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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 13:3-4, 9; Power in Weakness

03/28 2 Corinthians 13:3-4, 9; Power in Weakness; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210328_2cor13_3-4.mp3

Palm Sunday; Triumphal Entry

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate the triumphal entry, when Jesus rode in to the city of Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ (Jn.12:13; Mt.21:9). But Luke tells us that Jesus also wept over the city of Jerusalem, predicting its destruction ‘because you did not know the time of your visitation’ (Lk.19:41-44). Celebration mingled with sorrow.

It was not even a week later that the crowds, possibly some from this same crowd, cried out before Pilate ‘Away with this man, …crucify him!’ (Lk.23:18,21). The people wanted a king, but Jesus was not the kind of king they had expected.

In Matthew 16, Peter acknowledged Jesus as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ and Jesus promised ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Mt.16:16,18).

Jesus is God with us, the anticipated King, and his church will triumph. It was:

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

This is when Peter rebuked Jesus, saying “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Mt.16:22), and Jesus responded “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mt.16:23).

Peter began to understand who Jesus is, that he is the one who is God, sent out from God, the promised Messiah-King. But he couldn’t connect the conquering King with the suffering servant. He wanted a King without a cross. And Jesus said this was satanic deception.

Crown Without the Cross

Corinth suffered from a triumphalism that wanted the crown without the cross; they wanted to reign as kings but avoid suffering. They wanted powerful charismatic leaders. They were ashamed of Paul and his suffering. He seemed weak, his speech was unimpressive. And their desire for an outwardly powerful ministry was leading them astray from a simple devotion to Christ.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul is not defending his ministry; he is ministering. He is re-centering them on the gospel, on authentic ministry that looks like and sounds like and feels like Jesus and the cross. Authentic ministry must resemble the gospel it proclaims.

Strength in Weakness

In chapter 10 he said (with a bit of sarcasm):

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

The Corinthians accused Paul of being weak. Paul admits that he is meek, gentle, and humble – like Jesus, but that he also wages war with divine power. In chapters 11 and 12 he boasts in his weaknesses, and he concludes with a word from the Lord.

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. 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.

The Corinthians assumed that strength and weakness are mutually exclusive; if you are weak, you are not strong; if you are powerful, you are not weak. You are either one or the other; you can’t be both. Paul contradicts this thinking. Christ’s power accomplishes its purpose in weakness. Paul’s strength was not his own; it was in his weakness that the power of Christ dwelt on him. It was precisely when he was weak that he was strong.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

Here in chapter 13, he gets to the source of this power in weakness.

2 Corinthians 13:3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Christ, who speaks to you by means of me, is not weak toward you but is powerful in you. Did the good news I preached to you change you? Did Christ do a mighty work of transforming you by the gospel I preached to you? Were you changed? As he told them back in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The gospel, the word of the cross, is the power of God to us who are being saved. Jesus powerfully transforms sinners into saints through the gospel. ‘If anyone is in Christ, new creation! The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’ (2Cor.5:17). ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed (2Cor.3:18).

If the Corinthians were transformed through Paul’s ministry of the gospel, they have to admit that something extremely powerful happened among them.

The Source of Power in Weakness

Paul gives them the foundation of this life-transforming power.

2 Corinthians 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. …

Jesus was crucified in weakness; literally out of weakness. Jesus, in his humanity, in his humiliation, was weak. He was not weak in the sense of inability;

Matthew 26:53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

He has omnipotent power at his fingertips. Yet he did not count his equality with his Father a thing to be held on to, but he humbled himself. He became one of us. He chose obedience to his Father to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil.2:6-8). He was not inherently weak; he chose weakness in the path of obedience. He chose to surrender his rights. He took our weakness upon himself. He became weak, and it was out of that weakness that he was crucified.

Irony of Good Friday

And this is the great irony. The irony of Good Friday was that the crowds were eager to embrace Jesus as a conquering King. But when he failed to meet their expectations, when he was publicly displayed in weakness, flogged, beaten, mocked, clothed in a purple robe and wearing a crown of thorns (Jn.19:1-6), they rejected him, crying out ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’

When he was crucified, hanging helpless between heaven and earth,

Mark 15:29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness. The crowds and the religious leaders, the soldiers, and even those crucified near him mocked him in his weakness. He claimed to be king, messiah, savior. He can’t even save himself. He cant’ come down from the cross.

The irony of Good Friday was that as God in the flesh, he still possessed all power and could have come down, could have made a spectacular display of power, could have wiped out those who mocked him with a word, but he ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk.10:45). He was not sent ‘into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn.3:17). The irony of the cross was that he possessed the power to come down from the cross, but that would have condemned the world. In order to save us, he could not save himself.

The mighty power to save was unleashed in his embracing the weakness of crucifixion.

The Resurrection Power of God

Crucifixion in weakness was not the end of the story.

2 Corinthians 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. …

Jesus now lives out of the power of God. Paul prays for us in Ephesians that we might know

Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

It was God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead. God’s resurrection power was displayed in Jesus precisely because Jesus was crucified in weakness. Had Jesus not willingly laid down his life as a substitute for sinners, there would be no resurrection. God’s power is displayed in Christ’s weakness. And it was precisely when Christ was weak that he was mighty to save. The cross is a picture of simultaneous weakness and strength. This is what Paul patterns his ministry after in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 13:3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Just as Christ was crucified out of weakness but lives out of the power of God, so also Paul is weak in him but will live with him out of the power of God. Paul is in Christ. He was crucified with Christ. He no longer lives, but Christ lives in him (Gal.2:20).

Paul gladly boasts in his weaknesses because it is in his weaknesses that the power of Christ encamps upon him. Paul says:

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. (lit. ‘out of us’)

Outward Show of Power

The Corinthians are not content with God’s power hidden in weakness. They want an outward show of power. That outward show of power is coming. 2 Thessalonians speaks of the time:

2 Thessalonians 1:7 …when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

That outward show is coming, but it will mean condemnation and not salvation. Jesus was crucified out of weakness, but lives out of the power of God. Now is the day of salvation. He will return ‘on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Mt.24:30), but then the day of salvation will be past, and he will be coming in judgment, and the people of the earth will mourn.

Paul says he is weak in him, but he will live with him out of the power of God toward the Corinthians. This future living with Christ out of the power of God is not pointing to the resurrection on the last day, but to Paul’s upcoming visit to Corinth. The crucified and resurrected Christ is mighty to save, but he has also been given all authority to execute judgment (Jn.5:22, 27). If they refuse to repent, he will come in judgment out of the power of God toward you.

But this is not what he desires. Paul does everything he does to build them up, not to tear them down. He doesn’t want to come in a show of outward power. He says down in verse 9:

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.

Paul is praying for their wholeness, their full mending and restoration. It would bring him joy if this letter brought about repentance and restoration so that he could continue to be seen among them as weak, and they be seen as strong. Paul desires that his ministry always be shaped by the cross. He desires to come in weakness, with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He wants his ministry to look like Jesus, who paradoxically was crucified out of his weakness, but in that very weakness he is not weak toward you but is powerful in you. The seemingly weak and foolish message of the cross brings about powerful life transformation in all who hear and believe.

What is the message we bear? With our words? With our lives? Do we rejoice when we are seen to be weak and Jesus is seen to be strong? Do we never seek our own advantage, but that of the many, that they may be saved (1Cor.10:33)?

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

April 1, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, passion, 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.

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations

02/07_2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210207_2cor12_1-6.mp3

Visions and Revelations

Paul had been in Corinth only a short time and God was blessing. Although he was opposed by those in the Jewish synagogue, he went to a house next door and continued to proclaim Jesus. The ruler of the synagogue and his household believed, and many Corinthians believed and were baptized. But in Acts 18:9 we read:

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision [ὅραμα], “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Paul must have been afraid, intimidated, feeling alone. He must have been tempted to back off, to be quiet, to disengage, so the Lord Jesus encouraged him with a vision and a word.

Peter, in Acts 1, when:

Acts 2:3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared [ὀπτάνομαι] to them and rested on each one of them.

Peter proclaimed the good news of Jesus to the questioning crowd, and he said:

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see [ὀπτάνομαι] visions [ὅρασις], and your old men shall dream dreams;

Visions, dreams, revelations. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 in confronting the false apostles is boasting (foolish boasting), and in chapter 12 he says:

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.

Paul is going to address visions and revelations of the Lord. Visions and revelations are big in some circles of the church today, as they were big in the church in Corinth. Apparently the false apostles would one-up each other with elaborate accounts of their visions and revelations.

Boasting and the Damascus Escape

Paul is meeting the false apostles on their own boastful turf, answering fools according to their folly, and bragging that he has more to boast of than they do. If you remember in 11:21-22 he began by boasting in his ethnic and religious pedigree, claiming the same credentials as anyone else. In verse 23 he takes it up a notch and claims to be a better servant of Christ, but he switches gears and begins to talk about his sufferings in service of Christ and the gospel. He says ‘if I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (11:30).

He brings up his Damascus experience, where everyone knows he had a vision of the risen Jesus who appeared to him and changed the entire direction of his life. But Paul doesn’t recount his life transforming vision here. Rather he recounts his humiliating escape from Damascus, where the persecutor of Christians escaped by night, weak, lowered in a basked through the city wall by the Christians whom he now calls brothers; the mighty persecutor had become the persecuted.

They would have expected him to recount his Damascus vision here, but instead he tells them about his humbling escape.

Nothing To Be Gained

Here it comes. In chapter 12, he says he will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. He’s stringing them along. Finally he’s going to get to the powerful, the supernatural, the good stuff. After all, a true apostle must have had some profound spiritual experiences.

But he prefaces what he is about to say by reminding them that he is boasting, which he has told them in 11:16-18 that he is boasting according to the flesh, he is not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

And here he says, ‘there is nothing to be gained by it’. It is not beneficial. It is not profitable. It won’t build anyone up. In Acts 20, he reminded the elders of the church in Ephesus of his service ‘with all humility and with tears and with trials…’

Acts 20:20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

Paul seeks to be useful, profitable, to do good to all. He said in

1 Corinthians 10:33 …not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

This is his criteria for his own ministry, and for the use of spiritual gifts in the church.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

In 1 Corinthians 14 he uses a parallel idea – building up:

1 Corinthians 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

And here in 2 Corinthians 10-13, he says it three times

2 Corinthians 10:8 …our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you…

2 Corinthians 12:19 …we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

2 Corinthians 13:10 …the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Paul seeks to build up, to be profitable, to seek the common good. But here he says that boasting in visions and revelations does not do that. There’s nothing to be gained by it. It will not benefit you. It will not build up the church. But here I go. I must go on boasting; you’ve driven me to it.

Not a Credential; A Man In Christ

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. 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.

What strikes us here is that Paul switches to the third person. He promises to boast of his own visions and revelations, but now he’s talking about some ‘man in Christ’. But when we look ahead to verses 6-10, he switches back to the first person ‘I, I, I, I, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, I, me, me, I, my, me, I, I, I.

What is Paul doing? Paul is boasting about his credentials for ministry, and here he moves on to boast about the category of visions and revelations, his own supernatural experience. He gives one specific example, but he distances himself from the narrative.

He doesn’t say ‘I, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, had this amazing experience, unlike anyone else’. Rather he says ‘I know an average ordinary believer, a man who belongs to Jesus, someone who is in Christ’. It could have been anybody. I had this experience, but not because of who I am, and the experience doesn’t establish my credentials or give me any authority.

So many false teachers, false prophets, false apostles throughout history have built their platform on a vision or a revelation. I had this experience. God appeared to me, God spoke to me, the Lord told me… Paul is careful not to paint a picture of himself in such a way as to make them think that visionary experiences give anyone any authority in the church of Jesus Christ.

Fourteen Years Ago

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven…

Fourteen years ago? Fourteen years ago, Paul, and you’re not selling books ‘my trip to the third heaven’. You’re not holding seminars ‘how to have your own personal rapture’? You’ve not been invited to speak at multiple large events? Fourteen years ago and you haven’t told anyone?

If Paul wrote 2 Corinthians around AD 54 or 55, that would put this experience around AD 40, shortly after his escape from Damascus between 37 and 39. We know almost nothing of the years between his departure from Damascus and Barnabas retrieving him from Tarsus around 44 or 45 (Acts 11:25-26), other than what he says in Galatians 1

Galatians 1:17 … I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. …21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Paul has known the Corinthians for 5 years. He spent 18 months with them, he made another brief visit to them, this is his fourth letter to them. And only now, when he is forced to, does he bring up this monumental experience. Why?

Raptured (Passive)

2 Corinthians 12:2 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—

Twice in these verses Paul says he was caught up; the word is used of seizing. This is the word used of the evil birds in Jesus parable who snatch away what was sown in the heart (Mt.13:19), or of the wolf who snatches the sheep. Jesus reassures us that no one will snatch his sheep from his hand (Jn.10:12,28-29). This is the word used when the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king (Jn.6:15). Or in Acts 8:39 when the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away. This is the word that comes to us through the Latin as rapture.

Paul claims to have been raptured, caught up to the third heaven, to paradise. In Jewish thought the first heaven is the day sky or our atmosphere; the second heaven is the night sky or space, the moon, stars, galaxies; the third heaven is the presence of God himself. Paradise connects back to where God walked with the first man and woman in the garden.

Notice, this is something that happened to Paul. The verbs are in the passive voice, which means it is not something Paul did; it was something that was done to Paul by another. This was not an experience Paul was seeking or preparing himself for. It was not a state he worked himself into. Paul can take no credit. God did it. God snatched him, carried him off.

Notice also Paul’s ignorance of the details. He repeats twice his ignorance of his own physical state during this event. He doesn’t know if he was taken bodily or only spiritually. Ancient extra-biblical Jewish apocalyptic literature went into detail on about traveling through the heavens, and entering into the presence of God, and what they claim to have seen there. Paul doesn’t give us any of this. He doesn’t even know where his own body was. God knows.

God gave Paul a foretaste of heaven. And this is the hope of every believer, of all who are in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What happened to Paul was no doubt incredible. But it happened to ‘a man in Christ’. He brings his experience down and makes it ours. Every believer, all who are in Christ will be caught up to be with the Lord forever.

He Heard Unutterable Utterances

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—

Next comes the part where he tells us what he saw and heard. Actually he doesn’t tell us what he saw; he only tells us what he heard.

2 Corinthians 12:4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Do you see how anticlimactic this is? How disappointing? Paul was given revelation, he heard words, but they are unutterable, inexpressible. This could mean that what was communicated to him went beyond the limits of human language. But in the next phrase he says that what he heard is not lawful or permitted for a man to speak. Whatever he heard he was not allowed to communicate. This revelation was for him alone. This is one reason he didn’t talk about what happened for 14 years. And he still doesn’t break the silence. Everybody wants to know what Paul heard, but doesn’t let us in on any of it. This is in stark contrast to the false apostles who are all too eager to use their experiences to manipulate people.

Weakness (Suffering in Service to Christ) Establishes Authenticity

Paul concludes

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 is persistent that if he must boast, it will be in his weakness. That is why he frames this whole visionary revelatory experience in the third person. It was a man in Christ. If he wanted to boast in this man’s experience, he wouldn’t be lying, because it was indeed his own experience. But he refuses to boast in it. He refused for 14 years, and he will continue to refuse to use it to leverage authority. It is his weaknesses that he wants to be written large over his life and ministry.

His reason for this is so counter-cultural. We are worried that people will think too little of us, or think of us too little. We love to filter our flaws and inflate our image. We want to be made much of. Paul doesn’t want anyone to think too highly of him. Even in the context of false teachers in the church undermining his authority and integrity, he doesn’t want anyone to think more of him than is warranted by the real verifiable evidence of his life and teaching.

Paul could have easily won a short term victory here by pulling his authority card and his supernatural experience card and leaving the opponents in the dust. But that would have left the door wide open for future generations to seize spiritual authority by unverifiable supernatural experiences.

He is teaching the Corinthians (and us) that supernatural experiences, although real, are not to be used to establish the credibility or authority of anyone as a minister. Those kind of personal experiences aren’t earned, they are given graciously by God. And they can’t be verified.

Paul wisely says no. Don’t think more of me than what you see in me or hear from me. Those are objective, verifiable standards. Judge me by my life, by my weaknesses, my my suffering service for the Savior. Judge me by the content my message, by the gospel I proclaim, by my open statement of the truth.

***

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

February 12, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness

01/31_2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210131_2cor11_30-33.mp3

We are going to jump back in to our study of 2 Corinthians today. We have been away from this book for the holidays, so a quick overview to orient ourselves in this letter from the Apostle Paul to a troubled church.

Acts 18 recounts Paul’s first visit to Corinth (around AD 50 or 51), where he spent 18 months preaching the gospel and establishing the church. But shortly after leaving, he heard there were troubles in Corinth, so he wrote them a letter (AD 52) confronting some of the issues, a letter that was misunderstood. He again received visits from some in Corinth communicating that all was not well, so he wrote them again (AD 53; the letter we have as 1 Corinthians). About a year later (AD 54), he heard of more problems, so he traveled in person to Corinth, a visit that did not go well. He quickly retreated, and wrote them a letter through his tears. Having sent his co-worker Titus ahead to Corinth to try to patch things up, he was now traveling through Macedonia en route to visit them again, and he wrote this letter (AD 55) to prepare them for his visit.

Chapters 1-7 seek to re-orient their thinking about ministry. They had developed a distorted understanding of what ministry is all about; Paul argues that gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel. The good news is that God humbled himself, became one of us, to seek and to save the lost, to lay down his life for us. Christian ministry is not all about paychecks and positions and privilege. Gospel ministry must be shaped by the gospel, by the cross. It must look like humility, like sacrificial service for others. It must pattern itself after Christ crucified. It must conform to the cross.

Paul says:

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

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. …7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

In chapters 8-9 he reminds us that this gospel grace that has been extended to us by God will so transform our hearts that we will overflow in practical generosity to others. Part of his purpose for this trip through Macedonia to Corinth is to take up a collection for the poor and persecuted believers in Jerusalem, so he extends them the opportunity to participate in this practical ministry.

In chapters 10-13 he confronts head on the false apostles who had gained a hearing in the church, who were proclaiming a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

Paul changes his tone in this section to biting irony. The false teachers are engaged in foolish boasting, so he answers fools according to their folly so that their folly will become evident to all. He warns the Corinthians are being led astray from a sincere devotion to Christ, and that the false apostles are taking them as slaves, devouring, taking advantage of, putting on airs, even striking them in the face (11:20).

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.

Paul possesses the credentials to meet them in their foolish boasting. In fact, he can go further than that.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman…

But here he switches gears on them. He reminds them that a servant of Christ is just that, a servant.

2 Corinthians 11:23… —with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Res Gestae Divi Augusti

When we put this in historical context, we see Paul is making a parody of the typical self-praise of the powerful.

Augustus Caesar (who reigned 31 BC to 14 AD) had his lengthy autobiography inscribed on two columns in Rome. Here is a short excerpt:

“the achievements of the deified Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the sovereignty of the Roman people, and of the amounts which he expended upon the state and the Roman people”.

[4] Twice I triumphed with an ovation, thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. Although the Senate decreed me additional triumphs I set them aside. When I had performed the vows which I had undertaken in each war I deposited upon the Capitol the laurels which adorned my fasces. For successful operations on land and sea, conducted either by myself or by my lieutenants under my auspices, the Senate on fifty-five occasions decreed that thanks should be rendered to the immortal gods. The days on which such thanks were rendered by decree of the Senate numbered 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time of writing these words I had been thirteen times consul, and was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power.

It was common for the powerful to catalog their accomplishments. Paul meets the super-apostles in their boasting, but he takes it in a direction they wouldn’t anticipate. We expect boasting to be in accomplishments, in victories, in triumphs. But Paul boasts in his trials, in his brokenness, in his sufferings.

Divine Commission

We pick up on some of the credentials they were looking for from chapter 12, where Paul says ‘I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. …The signs of a true apostle were performed among you …with signs and wonders and mighty works’ (12:1,12). They expected the supernatural; visions, revelations, signs, wonders.

We could think of the divine commissioning of the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel, who said “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” or Isaiah; “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” or Jeremiah; “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” or even the Apostle John “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book…”

We would expect Paul to share with us his commissioning by the risen Lord that we find in Acts 9:

Acts 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-18)

No doubt this was well known to the Corinthian church, as Paul had referenced it in 1 Corinthians 9:1. But that’s not what he says here.

Glory To God Alone

Paul says

2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul is answering a fool according to his folly, but he refuses to play their game on their terms. He will not answer a fool according to his folly. He changes the criteria. He says ‘You make it necessary for me to boast, but I’m going to boast about that which puts on display my weakness, so that God gets all the glory.’

2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

God must get all the glory. God alone is blessed forever. God is related to Jesus as his God in his humanity, and he is the Father of our Lord Jesus in his eternal divine nature. Christian ministry is intimately linked to the Father through our Lord Jesus.

Paul takes an oath by the God who is Truth, that he is telling the truth. This heightens our expectation of what he is going to say next. He brings up his Damascus experience, but not in the way they expect.

Damascus Escape

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,

This account, by the way, is anchored in history. Aretas was a royal title. This was Aretas IV, a Nabatean vassal king who reigned in Petra from 9 BC to 39/40 AD; he was the father-in-law to Herod Antipas. Herod divorced his daughter to marry Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip (Mat.14:3-4; Mk.6:17-18 Lk.3:19). This is the Herod whom John the Baptist rebuked, and was eventually executed by. Aretas avenged his daughter by attacking and defeating Herod Antipas in 36 AD.

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (cf. Acts 9:20-25; Gal.1:17)

This is shocking. He turns boasting upside down. Paul was powerful, triumphant, marching in broad daylight to Damascus with authority to persecute and imprison followers of Jesus. This is the posture of the false apostles. But he didn’t know Jesus. Jesus knocked him from his high horse, lowered him to the dust, so that he could reveal himself to him.

And then he was helpless, blind, weak; he had to be led by the hand. He had to be prayed for by a reluctant disciple from Damascus that he was coming to persecute. Ananias laid his hands on him to restore his sight. He immediately began to proclaim Jesus, and this soon got him in trouble. The hunter became the hunted; the persecutor became the persecuted. The powerful became weak. The pursuer was pursued. The one who came to take lives had to flee for his life. In a humiliating turn, those he came to persecute helped him escape; he was lowered in a large basket under cover of night, a basket normally used for salted fish or produce.

Saul the persecutor came to know what it was to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. But he had met Jesus, and Jesus was worth the cost. Christian ministry is characterized by humility, willingly sacrificial for the good of others.

Corona Muralis

It was well known that one of the highest military honors for valor was the Corona Muralis or Wall Crown. It was awarded to the first Roman soldier to successfully scale the wall of an enemy city. Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness. He didn’t scale the wall in victory; he was lowered down the wall and slunk away under cover of darkness.

The false apostles wanted credentials, they wanted evidence of divine commissioning. They wanted an account of a vision or evidence of divine favor. In bringing up Damascus, Paul alludes to his divine call and commissioning, but instead he recounts his shameful exit from the city.

Jericho and David

But Paul was not the only one to escape down a city wall. Under Joshua’s command, the two spies who entered Jericho were let down a scarlet cord through an opening in the wall by Rahab the prostitute (Josh.2:15). David escaped from King Saul when Michal let him down through the window, and he fled (1Sam.19:12). In each of these accounts, what seems like an ignominious and shameful escape turns out to lead to a display of God’s power.

This is exactly Paul’s point. God’s power is displayed most vividly through human weakness. So he is glad to boast in the things that display his weakness, so that God alone would get all the glory.

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

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

2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains

11/29_2 Corinthians 11:27-29; Pastoral Pains ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201129_2cor11_27-29.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul engages in foolish boasting to parody the false apostles. He answers a fool according to his folly, so that their folly will be evident to all. He says this is boasting according to the flesh, not according to the Lord (11:17-18). But even as he launches into foolish boasting, he draws a contrast between himself and the false apostles, who were enslaving them, devouring, seizing, self-exalting, and striking them on the face (11:20). Paul says,

2 Corinthians 11:21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! …

Paul is willing to embrace shame, to be thought of as weak, to lower himself in order to lift them up. He possesses the social, religious and ethnic status, and although he boasts in that here (11:22) in a mock parody of the false teachers, he considers it all worthless and a liability not an asset. He turns the attention away from status and on to service. He is showing them that weakness is the way.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? —I am talking like a madman— I am a better one

And he begins to list his surpassing service record;

23 …in toils, abundantly; (ἐν κόποις περισσοτέρως, )

in prisons, abundantly; (ἐν φυλακαῖς περισσοτέρως, )

in wounds, surpassingly; (ἐν πληγαῖς ὑπερβαλλόντως,)

in deaths, frequently (ἐν θανάτοις πολλάκις· )

He goes on to get specific about some of his suffering;

24 5x forty lashes less one.

25 3x beaten with rods.

1x stoned.

3x shipwrecked;

24hrs. adrift at sea;

As a servant of Christ on mission, he has been commissioned by Christ to bring the gospel to the nations. This requires travel.

26 journeys frequent, (ὁδοιπορίαις πολλάκις, )

But travel in the ancient world is fraught with danger. He catalogs the different types of danger he faced; circumstantial travel dangers:

danger – rivers, (κινδύνοις ποταμῶν,) \

danger – robbers, (κινδύνοις λῃστῶν,) / —Travel Dangers

Each people group posed a threat:

danger from my own people, (κινδύνοις ἐκ γένους,) \

danger from Gentiles, (κινδύνοις ἐξ ἐθνῶν,) / —People Dangers

Each place he traveled posed its own threat:

danger in city, (κινδύνοις ἐν πόλει, ) \

danger in wilderness, (κινδύνοις ἐν ἐρημίᾳ,) |—Place Dangers

danger in sea, (κινδύνοις ἐν θαλάσσῃ,) /

And the climactic danger of all, what he considered the greatest threat not to his own person, but a threat to the very ministry that Jesus commissioned him to do:

danger from false brothers; (κινδύνοις ἐν ψευδαδέλφοις,) –Spiritual

This was meant to hit home with the Corinthians, who were guilty of extending hospitality to false teachers, listening to and supporting their proclamation of a false Jesus, a counterfeit spirit, a false gospel.

Physical and Emotional Cost of Ministry

In verse 27, he continues to catalog his hardships with another list, this time focusing on the toll his ministry took on him both physically and emotionally.

2 Corinthians 11:

27 toil and hardship, κόπῳ καὶ μόχθῳ, [v.23]

in sleeplessness frequently, ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις πολλάκις,

in hunger and thirst, ἐν λιμῷ καὶ δίψει,

in fastings, frequently, ἐν νηστείαις πολλάκις,

in cold and exposure. ἐν ψύχει καὶ γυμνότητι·

The first, third and fifth lines of this list are pairs joined by ‘and’; toil and hardship; hunger and thirst, cold and exposure. The second and fourth lines list something he faced often; sleeplessness frequently, fastings frequently.

Toil and Hardship

Toil and hardship; back in verse 23 he used the plural ‘toils;’ ‘In toils, abundantly.’ Now he uses the singular, paired with a synonym. Wearisome labor and painful toil. Both of these words end with the same letter in the original, so there is poetic rhythm to the ears. Paul uses these two words together also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8, both in the context of working night and day in order to not be a burden to them.

Sleeplessness

This would fit in to what he says next, ‘sleeplessnesses often.’ Paul’s frequent sleeplessness could be attributed to multiple causes. In the Thessalonian letters, he claims to have worked night and day to support himself. He would preach and proclaim Christ whenever he had opportunity, and then he would stay up into the night to do manual labor to provide an income. And somewhere he made time to write his letters to the churches.

We know from Acts 16 we are told that ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God’ and after the earthquake, they prevented the jailer’s suicide, and spent the rest of the night proclaiming the gospel and discipling him and his family. In Acts 20, in Troas, Paul preached until midnight, until Eutychus fell asleep, fell out of the window and died. Paul raised him up and went on preaching until daybreak, when he set out to walk the 20 miles to his next destination (about a day’s journey), while his co-workers sailed to meet him there. Doubtless the night and day adrift at sea after one of his many shipwrecks was not only exhausting and sleepless, but wet, cold and hungry. And we can only speculate as to his sleeplessness caused by his concern for the churches.

Hunger and Thirst

Paul often went without adequate food and water, due to the rigors of travel, the lack of funds, and the lack of hospitality. He writes to the Philippians (4:11-13) that he has learned to be content whether in plenty or in hunger, in abundance or in need.

Fastings

After hunger and thirst, he mentions ‘fastings,’ the word most often used of a voluntary abstinence from food as a religious practice. Although Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast while he was with them (Mt.9:14-15), he taught them, ‘…when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, …But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. (Mt.6:16-18).

Paul no doubt observed the religious fasts of the Jews, but this may be another poke at the false apostles, who prided themselves on their religious observances. Paul says ‘in fastings, often,’ referring more to his hunger in the face of ministry rigors just mentioned rather than his voluntary religious observances.

Cold and Nakedness

Paul moves down his list to the more and more basic of human needs, from wearisome labor, to going without sleep, to going without food and drink, to going without adequate warmth and clothing. Toward the end of his life Paul writes Timothy from prison (2Tim.4:13) asking for him to bring his coat, because he was cold. Being in danger from rivers and a 24 hour period clinging to wreckage in the open sea no doubt brought him close to hypothermia (cf.Acts 28:2). He likely suffered the humiliation of being publicly stripped naked to receive the beatings he referred to earlier.

Remember, Paul is boasting. But he is turning boasting upside down by boasting in his weakness, boasting in his shame.

Anxiety for All the Churches

He again climaxes this part of his list with what he considers his greatest hardship.

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Paul proclaimed Jesus and planted churches across Asia Minor and into Macedonia and Achaia. Paul preached the gospel in Damascus, Jerusalem, Salamis and Paphos on Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Perga (Acts 13-14). Back at Antioch in Syria, Paul had to go toe to toe with the Judaizers and even take a trip to Jerusalem (Acts 15) to settle the dispute over the pressure to put Gentile believers under Jewish law. He preached in Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 16-18). If the church in Corinth was any indicator of the confrontation between the gospel and the culture, there was much to worry about. Paul wrote the Galatians because he was “astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal.1:6). He wrote “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Gal.4:11).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

He was concerned that persecution would shake them from their faith.

1 Thessalonians 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Paul wrote to them again because there was deception

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

It seems there was a deceptive spirit, someone teaching, or a letter forged as coming from the apostle that was frightening them and shaking their faith.

In just his first letter to Corinth he had to confront them over such a wide range of issues ranging from divisions in the church, pride, celebrating sexual immorality, wronging and defrauding each other with lawsuits, confusion over marriage, participation in idolatry and demon worship, selfish abuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts, to doubts and disbelief about the resurrection.

Now in his second letter they were questioning his character and authority, and tolerating abusive satanic leadership that proclaimed another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel.

He warns the elders from Ephesus

Acts 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert…

Threats of division and false doctrine both from without and from within.

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Anxiety; Jesus and Paul

We have to ask a question here. How does Paul’s anxiety over the churches fit with Jesus’ clear teaching prohibiting anxiety?

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? …31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

Notice, Jesus’ teaching forbids anxiety about one’s own life; self-preservation, food and drink and clothing. Paul was clearly not concerned about saving his own skin, boasting about his lack of sufficient food and clothing and constantly facing death for the sake of the gospel. In place of anxiety over one’s own life, Jesus commands us to:

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Paul’s anxiety over the churches is exactly that; seeking above his own life the advance of the kingdom of God and his righteousness among all the nations. Paul is daily carries the weight of his care for the Lord’s churches. How is Paul not crushed, not driven to despair under this weight?

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.

He knows that he is weak, fragile, not sufficient. He knows that the surpassing power belongs to God alone. So he writes to the Philippians:

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul is weak, but he knows who is strong. Paul is willing to humble himself, ‘casting all his anxieties on God because God cares for him’ (1Pet.5:6-7). Paul is burdened, and he brings hat burden to the Lord.

Weakness and Stumbling

2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Paul again self-identifies as weak, not strong. He is ready to forego his rights and stand with the weak. In the body, ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together’ (1Cor.12:26). Paul gladly embraces weakness in order to win the weak’ (1Cor.9:22). In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul warns:

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Paul gladly bears the burdens of the weak, and his passion is ignited when someone is made to stumble. This sounds like Jesus when he said:

Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [stumble, lit. scandalized], it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Carson (p.125) writes on this passage “…Paul burns when he sees righteousness in ruins and believers morally battered by the servants of Satan. How different are many of our reactions to the same phenomena today. It is regrettably easy to philosophize when such sin occurs, comment on the evil times in which we live, reflect that the brother or sister who fell into sin or heresy was never very strong or discerning anyway, and never to agonize in prayer for our fellow believer or inwardly burn because of their weakness and shame. The really consistent triumphalist may actually entertain feelings of superiority in that situation and rejoice that he is not as other men are.”

May the Lord work in us his heart for the lost, that we are willing not to be served but to serve, to lay down our lives (Mk.10:45) so that all may hear the gospel; that we would ‘endure anything for the sake of the elect’ (2Tim.2:10).

May the Lord work in us his heart for his straying sheep, that

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

***

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

December 12, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers

11/15_2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201115_2cor11_16-21.mp3

Paul is confronting the false apostles head on. And he is confronting the church for following them. He’s said (11:4) that they proclaim another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel, and the church is bearing with it well! He labels the so-called super-apostles as false apostles, deceitful workers, servants of Satan who disguise themselves as genuine but their works and their future judgment expose them as false. He warns the church that he fears for them, that they are in danger of being deceived by Satan to forfeit a simple relationship with Jesus for a counterfeit.

But some in this church have already been taken. They believe everything the false teachers tell them, which means that they question Paul’s authenticity and doubt his integrity. Paul is willing to ‘become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (1Cor.9:22).

A Lamb in Wolves Clothing

The wisdom of Proverbs says:

Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Paul is willing to be thought a fool if that is what it takes to get their attention, to point out their folly and call them back to single-hearted devotion to the real Jesus. The Corinthians are wise in their own eyes, and need a little humbling.

He said in verse 1 of this chapter:

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!

And then (11:7-15) he boasted about humbling himself by serving them free of charge. Here in verse 16, he comes back to ask permission to do some foolish boasting.

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Paul is willing to be considered a fool for Christ’s sake (1Cor.4:10), to let them think they are wise, if that is what it takes to reach them.

Paul has just exposed the false teachers for who they are, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul is now willing to be a lamb in wolves clothing if they will put up with him that way, but he lifts up the disguise and tells them in advance that is what he is doing.

According to the Flesh, Not the Lord

Paul is about to launch into what he considers foolish boasting, and he makes it clear that what he says, he says ‘not according to the Lord’, because many are boasting according to the flesh. Back in 1:17 they were accusing Paul of making his plans according to the flesh, and in 10:2 some suspect him of walking according to the flesh. But, he says

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Here he contrasts boasting according to the flesh with speaking according to the Lord. More often (Rom.8:4-5, 12-13; Gal.4:23, 29) Paul juxtaposes living or walking according to the flesh with living or walking according to the Spirit. But here he contrasts speaking in line with the way the Lord would speak against boasting after the manner of the flesh, after a merely human, worldly pattern. This is the way unbelieving people boast, and it is foolish. It is not the way Jesus taught me to speak. “Our Lord was no boaster, and his Spirit does not lead any one to boast” [Hodge, p.266]. Carson writes: “Although no one ever made higher claims for himself than did Jesus, he uttered those claims not as a mortal vainly striving for equality with God, but as the self-emptied Son bent on the business of bringing salvation to condemned sinners” (Carson, p.109-110]. Jesus taught us wisdom that is not of this world, indeed contrary to the principles of this world.

In chapter 10, Paul refused to boast beyond limits, but only in what the Lord had assigned to him. He says

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (cf. 1Cor.1:31)

Citing Jeremiah 9

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Speaking according to the Lord is boasting in the Lord. Alone. He is about to boast in verse 22 in his own ethnic heritage, language, culture and religious upbringing. But this is foolish fleshly boasting, and he wants us all to know that it is not speaking as the Lord would speak. It is not boasting only in the cross. It is according to the flesh, and it is folly.

Bearing With Abusive Leadership

Verses 19-20 are in several ways parallel to verse 4. He frames both sections with an ‘if’; if one comes, if someone does these things, as is actually happening, you put up with it. You bear it well, even gladly.

Verse 4 exposes the false teaching of the false apostles. He pulls back the disguise and shows them that they come preaching another Jesus, not the Jesus the apostles proclaimed, a different spirit, one you did not receive, a different gospel which you did not accept.

Verse 19 is a slap in the face, saying sarcastically that you are so wise that you gladly bear with fools. And in verse 20 he exposes the corrosive character of the false apostles. You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours, if someone takes, if someone self-exalts, if someone strikes your face. This is the abuse they were gladly bearing with.

Notice, Paul is not directly rebuking the false apostles. He is rebuking the church for embracing and following and supporting bad leaders. Bad leaders can’t lead if no one will follow them, if no one will support them. He already said in verse 15 ‘Their end will correspond to their deeds’, both the end of the false teachers and those who follow them. God will judge the false apostles. But the Corinthians should know better than to follow them. They should recognize them by their fruits, and their character is rotten to the core. They are enslaving you, devouring, taking, self-exalting, striking you the face. And you are putting up with it!

Enslaving You

No one can serve two masters (Mt.6:24). Paul says in Romans 6 that you are slaves to the one you obey. He said:

2 Corinthians 1:24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

Paul stands in stark contrast to these servants of Satan who are taking them captive to serve themselves. Paul will not bully or domineer them, but instead he pursues their genuine joy as he has betrothed them to one husband, to Christ (11:2). He said:

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Where the false teachers fight for the position of lord over them, Paul is glad to humble himself to serve them for the Lord’s sake.

Devouring

False teachers devour. Fire devours. The satanic birds in Jesus’ parable devour the gospel seed so it can’t take root (Lk.8:5) The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees devour widow’s houses (Lk.20:47), and the prodigal son devoured his father’s property with prostitutes (Lk.15:30). The false teachers make a practice of parasitic violence and exploitation. Sam Storms writes:

“True, godly, Spirit-filled leaders don’t exist for you to serve them. They exist to serve you! This was the precedent set by Jesus who said of himself that he ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matt.28:20). Leaders aren’t placed in the body of Christ so that their reputation, lifestyle, and bank account can increase at the expense of those who are led. Leaders lead so that those led might be ever more conformed to the image of Christ. And if such comes only at great cost to those in authority, so be it, for Jesus served his own by giving ‘his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.28:20).” [Storms, p.164];

Taking

False teachers take advantage. To take or to receive is a very common word used in lots of positive and neutral contexts. But it can also be used in negative contexts for a violent seizing, as in Jesus’ parable of the tenants who took the master’s servants

Mattthew 21:35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

And when he sent his own son,

Matthew 21:39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Here it is used in the context of the false apostles seizing or laying hands on or taking advantage of. Paul used this word in verse 8 of robbing other churches by taking support from them. In 12:16 it is translated ‘got the better of you’; he is accused of cunning, taking them by deceit.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.

Self-exalting

The false apostles lift themselves up. They put on airs, they arrogantly boast. In the last chapter (10:5) Paul said he wages spiritual warfare tearing down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Isaiah 2:11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;

Striking You in the Face

Paul says they even go so far as to strike you in the face. Jesus used this word when one of the officers of the high priest struck him with his hand (Jn.18:23), and those holding Jesus in Jewish custody were mocking and beating him (Lk.22:63).

Most today take this as “almost certainly metaphorical language to refer to any kind of humiliating treatment” [Carson, p.111]. Except we know ‘religious leaders of the day at times punished offenders by slapping them’ [Guthrie, BECNT p.541] (cf. Acts 23:2).

And we see today’s false teachers who have people come forward so they can strike them on the face or push them to knock them down, allegedly ‘slaying them with the spirit’.

This puts what Paul said back in chapter 7 in context;

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

You gladly bear with fools who enslave you, who devour, who seize, who self-exalt, who strike you in the face. This is a ‘stunning disclosure of the aggressive authoritarianism and overbearing leadership tactics of the intruders.’ [Storms, p.163]

Shame and Weakness

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Paul has exposed the corrupt character of the false apostles. The Corinthians should be ashamed that they had been duped and taken advantage of, abused and shamefully treated. But Paul takes the shame on himself. It is his to his shame, he says sarcastically, that he was too weak to take advantage of them in that way. He was too weak to bully them, to lord it over them, to forcefully domineer. He was weak with the meekness and gentleness, the humility of Christ (10:1). He shows by his example that weakness is the way.

Matthew 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Paul is weak, and he will go on to boast in his weakness, because it is the path of following Jesus.

Fool’s Boldness

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Even in Paul’s weakness and dishonor, he is bold. In whatever someone is bold he is also bold. And he qualifies this; he is speaking foolishness. He said back in

2 Corinthians 10:2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

Paul is weak, he begs that he will not have to show the boldness he fears he will have to show when he visits. He says in 10:12

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

He isn’t bold enough, he doesn’t dare to measure himself by others. Those who do, he says, are without understanding. Here he foolishly dares to boast of whatever another dares to boast of. He is willing to put on the wolf’s clothing in order to show that he is not in the least inferior (11:5), yet in his heart he is harmless as a dove (Mt.10:16).

Paul puts on the wolf’s clothing to caricature the wolves, to expose their character and wake up the sheep to set them free from their clutches.

Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

***

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

November 18, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation

02/17_2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ambassadors of Reconciliation; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190217_2cor5_18-20.mp3

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Intro:

Last time we began to look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, this magnificent passage on reconciliation.

What I want to do today is to look back at what we learned last time about reconciliation, and then we will look at the ministry of reconciliation, and what it means for us to be ambassadors for Christ, and some of the implications of that reconciliation.

Recap:

Last time we saw that reconciliation is a personal word; that we were created to enjoy relationship with our personal Creator God.

But a need for reconciliation indicates that the relationship has been broken. Where there ought to be peace and unity, there is enmity and hostility. We are described as enemies; this could refer to our attitudes toward God, that we harbor feelings of resentment and ill will toward him, although he has done nothing to deserve such hostility. But the central focus of the biblical concept of reconciliation is not our subjective feelings of hostility toward God, however real they seem to be to us, though completely unfounded. Rather the focus of reconciliation is on overcoming God’s objective and justly founded hostility toward us. We rebelled. We sinned. And God is rightly angry with us. It is his just anger that must be justly overcome in order to reconcile the relationship.

And this shows us our utter inability to effect reconciliation. We can’t fix our sin problem. We can’t undo or make up for the offense. If God is justly angry, then for reconciliation to take place, my sin must be paid for. This is why we saw that reconciliation is founded on the great truths of justification and imputation; that God justifies sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, and that he imputes or credits our sin to Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness to our account.

We saw that reconciliation is God’s work; that God is active in reconciliation. ‘All this is from God’ God is the one who sent Jesus to take my name and die my death. God is the one who unites me to Christ. God is the one who justifies me, who puts my sin on his Son, who considers the old me to have died with Christ, paying my price in full. God is the one who creates me new in Christ, who causes regeneration or the new birth. God is the one who brings about substitution, justification, new creation, reconciliation.

Our Role in Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

This is absolutely amazing! Not only has God reconciled us to himself, but he has given us the ministry of reconciliation! He entrusts to us the message of reconciliation! He calls us ambassadors! He makes his appeal through us to the world! I want us to be amazed together at this truth, to feel the weight of this responsibility, and with the power and passion of the indwelling Spirit to step up to the task.

The ‘us’ and the ‘we’ in this passage refers first to Paul and the other apostles, and the ‘you’ refers directly to the church in Corinth, the recipients of this letter. God reconciled Paul and the other apostles to himself and entrusted to them the ministry, the message, and the role of ambassador. And Paul calls those in Corinth to be reconciled. But by extension, now that God has reconciled us, you and me, we too are called to this ministry, entrusted with this message, invested with this authority. We, the reconciled, implore others to be reconciled to God.

The Gift of the Ministry of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

First of all, we need to note that this ministry is a gift that God himself gives. Ministry, service to others is a gift, a God given good gift. It is gracious, undeserved. We don’t qualify or merit this great privilege. We are not worthy. It is God’s gracious gift to those he has reconciled to himself. We get to serve others. I get week by week to proclaim the good news of reconciliation. I have the inestimable privilege of calling people to be reconciled to God. Ministry is a gift, and ministry is service. I serve you for your good. You have the great privilege of loving and serving others for their eternal good. This is simply astounding! If you look back to verse 17, the goal of gospel ministry is bringing about the new creation. Everywhere someone comes to Christ, new creation! There is an instance of God’s new creation! This gift, this responsibility to serve others by proclaiming reconciliation is bringing about new creation here and now!

Entrusted with the Message of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

God goes global with the gospel. No longer limited to one tribe or race or ethnicity, God is at work reconciling the world to himself, and he is entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a ministry, a service to others; and reconciliation primarily consists in a message, a word a declaration. It is the simple message of the gospel.

Romans 10 tells us that:

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

We proclaim a message, the gospel message; the good news that God is reconciling sinners to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. What amazing news we have to declare. The King you disobeyed, the King you rebelled against, the King whose wrath you deserve – the King no longer counts your trespasses against you; he loves you and has accomplished everything necessary to reconcile you to himself. Call on him! Entrust yourself to him! Believe the good news of reconciliation!

God has placed this message in us. We have been entrusted with the good word of reconciliation. He has placed this message in us by working his reconciliation out in us; through Christ God has reconciled us to himself. We must have experienced the message personally before we are equipped to relay the message to others. And as those who know first hand what it is to be reconciled to God, who have experienced his reconciling love, who enjoy daily the benefits of reconciliation, we are equipped to call others to be reconciled.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We have been graciously given the ministry of reconciliation. We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

We are Ambassadors for Christ

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

We carry the authority of an ambassador. We act as ambassadors; the word translated ‘we are ambassadors’ is actually a verb; it is what we do; we serve as ambassadors; we represent in place of Christ. In Luke 14, Jesus describes an outnumbered king who ‘sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace’ (Lk.14:32). This embassy or ‘delegation’ is a noun form of this word. The ambassador carries the king’s authority and speaks on behalf of the king. In 2 Kings 18, while Sennacherib king of Assyria was laying siege to Lachish he sent some of his key military leaders with a great army ahead to king Hezekiah in Jerusalem demanding surrender and laying out his terms for peace.

This is the role of ambassador, to speak on behalf of the king, demanding surrender and declaring terms of peace. Give up. Give up your efforts to make yourself acceptable to God. Accept his terms; that he has already reconciled you to himself in Christ. He is not counting your trespasses against you.

Begging on Behalf of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The language of this verse is startling. Ambassadors speak with the authority of the king, they set terms, make demands. But the language here is to implore, entreat, exhort, call near; even to beg. A weak, powerless, outnumbered king might send an ambassador begging for peace. But we don’t expect the omnipotent King of the universe, at whose disposal are the countless armies of heaven, to appeal, to implore, to beg. But this is the language, and this is the posture.

In Jesus’ parable in Mark 12 a man planted a vineyard and leased it out to tenants. He sent his servant to get his share of the fruit.

Mark 12:3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ (cf. Luke 20:9-16)

The only Son was sent as a representative. And he was killed. Now the Lord is sending us. We are to come in the same posture. If we represent Christ, we must expect not to be served but to serve, to be willing to lay down our lives for others. If we are following Jesus, we must take up the cross.

The only other place in the New Testament this word ‘ambassador’ shows up is in Ephesians 6; Paul says:

Ephesians 6:19 and [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

An ambassador in chains. In need of prayer for boldness.

Be Reconciled to God

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The content of our message, the summary of our plea is ‘be reconciled to God’. What does it mean to be reconciled?

This is the first time in this passage that the passive form of the verb is used. It does not say reconcile yourself to God; it says ‘be reconciled to God’, meaning that someone else is doing the reconciling. This is consistent with everything we have seen so far. ‘All this is from God.’ In verse 18 ‘reconciled’ is active; God through Christ reconciled us to himself. In verse 19 ‘reconciling’ is active; in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Only here in verse 20 is the passive ‘be reconciled’ used, and it is a command directed toward us. Do not attempt to put away your own hostility toward God. Do not attempt to appease God’s hostility toward you. Do not attempt to reconcile yourself to God – that would be active; rather ‘be reconciled to God’. Receive his accomplished reconciliation. Surrender to his terms and take him up on his offer of peace. God has made peace through the blood of his cross (Col.1:20). Will your receive his terms of peace?

Reconciling the Church

There is an important question this text raises. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, and he says

2 Corinthians 5:20 …We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

‘Be reconciled to God’ is addressed to the church! This would make sense if he were relaying what he preaches to unbelievers; this is what I say to them ‘be reconciled to God.’ But that is not what he is doing. He addresses the church and says ‘we implore you’

Why preach reconciliation to Christians in the church? Why implore believers to be reconciled to God? Aren’t they already reconciled to God? But this is exactly what Paul does. He says you, you whom God in Christ has already reconciled to himself, you be reconciled to God. Why does he talk like this?

I can think of two reasons why he might do this. First, there are some who attach themselves to church who are not believers. I believe this is what Jesus was getting at in some of his parables; (Mt.13) weeds growing up among the wheat; the mustard seed that grows abnormally large so that even the birds, messengers of Satan, roost in its branches.

Paul will say in chapter 13 to the members of the church in Corinth:

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

It would be wrong to assume that because someone attends church regularly, they are a genuine believer. Jesus himself warns:

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

There are doubtless many who are connected with the church in some way who are not at peace with God, who are not reconciled; whom the Lord does not know. You today need to hear the gospel and trust. Receive his reconciliation.

The second reason that even genuine believers need to hear the plea ‘be reconciled to God’ is that although we may be reconciled to God, we often don’t act like it. We fail to live consistent with who we are in Christ. God has done all the work of reconciliation; ours is only to receive it by faith and walk in it. It is this walking in it that we struggle with. What does it look like to live consistent with reconciliation? John tells us in 1 John 4 that you can’t say that you love God and hate your brother. That’s not consistent. If you think back to Jesus’ parable of the vineyard rented out to tenants, you can’t claim that you are at peace with the lord of the vineyard while you are rejecting his messengers. That is what was happening in Corinth. Divisive party spirit; I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Christ. They claimed have a right relationship with Jesus, but they were rejecting his appointed ambassador. That’s not consistent. You can’t claim to have accepted God’s terms of peace while you are rejecting the very one who brought you those terms of peace. God has done all the reconciling work. We must receive his terms of peace. Be reconciled to God. Bring everything into submission to him. Surrender fully to his terms of peace. God has reconciled you to himself through Christ; now act like it!

***

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:16; Seeing With New Eyes

01/27_2 Corinthians 5:16; Seeing With New Eyes ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190127_2cor5_16.mp3

How Do You Judge?

You pull up to a stop light in a bigger city. There’s a guy standing on the corner, long unkempt hair poking out from under his stocking cap, surplus army jacket a little too big, faded blue jeans, dark brown leather work boots laced loosely. Gaunt face, weathered and unshaven. Grimy tobacco stained fingers hold a tattered piece of cardboard, scrawled with ‘anything helps. God bless.’

You’re early to your appointment. Across the waiting room there is a woman, sitting uncomfortably in a chair. She seems irritable and speaks harshly to her 2 year old boy who is as poorly behaved as he is dressed. She is too thin, despite being noticeably pregnant. The faint remnants of a bruise are just barely visible under her left eye, and although she does not smile, it appears she is missing teeth.

On the other end of the room stands a young man, 30 something, crisp white shirt and tan sport coat, one hand in the pocket of his neatly pressed pants fidgeting with car keys, talking on his wireless earpiece while looking up at the ceiling, saying that he looks forward to meeting with them over lunch next Tuesday, and ending the call with a click.

What do you think? What conclusions do you draw? What do you feel? What goes through your mind, your heart?

So Then

Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 5.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Verse 16 starts with ‘So then’ or ‘therefore’ making a connection with the previous verses. He is drawing a conclusion, an application of what he said in verses 14-15. Christ’s love for us is the controlling factor in our lives. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). Because Jesus died in our place, we died with him. Our old identity is dead, and we have been raised with him to a new kind of life. We are no longer to live to ourselves, but for him. And this truth, this doctrine, impacts the way we live. This truth of our relationship with Christ spills out into the horizontal, how we view the people around us.

Seeing According to the Flesh

So then, from the now, we see no one according to the flesh. In the context we see what he means by no longer viewing according to the flesh. Back in verses 11-12, Paul said

2 Corinthians 5:11 …what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

Outward appearances versus what is in the heart. Because of Christ’s death for us on the cross and our death with him, we now no longer view according to outward appearance, according to the flesh.

Paul’s Confidence in the Flesh

Paul was expert at drawing conclusions based on outward characteristics. He says in Philippians 3 that he had every reason to put confidence in the flesh

Philippians 3:4 …If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul had it all together. He was born into the right family, he belonged to the right group, he did the right things, he was passionate, successful, determined; he was going somewhere. He was morally upstanding, he had a flawless record, he was clean. Outwardly he had it all together.

But he ditched all that. In the next verse he says;

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul came to consider his outward standing, his standing in the flesh as loss, rubbish, dung, σκύβαλα.

A Church of Losers

The majority of the church in Corinth didn’t have it all together. They didn’t have the status, they didn’t have what mattered outwardly, according to the flesh.

1 Corinthians 1:26 …not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

When viewed from a fleshly perspective, they were losers.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

But what matters outwardly is not what matters to God. In fact God turns human evaluation on its head. He does this intentionally, to eliminate pride and boasting.

Paul’s Boasting

Paul understood how the world views people, how to evaluate according to the flesh, according to outward appearances. And he knew the expectations on him as an apostle and teacher and preacher. You see, the values of the world tend to creep in to the thinking of the church. He was supposed to come with eloquence, with wisdom, self-confidence, strength of character, with a show of power, demanding a high salary.

Instead he came to them in weakness and in fear and much trembling (1Cor.2:3). He was put on display as a fool, weak, in disrepute, hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, buffeted, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, the scum of the world, garbage (1Cor.4:9-13). He did not draw a salary from them, but worked with his own hands (1Cor.4:12; 1Cor.9; 2Cor.11:7-11). He describes himself as afflicted (2Cor.1:4-7), burdened and despairing (1:8), dependent on the prayers of others (1:11), he experienced anguish of heart, he cried (2:4). He experienced unrest of spirit (2:13). He could not claim any self-sufficiency (3:5). He came to them not as their lord but as a fellow laborer (1:24), as their servant; he didn’t promote himself (4:5). He compared himself to a common, disposable clay container (4:7). He was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, given over to death; death was at work in him (4:8-12). His outer nature was wasting away (4:16); his tent was being destroyed (5:1). In chapter 10:10 he quotes what others are saying about him; ‘For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”’

When viewed outwardly, Paul was a failure. He was not worthy to be followed.

Christ According to the Flesh

You see, Paul once viewed Christ according to the flesh. Let me read to you this description of Jesus:

Isaiah 53:2 …he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 …we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. …7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; …he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken … 9 And they made his grave with the wicked … 12 … he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors…

Jesus was not the Messiah anyone expected. Paul knew his scriptures. He knew that anyone who was hung on a tree is cursed by God (Deut.21:23; Gal.3:13). It was clear to him that the blasphemous claims of Jesus were proved false by his crucifixion. The fact that anyone would still follow this Jesus as Messiah and convince others to follow him was infuriating; Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen, and he set about himself to stamp out these deviant religious fanatics.

But Paul was not the only one to view Christ according to the flesh. Notice he says “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh” Even Jesus’ disciples, his closest followers, expected something much different that what he was.

In Mark 10,

Mark 10:32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to lay down his life, and for the third time he tells his disciples exactly what is going to happen. Their response? The very next verse:

Mark 10:35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

They just didn’t get it! They had no category for a crucified messiah. They were looking for the glory, for the kingdom. They were expecting the miraculous; that Jesus would in a show of power overthrow Rome and take his rightful throne (and they wanted to edge in on positions of earthly power).

The religious leaders had an expectation of a supernatural messiah.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

The religious leaders of Israel anticipated a messiah who would come in power, who could manifest the supernatural.

Even the Roman soldiers understood what a king should look like.

Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Everyone knows what a king looks like, and Jesus didn’t fit.

After his crucifixion his disciples didn’t know what to do. They hid behind locked doors. They went home. They began to return to their jobs. Two of his disciples, conversing with an unknown traveler about his crucifixion, said “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk.24:21). At first they disbelieved the reports of his resurrection. Even after they had seen their risen Lord they asked him “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They couldn’t see beyond their fleshly expectation of the messiah.

Seeing With New Eyes

The Lord had to open their eyes! He enabled them to see in a different way, a spiritual way. Jesus’ answer to his disciples?

Acts 1:7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses [μάρτυρες] in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Don’t concern yourself about earthly kingdoms. You will be Spirit empowered to be my witnesses, the Greek word is μάρτυρες; where we get our word ‘martyr’. Most of his followers would seal their testimony of him with their own blood. Outwardly this doesn’t look very successful. But it is the way of Jesus.

The Lord had to open their eyes.

2 Corinthians 4:4 …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. … 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.

The disciples could only see Jesus from a fleshly perspective, and they just didn’t get it, until God opened their eyes.

Paul could only see Jesus from a fleshly perspective. Until, on the way to Damascus, he was blinded. His physical sight was literally taken away for a time, so that he could begin to see with new eyes, to see things as they really are, to evaluate not according to the flesh.

Paul began to really see. God’s plan to rescue humanity was not a conquering messiah who would wipe out all his enemies, because that would mean everyone. Instead the messiah would take on himself the sins of his enemies, die as their substitute, and so make his enemies into his friends. The seemingly foolish way of the cross is the only true way to glory. His kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. Jesus said:

Mark 10:43 …But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Death is the only way to really gain your life. Christ died for us, and we died with him, and that affects the way we look at other people, other believers; even apostles. It is not the outward, visible reality that matters most. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2Cor.4:18).

We once evaluated people according to the flesh, outwardly. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.

***

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

January 28, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:12-13; Relational Hindrances to the Gospel

03/18_2Corinthians 2:12-13; Relational Hindrances to the Gospel ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180318_2cor2_12-13.mp3

This text contains geographical and historical bits of information on the travels of the Apostle which fills out some details that are missing from Luke’s summary in Acts 20. It also opens a window of insight into the heart and soul of the Apostle Paul, and the sobering truth that through conflict in our relationships we can hinder the advance of the gospel.

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

Geography and Strategic Cities

Verses 12 and 13 are framed by geographical information; it starts with ‘I went in to Troas;’ it ends with ‘I went out to Macedonia’ It is worth looking at a map to see the places we are talking about, and the strategic importance of Troas.

Troas was a major Aegean port city located about 10 miles south of the ancient city of Troy. It was the primary Asian harbor for ships destined for Macedonia, and had a population around 30 or 40,000. Troas was one of the few Roman colonies in Asia Minor; it held the status and importance of a Roman city like Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. It held a strategic location at the entrance of the strait of Dardanelles (or Hellespont) which connected the Aegean sea to the sea of Marmara and on to the Black Sea. It was also the port of departure from Asia to Neapolis in Macedonia that would put you on Via Egnatia and take you to Rome. This is the kind of strategic crossroads city that Paul targeted with the gospel, because from it the gospel would spread throughout the region and the world.

History of Ministry in Troas

We also know, from Acts, that Paul had been to Troas before, and was eager to minister there. We read in Acts 16, of his second missionary journey:

Acts 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

Paul is eager to proclaim Jesus in the regions of Asia, Bythinia, and Mysia, but is prevented by the Spirit. They make it to Troas, this key port city,

Acts 16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,

The Spirit moved Paul on immediately from Troas to the region of Macedonia. There he established churches in Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, and then traveled down to Athens and on to Corinth, where he spent a year and a half, before a brief stop in Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem and back to Antioch.

On his third missionary journey, he traveled through Galatia and Phrygia, and on to Ephesus, where he spent three years. He wrote during that time in Ephesus:

1 Corinthians 16:8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

It was during that extended time in Ephesus that he corresponded with Corinth, and even made an emergency visit to Corinth to sort things out, a visit that did not go well. He says of his time in Ephesus:

Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

Luke records a riot in Ephesus, and then,

Acts 20:1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

For the Gospel

This is where 2 Corinthians fills in the details. After leaving Ephesus, he traveled north to Troas on the way to Macedonia. 2 Corinthians 2:12 tells us

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ,

Paul’s reason for traveling to Troas was the gospel. He was eager to proclaim the gospel in this key city. He came to Troas ‘for the gospel of Christ.’

This is ultimately why Paul did everything he did. It was all for Christ’s sake. In Romans 15, Paul speaks of:

Romans 15:18 …what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience— …19… —so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named… 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

Paul came to Troas ‘for the gospel of Christ.’ His passion, no doubt, was to establish a strong church in that strategic city. And he says ‘a door was opened for me in the Lord.’ We heard him use this language about his 3 years in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16:9 “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me.” In Colossians 4:3 he asks for prayer “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” After his 1st missionary journey, in Acts 14:27, he reports back to the church in Antioch “all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” A door for effective work, a door for the word, a door of faith. God opens doors for ministry.

We can gain insight about what he means by an open door by looking at 1 Thessalonians. There he refers to his ‘reception’ or ‘entrance’ or ‘way in.’ In 1 Thessalonians he paints the picture of what an ‘open door’ looks like.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. … 6 …for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. …

1 Thessalonians 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Some elements of the ‘open door’ in Thessalonica were that the apostle had boldness to declare the gospel despite conflict; the gospel came in power and with full conviction; they received the word even in affliction; they turned from idols to the true God; they sounded forth the word into the surrounding regions. All this is a work of the Spirit of God. This is the kind of thing that had happened in Ephesus. Paul was seeing this beginning to happen now in Troas.

Relational Hindrances to the Gospel

In this context, the words in 2 Corinthians come as a shock.

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

Paul came to the strategic port city of Troas to preach the gospel, and the Lord had opened a door of ministry for him there. And he said goodbye and walked away. Paul, the Apostle Paul, eager to preach the gospel, walked away from an open door of ministry! Why?

His spirit was not at rest. This is heavy. His spirit was in turmoil. There was tension in his relationship with the church in Corinth. The last time he had seen them, things did not end well. Now he had sent Titus to Corinth with the agreement that they would meet in Troas. Paul was anxious to hear news about the Corinthian believers. When Titus didn’t show up as planned, Paul’s spirit was so troubled over the church in Corinth that the Apostle Paul couldn’t seize an open door for gospel ministry in Troas. Relational conflict can take the wind right out of your sails.

Paul is confessing his weakness, his humanness, his frailty, and the abundant love he has for this church. If he didn’t love them, if he didn’t care, he could shrug it off and go on with effective ministry. But his relationship with this church affected him deeply. He had forgiven. We saw that in verse 10. But he was burdened for this church. He was concerned for them. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11 he lists his labors, his imprisonments, his beatings, his stoning, his shipwrecks, his journeys, his dangers from rivers, robbers, the Jews, the Gentiles, the sea, false brothers, in toil, hardship, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and he tops the list with:

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Will they remain faithful to Jesus? Will they leave their first love? Will they be devoured by wolves? Will they be sidetracked by a false gospel? Will Satan gain a foothold? Will some go astray? Will they forgive? Will they become legalistic? Will they become lukewarm? Daily pressure, anxiety, taken daily to the throne of grace for help. He is weak. Human. This is too much to bear. He needs help. When he picks back up this narrative about not finding Titus in Troas in chapter 7, he says:

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

Fighting without, fear within. What is more important? Planting a new church or rescuing a failing one? Paul is torn. So torn, that he says goodbye to an open door to preach the gospel in Troas. The Spirit had closed the doors to ministry in this place in the past. Now the Lord has opened a door, and he walks away because of inner turmoil.

Have you ever been paralyzed by unresolved conflict in relationships? You can’t sleep, you lose your appetite, the track keeps playing over and over in your head; what could I have said or done differently, what can I do to make it better, how can I help them understand, what am I not seeing? How can I make sure I’m not misunderstood again? Where is the breakdown? What does reconciliation even look like? There is nothing that sucks the life and joy out of ministry faster than unresolved conflict between brothers.

Reconciliation and Unity

In verse 11 he warned against being outwitted by Satan. Because of tension in relationships between brothers, a gospel opportunity is cut short and abandoned. There is urgency, gospel urgency to reconcile relationships and resolve conflict. So much hangs on our attitudes and our interactions with others. How we get along with one another is a big deal! It is a gospel issue!

Peter even warns that if a husband doesn’t show honor and live in an understanding way with his wife, his prayers will be hindered (1Pet.3:7).

Ephesians 4:1-3 urges us to be eager to maintain unity, the unity of the Spirit, with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another. Verses 7-11 point to the diversity of the body which is designed:

Ephesians 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

The saints are to be equipped for ministry, for unity, for building up, not to be tossed around by false doctrine, by human cunning, or by craftiness of deceitful schemes. The enemy seeks to deceive and destroy our usefulness by causing division. He goes on in verse 25 to focus on our relationships:

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.

We are members of one another. Conflict and tension in relationships within the body gives opportunity to the devil. He goes on:

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What comes out of our mouths, bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice, is corrosive and corrupting, grieves the Holy Spirit of God, and diverts attention away from gospel ministry.

So be kind, tenderhearted, forgive as you have been forgiven, freely, graciously, undeservedly. Let what comes out of your mouth build up, let your words give grace to those who hear.

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

March 19, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment