of the false apostles, whom he calls servants of Satan (2Cor.11:13-15).

He acknowledges that boasting in oneself is foolish. He asks them to bear with his foolishness, seeing that they all too readily bear with fools (11:1, 4, 19). He doesn’t want to be thought a fool, but since they already think so poorly of him, he asks them to indulge his foolish boasting and give him their ear (11:16-18). But he warns them that boasting in self is not according to the Lord but rather according to the flesh. As he beings his boast in 11:21, he interjects ‘I am speaking as a fool’. In verse 23 he says he is not only speaking foolishly; literally ‘without his mind’, but he is ‘out of his mind’ to boast like this.

He begins by boasting in his Jewish heritage (11:22), which he tells us in Philippians 3:3-8 that confidence in the flesh, in ethnicity and religious upbringing, is worthless, a liability not an asset, nothing but offensive filth and rubbish.

But he quickly switches gears (11:23-29) and begins to boast in his superior service to Christ, which looks like sufferings, trials, hardships, persecutions, constant and varied dangers, toils and snares.

When they would expect him to boast in his successes, in his accomplishments, he boasts that he is quite literally a basket case – having to flee for his life let down through the city wall in a grocery basket under cover of night.

When they anticipate accounts of visions and revelations (12:1-6), he switches to the third person, boasting not in himself as the great apostle, but in an ordinary ‘man in Christ’ who doesn’t know exactly what happened to him, other than that he was caught up into heaven and heard things he is not permitted to tell them about. But this surpassingly great revelation came with a thorn, a satanic emissary given by God to crush his pride and keep him humble. He prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t even answer his prayer, at least not in the way he had hoped. The answer he did receive from Jesus was that his grace is sufficient; because power finds its fulfillment in weakness.

In response to this, he is delighted to boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ encamps on him.

What the Church Ought To Do

He concludes this foolish boasting by pointing to the fault of the church in pushing him to that extreme.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

The church did not do what it ought to have done, and this impelled Paul to make a fool of himself to rescue them from the diabolical danger they were embracing. When false teachers came promoting a false gospel, preaching another jesus, encouraging them to receive a different spirit, they ought to have smelled the wolf by their life and teaching and given them no quarter. When the servants of Satan began to undermine the one who preached the gospel to them, who served them at great personal cost, who showed them what it looks like to follow Jesus, they ought to have stood up and testified in Paul’s defense. Paul looks back over this list of his own sufferings in service to Christ, and says ‘this is the script you should have read in my defense.’

I ought to have been commended by you. As he said earlier in response to their desire for letters of recommendation ‘you yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’ (2Cor.3:2-3). You are the authenticating evidence of our ministry, you who once were immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; you have been transformed by the gospel we preached. You were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor.9:9-11). You who were sinners have been made saints though the gospel we brought to you.

It was not only the fault of the false apostles. It was the negligence of the church to stand firm in the message that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They should have known better. They ought not to have stood silently by while the truth of the gospel and the character of the one who brought it to them was maligned and distorted. The church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1Tim.2:15). The foolish boasting of the apostle was made necessary by the church neglecting to do what it ought to have done.

Nothing and Still Not Inferior

Because, Paul says, ‘For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.’ Think this statement through for a minute. I am not deficient, I have no lack, I am not less than the super-apostles. Think of this in simple math terms. If he is not less than them, then he is saying that he is at least equal to, if not greater than them. And he considers himself exactly equal to zero. He is nothing. If he is not less than the super-apostles, then the super-apostles are equal to or less than zero.

But Paul, you don’t really consider yourself a zero, do you? This must be false humility at its best. I say ‘I’m a zero’ as a way to get you to affirm me and tell me how really great I am and how much I do contribute. I put myself down to get you to puff me up. Is that what Paul is doing here?

No, it’s not. Paul really and truly considered himself a zero, a nothing. He tells the Romans:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…

He told the Galatians:

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Our problem is not low self esteem. The temptation we all face every day is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We think we are something, and really we are nothing.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the church was lining up each behind his favorite leader. Paul asks:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I am nothing. Apollos is nothing. Nothing but servants, doing what the Master assigned. We each did what we were told. God is the one who gave the growth. God is everything. I am nothing.

He goes on to warn them:

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Again, our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. Nobody struggles with the sin of humility. Paul writes in:

1 Corinthians 4:6 …that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? 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?

My flesh cries out ‘No!’ I’m not nothing! Look at my talents, my abilities, my accomplishments, my good looks, my charming, winsome personality. What do you have that you did not receive? The question is not whether or not you got it. The question is where’d you get it? Did you deserve it? Or is it a gift, freely given?

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

I’m unworthy. I am what I am by God’s grace. Grace, remember is God’s undeserved favor extended freely to sinners. It’s the opposite of being worthy, it’s the opposite of getting something in return for being something or contributing something. Grace is given to zeroes.

Paul says ‘I worked harder than any of the other apostles, but that was not me. That was God’s grace at work in me.’ I am nothing.

Signs of A True Apostle

He says ‘you ought to have defended me, because the signs of a true apostle were performed among you.’ What does he mean by that? What are the signs of a true apostle? We could look at Jesus’ ministry. When he was asked if he was the long anticipated one, he answered:

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Authenticating signs and wonders. Blind, lame, lepers, deaf, even dead people are raised. But listen carefully to what Jesus lists as the climactic sign authenticating his ministry; the poor have the good news preached to them. That’s the climactic conclusion of Jesus’ list of his own signs.

In Mark 1, after Jesus had healed many and cast out many demons so that everyone was looking for him,

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus performed authenticating signs, but that was not primary. Proclaiming the good news was primary. In fact, Jesus warned:

Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Jesus even predicted (Matt.7:22-23) that many would prophesy, cast out demons, and do might works in his name, who did not even have a relationship with him. So what are the signs of a true apostle, if false prophets will perform signs and wonders to lead people astray? How can we know what is true if both the true and the false perform signs and wonders and mighty works?

It would serve us well to pay careful attention to what Paul says here, and what he does not say.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with both signs and wonders. With mighty works. He does not say that the signs of a true apostle are the signs and wonders and mighty works. He says the signs of a true apostle are accompanied by both signs and wonders and mighty works. Remember, Paul has just been talking about power, this same word for ‘mighty works’ here.

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.

It is Christ’s power, and it is power that finds its aim and end in our weaknesses. Paul has been boasting, but he is boasting in the things which show his weakness (11:30; 12:4). Throughout this passage, he has been pointing away from supernatural signs as confirmation of authentic ministry. He carefully avoids saying anything that would cause someone to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (12:6). The book of Acts records some of the supernatural signs and wonders that happened at the hands of Paul. But Paul insists that the minister be evaluated on the basis of his life and his teaching, objective findings that are seen and heard, not subjective supernatural experiences that can lie or be counterfeited.

Jesus told those who were requesting a sign from him:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (cf. Matt.16:4)

Jesus pointed them to the greatest sign of his own death, burial and resurrection. The cross was the ultimate sign that demonstrated Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. In John 2,

John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus did many signs and wonders, and many believed because of them. But the sign without which no other sign mattered was the cross.

With Patient Endurance

The signs of a true apostle, Paul points out here, were performed in you or among you. This is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say ‘I performed (active voice) the signs.’ Rather, they ‘were performed’ – passive. God performed the authenticating signs in and through Paul.

And he says that these signs were performed ‘in all patient endurance’; with utmost patience. He uses this same word ‘patient endurance’ in 2 Corinthians 6, where he lists his apostolic credentials that commend him as a legitimate servant of God. There he said:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

There he spells out for us what he believes authenticates ministry. It is the paradox of patiently enduring great sufferings in the cause of Christ. It looks like… Jesus.

He affirms the same thing in Romans 15. He says:

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Any signs and wonders were not his, pointing to him; they were done through him by Christ, and pointed people to Christ Jesus. It was the power of the Spirit of God at work bringing people to Jesus. Paul’s purpose was always evangelistic; preaching the gospel of Christ; to bring the Gentiles to obedience. His holy ambition was to make Christ known, and he was willing to patiently endure suffering if that was necessary. In fact it was often through his suffering that Christ was made known.

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

March 4, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials

02/21_2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210221_2cor12_7-10.mp3

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Paul shares his own experience in the third person, distancing himself from this amazing event and bringing it down to our level; it happened to a Christian; to a man in Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul reminds us that supernatural experiences don’t validate ministry. The life and teaching of the minister are what must be looked at to authenticate ministry. And gospel ministry, ministry in the footsteps of Jesus will be ministry that mirrors Jesus. It will be characterized by weaknesses, by sacrificial suffering for the good of others. Paul resolves to boast only in his weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to pummel him. This was a gift; it was God’s good gift to him, to keep him from being lifted up with pride, because pride is deadly and dangerous, more dangerous to us than demons.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

Paul didn’t want the thorn, didn’t like the thorn. He didn’t ask for the thorn. In fact he asked for it to be removed. Three times he asked, just as Jesus asked three times of his Father that if there were any other way, for the cup of God’s almighty wrath toward my sins to pass from him (Mt.26:39,42,44).

Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest who understands our trials. He has experienced and endured the same kinds of trials, yet without sin (Heb.4:15). So Paul petitioned Jesus that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken from him.

God always answers the prayers of his children, but not always the way we would expect or hope that he would. Jesus wanted to be spared from suffering as the sin-bearing Lamb. But more than he wanted to be spared from suffering, he wanted his Father’s will to be done, for his Father to be glorified.

Joyful Endurance?

So Jesus joyfully endured the cross for us. Hebrews tells us “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.12:2). How do you endure trials, suffering, adversity? Reluctantly? Avoid at all cost? Grudgingly? With grumbling and complaining? Paul’s authentication for ministry was not only that he endured trials for the sake of the Name, but how he endured those trials.

Jesus’ Answer

Listen to Jesus’ answer to Paul’s petition. This is the word of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” …

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient to you is my grace. It is adequate. My grace is enough. In John 6, Jesus tested Philip, asking him were they could buy bread to feed the crowd that numbered 5,000 men, plus women and children. Philip answered him (v.7), “Two hundred denarii (days wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” No one would be satisfied. It would not suffice. There would just not be enough to go around. You know the story. Andrew found a young boy who had brought his lunch. Jesus gave thanks, and after everyone had eaten their fill, as much as they wanted, they gathered 12 baskets full of the leftovers. It didn’t look like it was enough, but in the hands of Jesus it proved to be more than enough. It was sufficient.

This word ‘sufficient’ comes first in the original for emphasis. Christ’s grace is fully sufficient, completely satisfying, abundantly enough.

Jesus says ‘you can be satisfied with my grace.’ You can be content with my grace. It is enough to carry you through adversity, through opposition, through trials. It is sufficient to allow you to withstand the onslaughts of hell. It won’t run out. It won’t come up short or leave you unsatisfied. Sufficient to you is my grace.

Grace. Grace is God’s unearned, undeserved favor and kindness. Grace is the opposite of wages. Wages are payment for services rendered (Rom.4:4-5). The wages we earned by our sin is death. We earned God’s just wrath. We deserve hell. But instead we are freely given a gift we didn’t earn, we don’t deserve. God smiles on us. God’s favor is extended to us (Eph.2:8-9). You may have heard the acronym for Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Jesus paid the price in full, purchasing for us a gift we don’t deserve and could never pay for ourselves. Jesus says that his grace is enough.

Jesus says that his grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus parallels power and grace, as if they are almost synonymous. Christ’s grace is powerful. Grace answers my ill desert. His power answers my weakness, my sickness, infirmity, disability. His grace is divine enablement to endure the pressure.

Power to Endure

Paul asked for the trial to be removed. But God answered by pointing Paul to his all sufficient divine enablement. Paul encouraged in 1 Corinthians 10:13

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will provide a way of escape, but the way of escape may be that he gives the strength to bear up under it, to endure the pressure without collapsing. He may give the grace needed to see you through.

The Purpose of Power

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His power is made perfect. It finds its fulfillment, it comes to its intended purpose or end, it is completed. Power is intended to answer weakness. Power is not meant to lie dormant; it is meant to be engaged. Power is expressed and finds fulfillment when it overcomes weakness. Our weakness is the playground where God’s power can show off.

So Paul says ‘bring it!’ If my weakness is the place where God’s power and grace is glorified, then I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.

With Great Pleasure

Do you hear how Paul responds to his own weaknesses?

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

He is not grudging or grumpy. He is glad. This word that he puts up front for emphasis is ‘with great pleasure’, from the adjective ‘sweetly’; its root is where we get our word hedonism, indulging in pleasure and sensual delight (Lk.8:14). With great pleasure therefore, I will to a greater degree boast in my weaknesses. Paul didn’t stoically endure the thorn; he came to take delight in it. Not in the thorn in and of itself; he wanted to be rid of it. But understanding that his weaknesses, his thorn, the satanic angel sent to crush his pride provided a platform to put the powerful grace of Jesus on display brought him great pleasure. It became sweet to him.

He took pleasure not only in its pride demolishing effect, but also in its God glorifying, grace exalting, power displaying purpose. If my weakness is the way God is most glorified in me, and if I understand that the ultimate all satisfying purpose for my existence is to glorify God, then I exult in my weaknesses, because Christ is seen to be powerful more through my weaknesses than through my strengths.

Christ’s Power Encamping

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul gladly boasts in his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. This word ‘rest upon’ carries a beautiful picture. The word is a compound of ‘upon’ and ‘to tent or encamp’. This connects us back to God’s tent, the tabernacle in the wilderness, where “I will dwell in their midst” (Ex.25:8-9). This connects to the Word in John 1, who was with God and who was God,

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He dwelt, he tabernacled, he pitched his tent among us. Paul is saying that it is in his weakness that the power of Christ encamps upon him, sets up his tent over him. He finds great pleasure in his weaknesses, because it is in his weaknesses that he enjoys intimacy with Jesus.

Well Pleased

2 Corinthians 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here again Paul uses a pleasure word. He is content. This is the word the Father used of the Son at his baptism and again at the transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.3:17; 17:5). Paul is well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. Two of these words he used as credentials for authentic ministry back in 2 Corinthians 6:4;

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

Paul now delights in those hardships and calamities for the sake of Christ, because they display the glory of Jesus more vividly.

Strength In Weakness

Paul concludes “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He does not say that trials and weakness produce strength (he says suffering produces endurance in Rom.5, also James 1). He does not say that strength comes after weakness. He says that the strength is actually in the weakness. He is at the same time weak and strong. When he is weak in himself, weak in his circumstances, it is at that time that he is more transparent and the power of Christ is more evident in him.

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.

Our Response

How do you respond to trials, to oppression, to difficult circumstances? Do you grumble and complain? Do you become resentful and bitter? Or is it sweet to you because the presence of Christ dwells on you and the power of Christ is displayed through you? For the believer who has been justified as an undeserved gift by grace, every bitter thing can be made sweet.

Paul exults in Romans 8

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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

February 27, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn

02/14_2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210214_2cor12_7.mp3

It’s valentines day, and providentially we’re in 2 Corinthians 12, the passage about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So to make the connection I thought I’d use a corny cliché to title this message; every rose has its thorn.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul’s Parody of Boasting

Paul is engaged in foolish boasting to combat the dangerous servants of Satan that were promoting a kind of celebrity leadership based on alleged private (and hence unverifiable) spiritual experiences. God appeared to me, God told me, I had a dream, I experienced a vision, I’ve been entrusted with a word from the Lord; therefore you need to listen to what I have to say, you need to follow me, do what I say.

Private visions, private revelations may benefit the one who experienced them, but they do not establish spiritual authority. Paul does everything he does to be beneficial, useful, to build up the church. He says there is nothing to be gained from boasting in visions and revelations. No benefit to the church. It might sell a book or pack out a room, but it won’t build anyone up.

In this mock parody of the false apostles false boasting, he starts in 11:16-22 by boasting in his own heritage, but then he quickly moves to say that he is a greater servant of Christ, because he suffered more than others in his service to his Lord.

They expect divine supernatural authentication, so he brings up his Damascus experience, but instead of recounting his Damascus road vision of the risen Christ, he recounts his disgraceful and laughable escape from the city, being let down under cover of night through the wall in a basket.

In chapter 12 he lifts our expectations by saying that he will go on to visions and revelations. He gives us his experience, but in the third person; it’s not Paul the great apostle, but simply a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, who heard inexpressible words that he is not allowed to speak. He doesn’t give any description of what he saw, he can’t tell us what he heard. He doesn’t claim that in any way it authenticates his ministry; rather it is an experience that belongs ultimately to anyone who is in Christ.

Paul’s Fear

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul’s fear is that if he were to boast of his supernatural experience, someone might think more highly of him that is warranted. They might think of him as larger than life, more than an ordinary Christian, more than a man in Christ. Paul is afraid that someone might attribute to him some unattainable celebrity status, lift him up because of his exceptional experience as more spiritual than others who are in Christ. Paul insists the criteria of faithful ministry must not be unverifiable visions and revelations; ministry must be judged by the objective criteria of life and teaching. What do you hear taught? What do you see in my life?

Paul’s concern is that they evaluate ministry by the wrong standards and listen to the wrong kind of leaders, who, based on their life and teaching, he calls servants of Satan. He’s concerned, because of his own surpassing revelations, that they will listen to him for the wrong reasons.

Paul’s Danger

Paul is concerned for the church. But he is also aware of another threat. He himself is in grave danger.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was in great danger. The surpassingly great revelations given to Paul created a great threat to Paul. What he saw, what he heard, was so far beyond, so great, so intimate, that he can’t help but conclude that he is special. No one else had this privileged vision. He was lifted up by the Lord to such incomparable heights that he was in danger of being lifted up with pride in his own heart. It would be all too easy for him to think too much of himself. You hear his concern, repeated both at the beginning and at the end of verse 7; ‘to keep me from being conceited.’ This was a real danger for the apostle, and he recognized it.

This word ‘conceited’ is a compound word ‘surpassingly lifted up’ that connects it with the ‘surpassing greatness’ of the revelations he was given.

The only other place this word ‘conceited’ or ‘surpassingly exalted’ appears in the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 …the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is a real danger. Charles Spurgeon says of Paul,

“He had entered into the nearest communion with God, possible to a man while yet in this life. Should he not feel somewhat exalted? Surely exultation must fill that man’s bosom who has been brought within the veil to see his God, and to hear the unutterable harmonies! It was natural that he should be exalted, and it was not unnatural that he should stand in danger of being exalted above measure. Devout exaltation very rapidly degenerates into self-exaltation. When God lifts us up, there is only one step further— namely, our lifting up ourselves; and then we fall into serious mischief indeed. I wonder how many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours! We have neither head nor heart to sustain so vast a load of blessing. Our little plant needs not a river to water its root: the gentle dew suffices— the flood might wash it away.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

Pride is the sin that damned the devil. It is dangerous. ‘O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours!’

God’s Good Gift

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

To prevent Paul from falling into this deadly devilish danger, he was given a gift. He doesn’t say who gave this gift, but it is clear from the context. This word ‘given’ speaks specifically of God’s favor bestowed; in Eph.3:8 and 4:7 it speaks of God’s grace given; in 1Tim.4:14 of God’s grace-gifts. God is the giver of every good gift, and if this gift prevents Paul from pride, it is a good gift.

Thorns

What might startle us is what God’s good gift is. Paul says he was given a thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t sound good, and it is certainly not pleasant. Have you had a thorn in your flesh? Inevitably, when pulling weeds, I’ll get a little tiny thorn in my hand. Some of these thorns are so small, so insignificant, I can’t even see them. I can’t see them, but I certainly can feel them! I might not notice it for a while, until I go to pick something up and it irritates the thorn and reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve used a needle or a blade to literally dig a hole in my finger where I think the invisible source of my torment is, trying to root it out.

Thorns aren’t very impressive either. If you ask for my help and I say I can’t help because I was on the battlefield and suffered a gunshot wound to my arm that hasn’t fully healed yet, you might be impressed. But if I say I have this little thorn in my hand, so it hurts me when I pick anything up, you might roll your eyes and come at me with tweezers. And if I tell you it’s no use, it is too small even to see, I’m sure you will be very impressed with my undaunted bravery.

Everyone wants to know what Paul’s thorn was. About every malady, physical or spiritual, every form of persecution or opposition has been suggested. The fact is he doesn’t tell us. We aren’t meant to know. Whatever it was, it was given in response to the heavenly rapture experience 14 years earlier, and it was meant to keep Paul humbly trusting. Spurgeon again has a helpful word:

“we have unveiled before us a portion of the secret life of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We may not only see his bed-chamber, but learn the apostle’s visions; we may not only see his private infirmities, but learn the cause of them. Let us not, however, be actuated by so low a motive as mere curiosity, while we gaze upon the open secret; let us remember that the apostle never intended to amuse the curious, when he penned these words, but he wrote them for a practical purpose. Let us read them with a desire to be instructed by them, and may the Holy Spirit teach us to profit. This record was not sent to us merely that we should know that this eminent servant of Christ had abundant revelations, or that he suffered a thorn in the flesh, but it was written for our profit.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

We learn from this that pride is more dangerous than thorns, and God may give us the good gift of a thorn to keep us trusting in him alone and not in ourselves or our past experiences.

Satan’s Angel

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul parallels his description of the thorn in the flesh with ‘an angel of Satan to harass him’. The word here is the same one used of our Lord in his treatment at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

A demonic messenger was sent to strike him, to buffet him. This too is startling; that God’s good gift to him is Satan’s emissary. So who sent this Satanic thorn to pummel Paul? Was it Satan or God? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. The thorn was sent by Satan, and it was a gift from God. We must remember that Satan is a created being, part of God’s creation, over whom God is omnipotent and sovereign.

We could think of the evil action of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery,

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The brothers intended evil, but God intended good. We could think of the first chapters of Job, when God instigated Satan to test him. We could even think of Judas; when Satan himself entered Judas, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, under control of Satan, sold Jesus out to be executed. And we know from Colossians that Jesus death [canceled…]

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Satan incited Judas to betray Jesus to the cross, the very thing that secured our forgiveness and disarmed and conquered the powers of darkness. This is clearly a case, as Jesus predicted:

Matthew 12:26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Satan, in seeking to destroy Jesus, brought about the even that set us free from his power and sealed his own fate.

The early church understood:

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This proved to be the case for Paul. Satan’s angel no doubt intending to discourage and destroy Paul, actually was a gift of God that crushed Paul’s pride and secured his utter weak dependence on the Lord alone. God wields circumstances, sufferings, even Satan himself to bring about his good ends. As Paul said in the beginning of this book, about his affliction in Asia,

2 Corinthians 1:8 …we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The devil is a tool in the hand of the sovereign Lord to wean us away from our self sufficiency and trust him completely.

Our self-exaltation is more deadly even than demonic oppression.

Persistent Prayer for Deliverance

Don’t misunderstand; Paul didn’t look for this thorn; Paul wasn’t asking to be abused by a satanic emissary. Quite the contrary.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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.

Here again the apostle demonstrates that authentic ministry is ministry shaped by the cross. Genuine ministry follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, in dread of the cross, three times

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus three times about this that it should leave him. This is one of the few places we see prayer directed to Jesus rather than the Father, because Paul found in him a high priest who is able to sympathize with his weakness (Heb.4:15-16). He desired that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken away. Like his Lord, he did not receive the answer he hoped for. Rather, like his Lord, he was strengthened to endure what was necessary for him to endure. Like his Lord Jesus, he would bring glory to God not by escaping the unwanted trial, but by persevering through it. He was promised sufficient grace to meet the trial.

Do we underestimate the danger of our own hearts, of our self-important thoughts? Do we rightly estimate the deadly disease of pride? Likely none of us have had the rapturous experience that Paul had, and yet we allow ourselves to be puffed up beyond measure. It is God’s grace that uses a thorn to deflate our self-obsession so that we embrace weakness as the way to glorify God.

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

February 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus; Endure to the End

08/02 Endure To The End (Matt.10, 13, 24; Jude); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200802_endure.mp3

Jesus calls us to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught, and who pass on everything Jesus taught. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple?

Did you know Jesus gave us some precious and very great promises? Let’s look at one in John 16

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus promises us peace in him through his word. We love that. He declares that he has overcome the world. Amen! He also promises us that in the world we will have tribulation. Ooof! We don’t like that promise. But following Jesus is a package deal, not a smorgasbord. We don’t get to pick and choose among the teachings of our Lord. We have to take everything, obey everything he said, cling to his every word. And this is a hard word. ‘In the world you will have tribulation.’

Matthew 10:22; Endure to the End

Here’s another promise Jesus gave his followers:

Matthew 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

How’s that for a promise? You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. And here’s the command. Endure! The one who endures to the end will be saved.

This is serious. Your salvation is at stake. You are going to experience persecution. But endure. Remain steadfast. It is the one who endures the world’s hatred, tribulation, to the end, who will be saved. He said this to his 12 apostles when he sent them out. So we can say that this was specific to them, and we don’t need to worry about it, right? The problem with that is that what he says is much bigger than just the twelve on that specific mission he sent them on.

He said in verse 16 that he was sending them out ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves’. He said they would stand before courts, synagogues, governors, kings, even the Gentiles. None of that happened on this original mission. He says in verse 23 that these instructions apply until his return. So that is much bigger than the 12. He says in verse 24 ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.’ This applies to every disciple, every follower of Jesus. He continues in verse 28:

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid of the one who can only kill your body. Fear God who can send you to hell for eternity. Don’t be afraid of people, because God knows you intimately, and you are more valuable to God than many sparrows. They may kill you, but you will not fall to the ground apart from your Father and his good purposes for you.

Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Stand firm. Endure to the end. Don’t deny Jesus. Acknowledge him before people. It is those who endure to the end who will be saved.

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

If self-preservation in this life is your god, you are not really a follower of Jesus.

Matthew 24:13; Endure to the End

In Matthew 24, Jesus reiterates some of these words he gave to his 12, this time in the context of his disciple’s question ‘what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’ If there is any doubt in Matthew 10, Jesus makes it clear here in Matthew 24 that he is speaking to us. He warns us to be on guard; ‘see to it that no one leads you astray.’

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

You will undergo tribulation, you will be hated, you will be put to death. Many will fall away or be led astray, but the one who endures to the end will be saved. ‘Saved’ in this context clearly means saved in the eternal salvation sense, because we are not promised rescue or deliverance from persecution or death.

So what does it mean to endure to the end?

2 Responses to the Gospel; no understanding, no root

Jesus helps us think through what it means to endure in Matthew 13, where he described four different responses to the gospel. The word of God is scattered widely. Some hear without understanding.

Matthew 13:18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path.

Luke records it this way:

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

They hear the word and do not understand it; the devil takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The gospel as it were falls on deaf ears.

The second hearers immediately receive the word with joy. We often get too excited about those in this category.

Matthew 13:20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.

There is an immediate response with joy. They endure for a while. But when faced with trouble or persecution, they fall away. They do not endure to the end, and they are not saved. There was an initial response to the gospel, a flash in the pan; but there was no root, and when it gets hard they walk away from Jesus. Luke records it this way:

Luke 8:13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

They believe for a while, but under testing they fall away.

Tested Genuineness of Faith

Peter learned first hand about this. Peter learned the hard way. When Jesus predicted that “You will all fall away because of me this night.” (Mt.26:31)

Matthew 26:33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” …35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

That sounds great. He received the word with joy. And he was vocal about his determination to follow Jesus to the end, whatever the cost. But Peter learned the value of pressure. Pressure taught Peter that his faith was not what he thought it was (or more precisely his faith was not in who it ought to be in). And he came to thank God for trials. Listen to what he writes after Jesus’ resurrection, after Jesus restored him to faith and usefulness. And listen for the contrast from his earlier self-confident proclamation ‘I will never fall away! …I will never deny you!’ In 1 Peter 1:3 he writes:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Peter came to see tribulation as a blessing. Faith that has not been tested may or may not be genuine. It is better to find out now that your faith is false than to find out after it is too late; ‘depart from me, I never knew you’. Persecution turned Peter’s eyes away from himself and his self-confidence to a humble dependence on God and his work.

Paul and James concur that ‘we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance’ (Rom.5:3-5). ‘Count it all joy …when you meet trials …for …the testing of your faith produces steadfastness’ (Jam.1:2-4).

2 More Responses to the Gospel; choked out or endures to the end

Back in Matthew 13 Jesus lists two more responses to the gospel in addition to hearing without understanding and an immediate receiving with joy that is proved to be false through testing.

Matthew 13:22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.

This is similar to the rocky ground, but the source of the testing is different. Genuineness of faith can be tested in different ways. It can be revealed through trials or through ease, through pressure or through pleasure. In the rocky ground faith was proved false by persecution. Here in the thorny ground faith is proved false by competing affections. The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desires for other things choke out the word. We see this in the history of Israel. Moses warned:

Deuteronomy 8:11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

When Israel had times of pride, excess, and prosperous ease, she forgot the Lord. The cares and riches and pleasures of this life compete with and kill any short lived affections for Jesus.

Here is what Jesus says about the good soil.

Matthew 13:23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

This last person hears the word and understands. And the fruit varies, but he bears fruit. Luke records:

Luke 8:15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience [ὑπομονή].

Not only do they hear the word, they hold it fast. They endure to the end and are saved. They bear fruit with steadfastness or patience endurance.

The Steadfastness of Christ

Jesus calls us to persevere in faith, to endure affliction and persecution as well as pleasure and prosperous ease, to not fall away or to be led astray. Jesus commands us to hold fast the word in an honest and good heart, to bear fruit with steadfastness, to endure to the end.

And Jesus gives us himself as an example of endurance.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 says

2 Thessalonians 3:5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

The Lord is Faithful

We have the command of Christ to endure to the end, and we have the example of the steadfastness of Christ who endured the cross. But how? You might be saying ‘I don’t think I can. After all, I’m not Jesus.’ How can we endure to the end? That verse in 2 Thessalonians gives us a clue; it instructs us to direct our hearts not only to the steadfastness of Christ, but first to the love of God. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul asks for prayer, and then he says:

2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

He doesn’t say ‘we have confidence in you’; that would be misplaced confidence. He says ‘the Lord is faithful. He will establish you. We have confidence in the Lord about you.’ Paul’s confidence for their endurance and faithfulness is in the Lord’s faithfulness.

Kept to Keep Yourselves

As we wrap up today, I want to look at the little letter by Jude, just one chapter, the second to last book in the Bible. Jude tells us in verse 21 to ‘keep yourselves in the love of God.’ How do we do that? Jude tells us, and he also frames this command with some truth we need to see. At the opening of his letter, he addresses:

Jude 1:1 …To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

He addresses us as the called, and he says that we are beloved in God the Father, and we are kept for Jesus Christ. Called, loved by God, and kept. Beloved and kept are both passive; describing something being done to us by another. God is the one loving and keeping us.

He starts by addressing us as the called, loved and kept. And then in verse 20-21 he commands us to keep ourselves.

Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. That is imperative. It is a command, something we are to do. Aren’t we beloved in God and kept by him? Isn’t that enough? He even starts verse 20 by reminding us that we are beloved. How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Can we? Jude surrounds this command with three participles that tell us how; building, praying, and waiting. As the beloved of God, we keep ourselves in the love of God by building, praying and waiting. We are to build ourselves up in the most holy faith. Take positive action to dig deep, with a firm foundation of God’s word, Jesus Christ himself the cornerstone, and anchor your faith on him. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Discipline yourself to pray the Spirit inspired words of Scripture back to him. And eagerly anticipate the full realization of mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Keep yourself in the love of the triune God; building up, praying, waiting in the Son, Spirit, and Father. This is how we keep ourselves in the love of God.

So which is it? Are we kept, or do we keep ourselves? Yes! God keeps us and he uses means. God keeps us by our building up, praying and waiting.

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.

Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Jude closes his letter with this benediction:

Jude 1:24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Endure to the end. Don’t be choked out by pleasure or burned up by pressure. Keep yourselves by building yourselves up in the faith, praying and anticipating. Beloved, keep yourselves in the love of the God who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy!

***

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

August 3, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:8; Proof of Genuine Love

08/25_2 Corinthians 8:8; Proof of Genuine Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190825_2cor8_8.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to give generously to the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He encouraged them with the example of the Macedonians, who begged for the grace and the fellowship of service to the saints. They gave beyond what they were able, out of their extreme poverty in a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion.

He encouraged Titus to return to Corinth to bring to completion this grace in them that he had begun.

He encourages them that as they super-abound in many spiritual gifts, that they should super-abound in this grace also.

Not A Command

In verse 8 he tells them that he is not commanding them.

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Paul wants to make it clear that they are not under compulsion. He is not demanding, he is not commanding. He cannot require of them an act of grace and love or it would no longer be grace. Grace by definition is undeserved, under no obligation or compulsion; freely given. For Paul to command or require them to give would be to move this from an act of grace into a debt or obligation. Paul wants to be clear that this must be from the heart, a true act of grace. As the Macedonians gave of their own accord, so it must also be for the Corinthians; this must be something that they want to do, not something they are feeling pressured into.

Motivated by the Earnestness of Others

It must come from their own heart, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t say anything to them about giving. He is exhorting and encouraging them to participate in this act of grace. But it must remain an act of grace, not turn into guilt or debt or obligation.

Paul is clear this is not a command, but he is using the eagerness of others to motivate them.

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Through the eagerness of others. This is part of the fellowship, part of being in the body of Christ. We are to encourage one another. And when we see the passion, the earnestness of our sisters and brothers, God can use that to ignite an eagerness in us. That is the effect Paul hopes the Macedonians will have on the believers at Corinth. He hopes their joy in the midst of affliction and poverty will spark a similar joy in Jesus and simplicity of affections for him that overflows in extending grace to others.

This is one reason to be involved in missions; whether that means praying or giving or going; when we are connected to others in the body of Christ who are in different places and in different circumstances, their examples can ignite in us a desire to be more singly devoted to Jesus, to be more eager to overflow in spite of our circumstances in joyful generosity, and our joy in Jesus can encourage others.

It is so essential for us to stay connected with others in the body, both near and far, for our spiritual growth, and for theirs.

Proof and Confidence

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

This word ‘prove’ means to test and demonstrate genuineness, demonstrate authenticity. It means ‘to prove by testing.’ We read in one of Jesus’ parables (Lk.14:19) that a man had purchased five yoke of oxen, and he said ‘I go to examine them’ or ‘prove them’. He purchased them because he believed they were useful and worth the price. But putting them to the test would demonstrate what they were actually capable of. This is the kind of thing that would be done with precious metals to prove genuineness. It says in 1 Corinthians 3

1 Corinthians 3:12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

This does not mean that Paul wasn’t sure if they would past the test or not. He doesn’t say ‘to prove whether or not your love is genuine.’ He has already said:

2 Corinthians 7:16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

Knowing and Showing

Paul is confident that they will pass the test, but it needs to be shown. He said in verse 7 that they abound in his love for them. But the genuineness of their love for others needs to be demonstrated.

Jesus said:

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is about knowing and showing. Performing acts of love does not make a person genuine; acts of love demonstrate the character of the person, just as apples don’t make the tree an apple tree; apples demonstrate the nature of the tree. Tying apples on a Chinese elm tree would be a lot of work, and may fool some, but it doesn’t change the nature of the tree.

This is about testing, about proving or demonstrating genuineness. Back in 8:2, he said of the Macedonians:

2 Corinthians 8:2 for in a severe test [δοκιμῇ – that’s the root of the word ‘prove’ here] 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.

The Macedonians had been tested with affliction, and they passed the test. This is not the only place we see trials linked with proof or tested genuineness.

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials [πειρασμοῖς] of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing [δοκίμιον] of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [πειρασμοῖς], 7 so that the tested genuineness [δοκίμιον]of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested [δοκιμαζομένου] by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Macedonians passed a test of severe affliction and they came through like gold; they put on display the greatness of the grace of God.

Can the Corinthians pass the test in their affluence, in their abundance? That is a different kind of a test, maybe a more difficult test. It seems that those who are destitute can more acutely evaluate what is of greatest worth. Sometimes it is the poorest that are the happiest.

Genuine/Legitimate Love

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

What Paul aims to prove is the genuineness of their love. ‘Genuine’ is a word that speaks of legitimacy, specifically in birth. In 1 Timothy 1 and in Titus 1 Paul refers to both Timothy and Titus as his ‘true child in the faith. He is using a term that distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate children. They are authentic, legitimate children born again through Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. Here in 2 Corinthians 8, he is eager that the Corinthians demonstrate the legitimacy of their love; that their love is not phony; that it is not produced in an illegitimate way, but that it is the genuine fruit of the Spirit of the living God.

Proof of Genuineness in 1 John

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Paul is eager for the Corinthians to prove the legitimacy of their love. How do they do this? He doesn’t command them to obedience; rather he exhorts them to a free act of love. Love, the evidence on display of a genuinely transformed heart.

I want to tie this together with what some other authors of the New Testament are teaching us so we see it clearly.

We started by looking at Jesus’ words recorded in John’s gospel, where he says:

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love is the evidence that makes all our speaking, all our serving, all our giving more than just noisy nothingness and clanging emptiness.

John in his first short letter talks about how we know that we know him. He is talking about proof, evidence. Do you want to know that you know him? That’s an important thing, because Jesus himself said that “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord …did we not do many mighty works in your name?’” and he will respond ‘I never knew you; depart from me….’ (Mt.7:22-23). We want to know that we know him. How do we know? What is the evidence? What is the proof? 1 John is talking about proof.

1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. …

John says the evidence of relationship is doing what he says; keeping his commandments, his word. And notice, he says God’s love is perfected in him; it is God’s love in him, not his own love. This love, God’s love, works itself out in keeping his word. It is evidence that we are in him.

He continues:

1 John 2:5…By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The one commandment that is both an old commandment and an new commandment is love. Love your brother. If you claim to know him, if you claim to be walking in the light, and you don’t keep his commandments, if you don’t love your brother, you’re lying; you’re blind; you don’t know where you’re going. This command, to love, is true in him and in you. First it must be true in him. God shows his love for us in this; that Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). And because it is true in him, because we have been loved by him, it can be true in us; he has given us his love so that we can love.

John goes on in chapter 3 to talk about legitimacy:

1 John 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

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

Evidence of being children of God; the legitimacy of our new birth; we know because we love the brothers. And here the rubber meets the road.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

This is personal. This is individual. Do you see how he switches from the plural ‘we’ in verse 16 to the singular ‘any one’? This is personal. If you see a real need in your brother, you are not to close your heart against him. Notice again, the focus is on the heart, the affections. This is not guilt and duty. There should be in us as new creations in Christ an inclination to love and serve our brothers or sisters. We are not to selfishly shut that off and close them out of our hearts. The proof happens when I see a brother or sister in need and my heart just naturally (or I should say supernaturally) goes out to them, I want to do something to help them. Not just love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.

James says it this way:

James 2:15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

That is where the Corinthians were at. They had been talking about the collection for some time now. They had at first been eager to fellowship in the service to the saints. Now it was time to turn talk into action.

God’s Love In Us

We looked at Jesus’ statement that it will show; that all people will know that we are following him if we love one another. If we look ahead to John 17, we hear Jesus praying for us in his great high priestly prayer to his Father. He prays for our unity, that we would be one so that the world would believe (v.21). At the end of his prayer, he says:

John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This is amazing! Jesus tells us where this love comes from. Jesus prays that God the Father’s trinitarian love for his one and only Son would be in us! This is stunning! He doesn’t ask us to love others out of our own resources. God puts his own love in us so that we can love others with his love, not our own. This is grace!

Remember, it’s grace; it’s the grace of God given to us that creates in us this single-hearted devotion.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,

***

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

August 26, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:9-11; Repentance – Wounded to Heal

07/14_2 Corinthians 7:9-11; Repentance; Wounded to Heal ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190714_2cor7_9-11.mp3

Review: Grief According To God

We are in 2 Corinthians 7. Paul has met Titus in Macedonia and been encouraged by him, especially by the report he received about their response to his severe letter. Their grief caused Paul to rejoice.

2 Corinthians 7:8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

We looked last week at some examples of grief according to God that led to repentance, Rahab and David, in contrast to examples of worldly grief that ended in death, Achan and Saul.

Today I want to look more carefully at repentance, what biblical repentance is, what the outcome of repentance is, and how grief according to God can lead to repentance.

Preaching Repentance

First, what repentance is. Jesus came

Mark 1:14 …proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The good news of God, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom has appeared, repent and believe the good news. Jesus said in Luke 15:

Luke 15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

After he rose from the dead, Jesus commissioned his followers

Luke 24:46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Repentance is to be proclaimed in the name of Jesus to all people. Repentance is what sinners do that brings joy to God. Repentance is connected with the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is connected with believing the good news.

Defining Repentance [μετάνοια]

Repentance comes from the Greek word μετάνοια, a compound word made up of μετά (after, a prefix that indicates movement or change) and νοιέω (to think, to consider, the mind and its thoughts and perceptions and dispositions and purposes); it means to think differently in retrospect, to have a change of heart and mind. This is a deep inward change.

This word ‘repent’ is sometimes found with a different word [ἐπιστρέφω], a synonym that literally means to turn around. When Peter preached in Acts 3, he said:

Acts 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, [μετανοήσατε οὖν καὶ ἐπιστρέψατε] that your sins may be blotted out,

Forgiveness of sins is contingent on this change of mind and change of direction. In Acts 26, Paul described his life and mission:

Acts 26:20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. [ἀπήγγελλον μετανοεῖν καὶ ἐπιστρέφειν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ἄξια τῆς μετανοίας ἔργα πράσσοντας]

Conversion is another English word that has been used to try to capture this idea of turning, this new thinking, new direction. Conversion or repentance is a change of mind, a deep inward change, a turning away from what you were trusting in, hoping in, holding on to, a turning toward God, to treasure him, to trust him, to cling to him.

Fruit in Keeping with Repentance

This inward transformation produces fruit. People who truly turn, truly change, begin to live consistent with their new direction. John the Baptist called people to be genuine, to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt.3:8).

The Duty of Repentance

Jesus commanded that we have this deep inward change of heart and mind, and believe or depend on the gospel. He instructed his followers to proclaim to the nations that they experience this inward change and their sins would be forgiven in Jesus’ name, because he suffered in their place. He said there would be consequences, condemnation for those who refuse to repent.

Matthew 12:41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

This turning, this genuine inward change of heart and mind is required for the forgiveness of sins through Jesus.

God’s Kindness and Patience Lead to Repentance

And we see that God is kind, he is eager for us to repent, to experience that inward change, to receive forgiveness for our sins.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

God does not immediately pour out the consequences of our sins on us. He is patient, he forbears, all in order to lead us to repentance.

Our Turning and God’s Creative Act

Paul used this other word ‘turning’ in 2 Corinthians 3:16 to describe the turning of Jewish people to Jesus as the overcoming of their hardness of mind and the removing of the veil on their hearts that prevents them from seeing the light of the good news of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord [ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς κύριον], the veil is removed.

How does repentance come about? He says their minds are hard and their hearts are veiled, but if one turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Only through Christ is it taken away. How does this turning happen? He says in chapter 4 of those whose minds are hardened, whose hearts are veiled, those who are perishing,

2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He says it is Satan who blinds minds, but through the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord,

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Satan blinds minds and hardens hearts, but God creates light and removes veils. God works through the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and the sacrificial service of his people to create life and speak light into hard hearts, and blind minds see! We see the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and seeing, we are being transformed! When a blind mind is given light, it begins to see things differently; there is an inward change of mind and heart. What was once distasteful or unimpressive now becomes beautiful. Blind minds are enabled to perceive the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Gift of Repentance

The apostles in their preaching celebrated God’s gift of repentance. Peter, answering the Pharisees in Acts 5 said of the crucified and resurrected Jesus,

Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel [τοῦ δοῦναι μετάνοιαν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ] and forgiveness of sins.

God the Father exalted Jesus to give repentance to Israel. A few chapters later, in Acts 11, Peter is reporting to the Jerusalem church the conversion, the turning of the Gentiles in Caesarea. He recounts to them that the Holy Spirit fell on them as he began to speak. He says:

Acts 11:17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life [ὁ θεὸς τὴν μετάνοιαν εἰς ζωὴν ἔδωκεν].”

God gives the repentance that leads to life. Repentance is a gift from God. (cf.2Tim.2:25).

Wounding to Heal

How does God give this gift? We have already seen in these passages that God gives repentance through preaching, through the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and the sacrificial service of his people. He leads us to repentance through his kindness and forbearance. If we return to 2 Corinthians 7, we see that God uses grief to bring about repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Godly grief, or grief according to God; not ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ or ‘I’m sorry that there will be consequences’ but ‘I am grieved that I displeased God, that I dishonored his name.’ This grief, this true sorrow over sin brings about repentance that leads to salvation.

We can see this pattern in other places in Scripture. Last time we looked at David’s repentance after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sin. We looked at his prayer of confession in Psalm 51. He says in verse 8

Psalm 51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

David says that God broke his bones. God crushed him. God caused him to sorrow over his sin, and that genuine grief led him to repentance, and the outcome is a restoration of his joy.

God said in Deuteronomy 32

Deuteronomy 32:39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

God claims to be the one both to kill and to make alive, to wound and to heal. The context here is the disobedience and idolatry of his people, and his use of other nations to discipline them and to make them jealous. The sequence is intentional. Before God makes alive, he kills. Before God heals, he wounds. He causes grief – grief according to God – to bring about repentance, a deep inward turning, a changing of heart and desire. He breaks our bones in order to restore to us the joy of our salvation.

The prophet Hosea says

Hosea 5:13 When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king. But he is not able to cure you or heal your wound. 14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue. 15 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.

God here likens himself to a lion that tears and carries off. They go to Assyria for healing, but in vain. God says, I tear them like a lion, and then I wait for them to acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. God causes distress and grief to bring his people ultimately to himself, for their ultimate good. Hosea continues:

Hosea 6:1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 ​Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

God has torn us that he may heal us. He has struck us down so that he can bind us up. Do you feel torn, struck down, broken by the Lord? Is he trying to get your attention? He is pursuing you, eager for you to turn, to return to him, to seek his face, to earnestly seek him; not his gifts, not a change in circumstances, but him. He has torn, yes, but he has torn in order to heal; he has struck down in order to bind us up. He intends to raise us up to life, eternal life in his presence. He cares enough that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get your attention, to cause you grief to bring you to repentance, to a change of mind, a change of allegiance, to bring you to depend completely on him, to seek not his gifts, but him, to earnestly seek his face. He says:

Hosea 6:5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.

God uses his people to speak his words to grieve us into repenting, he slays us with the words of his mouth to lead us to salvation.

God used Paul’s severe letter, the gospel forcefully applied to their situation, to grieve them, to crush them, to bring them to a change of heart and mind. Paul rebuked them, he caused them grief, but for a good purpose.

2 Corinthians 7:9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Paul said the hard things, even for a time regretting what he said, so that he could say ‘you suffered no loss through us.’

Does God want to use you to speak some hard things into someone’s life, not to unload and make yourself feel better, but to love and serve him, to preach the gospel to him; that your sin displeases God and drags his good name through the mud, the good news that God loves you and sent his only Son to die for that sin, so that you can turn to him and experience forgiveness and transformation and life the way it was meant to be. Allow him to change you deep inside, your mind, your heart, your desires, so that you are eager to live consistent with those new desires.

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

July 14, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:4; Super-Abounding On All Affliction

06/02_2 Corinthians 7:4; Superabounding Joy In All Affliction Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190602_2cor7_4.mp3

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

I just want to take this verse and listen to it, to turn it over and look at it, to savor its truth, to cherish it and ask if we might be able to apply its truth in helpful ways to today, to every day.

What I’m doing today is really not that profound. This is something we all can do. To take a verse and meditate, contemplate, ruminate and reflect on it, to chew on it, to think it over and allow it to change our thinking, to consider and take it to heart. This is what we should all be doing with God’s word, daily.

Background / Context

Paul is exhorting his readers to holiness. Holiness means cutting off inappropriate ties with false teachers and their practices, unfruitful partnerships with unbelievers. He applies various passages in the Old Testament to point them to the promises, to the truth of who they are in Christ, to say that because of who you now are, you need to act like who you are. Identity shapes behavior. Behavior doesn’t shape identity.

You have a king’s kid, the heir to the throne. And you have the son of a pauper, a peasant. The peasant can try to dress like the king’s kid, he can try to behave like the king’s kid (and he may often be better behaved than the king’s kid) but his behavior doesn’t change his identity. On the other hand, the king’s kid doesn’t often act like the king’s kid, he doesn’t like to dress like the king’s kid, but he is. It is his identity. He is heir to the throne. We hope and pray that over time he rises to the office, and grows into the position that is his, that he would learn to love and serve and rule well, we want his identity to shape his behavior, but his identity is not changed by his behavior.

Paul is saying, because of who you are, because of who you have become in Christ, this should motivate you to rise to the office, to step up and pursue holiness, to be who you are in Christ. God lives in you and walks among you, he is our God and has taken us to be his own people; he welcomes us and is a Father to us; he adopts us as his own sons and daughters. Because of who we are in Christ, “since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Allow your identity to shape your behavior.

Having given them a strong exhortation to holiness, he re-affirms his love for them, and invites them to open their affections to him in return. Because we are united with Christ in death, so we are united in his resurrection life. Because of our union with Christ, we have love for one another; we die together and we live together.

Boldness

And then he launches yet another staccato series of statements: much my boldness toward you, much my boasting on behalf of you, filled with comfort, super-abounding in joy on all our affliction.

Much my boldness toward you. Paul has been open, outspoken, blunt, frank with them. And he makes it clear, this is because his heart is open wide to them; he loves them. He has them in his heart. He is united with them. So he can be direct with them; when there is a problem, a concern, when their conduct is not in step with the gospel, he can address the issue. He uses tact, he applies wisdom, he is not rude. But he is clear. He speaks plainly to them. He used this word ‘boldness’ back in chapter 3:12 where he was contrasting his apostolic ministry with the veiled ministry of Moses. He said:

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,

And that applies here. Since we have this hope, these promises, because of our shared identity, who we are in Christ, we can be very bold. There is great confidence;

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.

The Corinthians are God’s work. And he will bring it to completion. And one of the instruments in his hands to bring that work in them to completion is Paul. So Paul can be bold with them because he knows ultimately it is God’s work and he will without fail complete what he started in them. This is blood-bought gospel boldness, gospel confidence.

Boasting

Much boldness toward you; much boasting on behalf of you. Paul wants them to know that they are not his problem child. We read the Corinthian correspondence and we might get the impression from all his boldness addressing all the problems there that they are a constant source of grief to him. They might get the impression that he talks negatively about them wherever he goes. After all, he likely left Ephesus to make an emergency visit to them, and that didn’t go well. Then on this trip, he decided not to make another painful visit to them first, but instead send Titus to hopefully patch things up. But in Troas he left an open door for gospel ministry because of his inner turmoil over them. We could easily hear him saying ‘yeah, I’d really like to stay and serve you, but I’ve got this problem church down in Achaia, and I’ve got to go deal with them… again. But that is not his heart, and that is not how he talks about them. Here he affirms that when he talks to others about them, it is ‘much boasting’. And we see him display this in the Corinthian letters. He said in 1 Corinthians 1 that

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—

In 1 Corinthians 15:31 he swears and oath by his pride in them. Later in this chapter (7:14) he relays that he had been boasting about them to Titus, and his boasting had proved true. In 8:24 he says that he has been boasting about them to the other churches. He is bold toward them, but he is like a proud parent boasting about them to others. There are issues, and he doesn’t brush over them; he is bold toward them. But he is proud of them. He takes pride in them; ultimately in the work of God he sees in them. God is at work. And he is confident in the ability of God to complete what he has begun.

Comfort

Much boldness, much boasting, I am filled with comfort. Different forms of this word ‘comfort’ show up 10 times in 1:3-7

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 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.

God is the God of all comfort. He comforts us so that we can comfort others. If you remember all the way back to chapter 1, we learned there that this word comfort is not a soft word; it is a strong word. Com-fort has ‘fort’ as its root, as in fortress or fortitude. This is a strengthening word. The Greek is παρακλήσει which literally means to call alongside. Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit in John 14 as the παράκλητος ‘the Comforter’ (Jn.14:16,26;15:26;16:7;cf.1Jn.2:1) or the Helper; the one who calls us to his side. In our afflictions, God calls us to his side; he is with us in our sufferings, he implores, he exhorts, he gives us strength. In the coming verses he talks about the comfort he received at the coming of Titus. Here he says he is cram full of comfort. He is filled up. He was downcast, but God comforted him. He has no lack, his cup is not empty. Filled up with comfort.

Notice where this strengthening comfort comes from. It is the God of all comfort who comforts us; we are comforted by God. It is God who comforts the downcast, who comforted us. And notice where this strengthening comfort comes to us, it comes in all our affliction. It comes to those in any affliction. We experience abundant comfort as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings. You experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Comfort isn’t escape from the pain; comfort comes to us in the middle of our pain.

Super-Abounding in Joy on All Our Affliction

This last phrase in this series is so interesting; super-abounding in joy on all our affliction. It seems Paul coined this word here. He takes a more common word superabound, to have more abundance, to be in excess, to have more than enough, which shows up a dozen times in the gospels; once in Acts, and 26 times in Paul’s letters, and he adds a prefix to compound and amplify it; super-super-abound. His cup is not just filled up full, it is not just overflowing, it is super-overflowing.

He uses this word here as he writes to Corinth from Macedonia, and again a few months later when he writes to the Romans from Corinth.

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Grace super-super abounded; Grace hyper-over-flowed.

Here, he is hyper-over-flowing with joy. This is unexpected. I think of the Corinthian letters as filled with concern and correction, not overflowing with joy. But here it is. Joy confronts us in unexpected places. Joy. In 1:24 he refused to lord it over them, but he works with them for their joy. In 2:3 he refers to his previous painful letter and expressed his confidence that his joy would be the joy of all. In 6:10 he describe the paradox of ministry as ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing’. Four times in this chapter (7:7,9,13,16) he speaks of his rejoicing. In 7:13 he rejoices over the joy of Titus. In 8:2 he talks about the abundance of joy of the Macedonians. In 13:9 he finds joy in his own weakness in pursuit of their restoration, and then in 13:11 he says ‘ Finally, brothers, rejoice.’

We tend to think, ‘how can he talk so much about joy and rejoicing all through a letter that is addressing such serious issues?’ And how can he talk about joy when he is experiencing such overwhelming suffering. But this is the thing, he is showing them what it looks like to have joy above your circumstance, joy not conditioned on your circumstances. Literally he says joy on top of all our affliction.

He won’t leave alone the theme of affliction. In chapter 1 it was comfort in all our affliction. He writes of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (1:8). In 2:4 he “wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” In 4:17 “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In 6:4 he commends himself as a legitimate servant of God “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities.” In 8:2 he speaks of the Macedonian’s “abundance of joy” “in a severe test of affliction” which “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Joy not only can survive, but can thrive in the middle of adverse circumstances. This joy is piled right on the top of all our affliction.

Application

Are you looking for a change in your circumstances? Are you looking for a break? Is your happiness contingent on your circumstances? That’s not the kind of joy Paul holds out to us. Is your joy hyper-over-flowing even in the midst of adverse circumstances? Are you filled up with comfort? Where does this come from? He doesn’t leave us wondering. It comes from God; it comes to us in the gospel. It comes to us in the middle of the mess. God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but he does want to transform us in the midst of the circumstances. He wants to heap inexplicable joy right on top of our painful reality.

Paul is not ignoring his circumstances; he is not in denial. But neither is he self-focused. He is looking to others. He is looking to how God is using him in the lives of others. He has much boldness toward them. And he is looking at God’s hand evidenced in the lives of others. He has much boasting on behalf of them. He sees God at work, even though that work is not finished yet. And that helps. It helps to see that God is at work in others. Sometimes we are too close to see him at work in us. But we can see him at work in others. And that can give us confidence that he is indeed at work in me.

He is not going to people to fill his cup. He is filled up with comfort; the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The comfort that the God of all comfort pours out into those whose hearts have been emptied through suffering. Are you seeking to avoid any suffering? That is where God meets us with his comfort and his overflowing joy.

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

June 3, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment