10/24/2011

Real Power Through Real Weakness (2 Corinthians 11:16-13:14)

"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses..." (2 Cor 12:9). "I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Cor 11:30).

Paradoxes
: The backdrop of 2 Corinthians is the devastating assault on the Corinthian church by the "super-apostles," who virtually accused Paul of everything bad/evil under the sun. This devastated Paul, who found comfort and the power of God in his utter helplessness. Thus, the theme of 2 Corinthians is "Out of weakness comes strength" (God's Power Expressed Through Man's Weakness). This is one of Christianity's countless confounding paradoxes.

What's the Problem with Paradoxes? The problem with a paradox is that Christians understand it and agree with it in principle, but practically it seems impossible to truly put it into practice. Thus, though you like the paradox, you do not experience it as a reality, because you are unable to live it out. How does strength come out of weakness?

Some Paradoxes: Here are some of the paradoxes that are common in Christianity:

  • If you die, you live. If you try to live, you die.
  • If you work hard, you will live easy. If you live easy, your life will be hard.
  • If you live poorly, you're rich. If you try to be rich, you're poor, no matter how much you have.
  • If you limit yourself, you're free. But if you live without limits, you're a slave.
  • If you listen, you're heard. If you demand to be heard, no one listens to you.
  • If you give up control, you have authority. If you're authoritarian, you loose control.
  • If you're humble, you're exalted. If you want to be exalted, you're humbled.
  • If you expose your weakness, you experience power. If you conceal your weakness, you loose your power, even if you have might.
Paul concludes 2 Corinthians by gladly boasting about his weaknesses, so that God's power may be manifest through his weakness in the following ways:
  1. Weakness as a Fool Through Suffering (2 Cor 11:16-33).
  2. Weakness Through a Thorn/Stake (2 Cor 12:1-10).
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church (2 Cor 12:11-21).
  4. Final Warning: Examine yourself (2 Cor 13:1-14).
2 Corinthians is Paul's 4th letter to the church at Corinth. The 1st letter is lost (1 Cor 5:9), and the 3rd letter, known as the "severe letter" (2 Cor 2:3-4), is also lost. What we have is Paul's 2nd and 4th letter, which is known to us as 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Understanding 2 Corinthians requires a knowledge of the context and circumstances as to why Paul wrote it. Paul was being severely criticized by some who regarded themselves highly (2 Cor 10:12) as elite and special "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5; 2 Cor 12:11). They undermined Paul's credibility not only as an apostle and a Christian, but also as a human being. So Paul wrote this letter to encourage them (chap 1-9) and to defend himself by "boasting" about his credentials, and about what God has done through him and revealed to him (chap 10-13).

Paul was clearly against boasting (2 Cor 12:1). Yet he boasted, not because he wanted to defend himself, but because he wanted to build up the gullible Christians (2 Cor 10:8, 12:19) who were being swayed by the defective teachings of the super-apostles (2 Cor 11:4).

Questions:

  1. Weakness as a Fool: Why might Paul have repeated the word "fool(s)" or "foolish(ness)" 11 times (1 Cor 1:18,20,21,23,25,27; 2:14; 3:18,18; 4:10; 15:36) + 8 times (2 Cor 11:1,16,17,19,21; 12:6,11)? How did Paul show his "foolishness" (2 Cor 11:16-33)?
  2. Weakness through a Thorn: Why did Paul write in the 3rd person (2 Cor 12:1-6)? Is it good to boast (2 Cor 12:1,5-6)? What did God want to teach Paul through his thorn/stake (2 Cor 12:7-10)?
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church: How did Paul not burden them (2 Cor 12:11-18; 11:7-11)? Why did Paul defend himself (2 Cor 12:19-21; 10:8)?
  4. Final warnings: Why should we examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:1-10)? What can we learn from Paul's final greetings and his Trinitarian blessing (2 Cor 13:11-14; Mt 28:19; 2 Thes 2:13-14; Rev 1:4-5)?
References:
The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, The Bible Speaks Today, 1988.
2 Corinthians, John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary, 2003.

Weakness

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10/17/2011

God is Sovereign in the Tragedy of Exile (Daniel 1:1-21)

Daniel1

"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine..." (Daniel 1:8)

Questions to ponder: Imagine being alone and scared, exiled from home to a foreign city, a long way from the familiar. How would you cope in a hostile setting? What truths do you cling to? Would you remain faithful to your former identity or be assimilated into your new surroundings?

Another question: Is Daniel about how we should deny ourselves like Daniel (Dan 1:8), or about One greater than Daniel who made the ultimate sacrifice and denied himself for us?

What is Daniel about? It is about enduring faith through trials and adversity. It is to believe God who is sovereign, and to be faithful to Him in the midst of trials and adversities like Daniel and his friends. Otherwise, trials and adversities are a nightmare. In God, they are His grace to us. Sinclair Ferguson says, “All too frequently we tend... to see our trials and temptations... as isolated nightmares. God, however, sees them from a different perspective. They are important and connected punctuation marks in the biography of grace He is writing in our lives. They give formation, direction, and character to our lives. They are all part of the tapestry He is weaving in history. He uses them to build up our strength and to prepare us to surmount greater obstacles, perhaps fiercer temptations.”

Daniel is is both familiar and unfamiliar to most Christians. We teach/encourage Christians to “Dare to be a Daniel,” and live for Christ in a hostile world. This is biblical: they provide models and examples for believers living in an alien world as to how they can both serve the culture, and at the same time live lives distinct from that culture. They encourage believers to remain faithful, no matter what the cost. Yet the reality is that few of us can really claim to come close to the standard set for us by Daniel and his friends: we are all compromised in so many ways, even after being Christians for decades. Therefore, it is important to be reminded of the one greater than Daniel who has perfectly lived the exilic life of service and separation for us, Jesus Christ.

As encouraging as they were, Daniel is not about his bold decision (Dan 1:8), or the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan 3:16-18), or the daunting apocalyptic passages in the latter chapters that often lead to a variety of end time speculations. Rather, the centerpiece of these visions is the exalted heavenly Son of Man who took upon flesh in the person of Christ. Daniel helps us to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the book. Also, the theme and the main thing is: The Lord God is the sovereign Lord and He will bring about all His holy will in His own time, no matter how bleak the present circumstances appear to be.

Are you in exile? Like Daniel, it is still true that Christians are exiles on earth. As citizens of heaven, we live as aliens and strangers in a land that is not our own (1 Pet 1:1). At times the world’s enmity/hostility is felt. We feel squeezed/pressured into its mold, to make us conform to its values and standards in school, at work, in the way we dress, the language we use. We are expected to laugh at certain jokes. We gossip about others. If we want to be promoted in business, we are pressured to leave our values and religious beliefs, assimilate to the business community, value the things the surrounding culture values, pursue passionately its glittering prizes, and live in obedience to its idols. We have to choose daily whether to be part of this world in which we live, or to take the difficult path of standing against it (1 Jn 2:15-17; Rom 12:2).

Dan 1:1-21 may be divided into:

  1. God's Judgment (Dan 1:1-2).
  2. God's Providence (Dan 1:3-16).
  3. God's Faithfulness/Grace (Dan 1:17-21).
I. God's Judgment (Dan 1:1-2)

To "live in exile" we need God's help and God's faithfulness. Interestingly, in Dan 1:1-2 God expressed his faithfulness in his judgment by exiling Judah to Babylon in late 700 B.C. How? "...the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into (Nebuchadnezzer's) hand" (Dan 1:2).God gave his people into the hand of their enemies. Why?

  1. They broke their covenant with God. In Lev 26:3-13, God promised his favor and blessing when they kept God's covenant, but if they violated God's covenant, they would experience his wrath and disfavor (Lev 26:14-39): their crops would be ruined (Lev 26:20), God would multiply their afflictions and afflict them for their sins 7 times over (Lev 26:21,24), scatter them among the nations where they will waste away (Lev 26:33,39). This was exactly what happened when they went into Babylonian exile.
  2. It was the specific fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in 2 Kings 20:18. King Hezekiah of Judah had received envoys and a gift from Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon. In response, Hezekiah showed them all of his treasures (2 Ki 20:13), for which Isaiah prophesied against him specifically and severely (2 Ki 20:14-18). The Babylonians would one day carry off everything in his palace (2 Ki 20:17), and some of his own offspring being taken off would become eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonian king (2 Ki 20:18). Why was God so upset? Because Hezekiah was seeking an alliance with Babylon to be a useful ally against Assyria. Politics replaced trust in the Lord. Do we adopt the world's methods of getting ahead instead of simply trusting in God (Prov 3:5)?
II. God's Providence (Dan 1:3-16)

God's judgment does not mean God's abandonment. This important point is repeatedly shown through out the Bible. Though God judged his people very severely through exile, he would never abandon them. One day God would open the way for their return (Ezra 1:1-7).

God is always in control. This tells us that though life often seems to be out of control, God is never out of control. Though men say and do things that adversely/unfairly affects/wounds us, every detail of life lies under the control of our sovereign God. No sparrow dies without God's permission (Matt 10:29). Even the most trivial of events are within his sovereign rule. At the other extreme, the most wicked act of all time, the crucifixion of Christ, was also decided and predestined by God before hand (Acts 4:28). No sin of ours/others ever catches God by surprise or thwarts his sovereign will (Gen 50:20). For Christians, every single circumstance is the Lord's means of furthering his sanctifying goals. God NEVER abandons or forgets us, but will preserve us through even the most fiery of trials by his grace (1 Pet 1:5-9).

The world's strategy of spiritual reprogramming. Thus, in the will of God, Daniel and his 3 friends found themselves exiled in Babylon, and chosen by the king for special consideration, reeducation, favor and privilege (Dan 1:3-7). The 4 of them were perhaps teenagers at the time. What happened to them?

  1. Their names were changed from Yahwistic names to Babylonian names which invoked their gods, Marduk, Bel and Bebo, rather than Israel's Lord (Dan 1:6), for:
    • Daniel means "God is my judge."
    • Hananiah means "the Lord is gracious."
    • Mishael means "Who is what God is?"
    • Azariah means "The Lord is a helper."
  2. They were instructed in the language and literature of the Babylonians, so that its myths and legends would take the place of the Scriptures as the source of their wisdom and worldview (Dan 1:4).
  3. They were to be royally supplied from the king's table, with a daily allowance of food and wine, which would lead them to become accustomed to a life of dependence on their new master (Dan 1:5a). After 3 years, with their previous identity fully obliterated, they would enter the service of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 1:5b).
Satan's reprogramming. Worldly reprogramming consists of threat and promise (the recalcitrant banished), enforcement and encouragement (the majority assimilated), since more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. The fundamental goal was to obliterate all memory of Israel's God from their lips and minds and instill in them a sense of dependence on Babylon for the good things in life. Likewise, Satan violently persecutes Christians in some parts of the world, while seducing the rest to forget about God and seek blessings from somewhere else. He controls the educational process, changes the worldview of our children, instills in them a dependence on material comforts and pleasures of the world/flesh, to draw us away from God.

How did the 4 young men deal with this? They had to maintain their dual identities as citizens of 2 kingdoms. Likely, they did not outwardly resist the Babylonian system, or refuse to work for them. They recognized God's hand in their situation. They understood through Jeremiah that they should actively labor for the common good of the community and for the blessing of Babylon (Jer 29:4-7). They did their best to work within the system, and were good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. We learn here that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us.

Though the 4 young men served the Babylonian community, they accepted the will of God for their lives, and inwardly resisted the assimilation process of the Babylonian empire.

  1. They resisted the pagan Babylonian program. They answered to their Babylonian names. Yet they maintained their Jewish names/identities as well. They preserved biblical knowledge and perspectives in the midst of a thoroughly pagan educational system. Daniel did not become Belteshazzar, though he answered to that name, nor did Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah become Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They preserved their Hebrew names amongst themselves as a marker of who they really were (Dan 1:11,19;2:17). They lived with dual names as a reminder of their dual identities, and of their God. Likewise, as citizens of heaven, we should celebrate our heavenly citizenship, gather with our fellow exiles, remind one another of our "true home" (2 Pet 3:13), and fix our eyes on the heavenly realities that truly define who we are. We do not gather to be taught how to be better spouses, parents, children, employees, etc. Rather, if our heavenly identity is strong, it will transform our marriages, parenting, work relationships (Eph 5:22-6:9). Whether we home school our kids or send them to secular schools, we pray for them not to outwardly conform to Christian morality but to live in true countercultural Christian identity as citizens of heaven on earth. They need to know and understand the contemporary "language and literature of the Babylonians" and be armed with discernment into its follies and flaws.
  2. They stayed dependent on God: They resolved not to eat the food from the kings' table nor to drink his wine (Dan 1:8-16). There was nothing intrinsically evil about the Babylonian food and drink (Dan 10:3). But they instead choose to eat only things that grow naturally--grains and vegetables--and to drink only naturally occurring water (Dan 1:12). This suggests that their decision was to be constantly reminded of their dependence upon their Creator God for their food, not dependence on King Nebuchadnezzar, which was the sin of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:17).
What can we build into our daily routine that provide constant reminders of our dependence on God?
  • Give thanks for our food at each meal.
  • Keep a daily record of the Lord's gifts to us, from the trivial to the profound.
  • Practice fasting--deliberately choose to abstain from some of the legitimate pleasures and satisfactions in the world.
  • Omit a meal to devote time to pray.
Daniel and his friends sought to maintain faithfulness to God by working within the Babylonian system, not against it. They sought permission from the chief official for their personalized diet plan (Dan 1:8). When the official feared potential consequences of bucking the system (Dan 1:10), Daniel asked the guard who looked after them and proposed a 10-day test (Dan 1:11-14). At the end of the trial period, Daniel and his friends looked fitter, healthier, better than those who indulged in a high-calorie lifestyle (Dan 1:15).

III. God's Grace
(Dan 1:17-21)

God's faithfulness. The focus on this chapter is not simply the faithfulness of these 4 young men to their God, but it is on God's faithfulness to them. God caused them to find mercy (rahamim) in the eyes of their captors (Dan 1:9; 1 Ki 8:50). Also, the outcome of their 10 day dietary test was not what ordinarily would have been expected, but was a mark of God being with them. God also gave all 4 of them exceptional knowledge and understanding of Babylonian literature and learning and gave Daniel the unique ability to discern visions and dreams of all kinds (Dan 1:17-21). God's favor upon them enabled them to answer all of Nebuchadnezzar's questions, so that he found them 10 times better than all of his other advisors (Dan 1:20). God placed them in a unique position where they could be a blessing to their captors and build up the society in which they found themselves, while at the same time enabling them to remain true to God in the midst of extraordinary pressures.

Only God can... If we stress the resolve and decisions of Daniel and his 3 friends, we might miss the remarkable work of God's faithfulness to them, and thus miss the comfort and encouragement, which only God can provide. If God is able to keep these young men faithful to him in their situation, then he is surely able to keep us faithful to him in our much lesser trails and difficulties. No matter how overwhelming our situation may seem, God is able to keep us through it. It is his work from beginning to end, and he will do it.

God's faithfulness sustained Daniel through out his life. This theme of the faithfulness of God emerges again in the brief note that closes this chapter: "And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus" (Dan 1:21). That year was the year in which the decree was issued that enabled the Jews to return home (2 Chron 36:22-23), 70 years after the time Daniel and his friends were taken into exile. God faithfulness proved sufficient from Daniel throughout the entire time of the exile. Babylonian kings came and went, until the Babylonians themselves were replaced as the ruler world power by the Medo-Persians in the person of Cyrus. Yet God sustained his faithful servant throughout the whole time. In the same way, God is able to preserve us throughout the trials and tribulations that we face, no matter how intense they may be or how long they may last. When the world does its worst, God's grace and faithfulness is enough.

Do not try to "Be like Daniel." Most of us are NOT like Daniel and his 3 friends. Those who think they are may come across as self-righteous Pharisees or self-proclaimed elitist Christians. Thus, if the message of Daniel is simply "Be like Daniel and all will be well," then studying Daniel may not be beneficial to us as Christians. The more we get to know Daniel, the more we come to realize that we are NOT Daniels.

The gospel: Jesus is the true and ultimate Daniel. The good news of the gospel, is not simply that God is faithful to those who are faithful to him. It is that a Savior has come to deliver faithless and compromised Christians like us. Our salvation rests not on our ability to be like Daniel and remain undefiled by the world, but rather on the pure and undefiled offering that Jesus has provided in our place. Jesus came voluntarily into this world, with all of its pains and trials. He endured far greater temptations and sufferings than Daniel did, or than we ever will (Heb 4:15). Yet he remained entirely faithful and pure until the very end, without spot or blemish, and grants the perfection of his obedience to all those who trust in him by faith (1 Pet 1:19). What is more, Jesus has already returned from his time of exile and now sits at the Father's right hand in heaven. He has prepared our places there, and his presence there already is the guarantee that 1 day we will be with him there as his people. The cross is the means by which God's faithfulness redeems the unfaithful; the resurrection and ascension are the surety of our inheritance in heaven.

Fix our eyes on Jesus crucified, raised and exalted. He has not only pioneered the route home; he is the route home. Trust in him and ask him to work in you a true faithfulness. Be constantly dependent upon God's sanctifying work, looking to him to keep you faithful, not to your best efforts to "Be a Daniel." Finally, long for the day when his heavenly kingdom will invade this earth and bring the fullness of your inheritance.

References:

"When The World Does Its Worst" (Daniel 1:1-21), Iain M Duguid, Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, 2008.
"Take Time To Be Holy" (Daniel 1), Ligon Duncan.

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10/14/2011

God’s Power Expressed Through Man’s Weakness (2 Corinthians)

2cor12

"I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30).

"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses..." (2 Corinthians 12:9).

"...he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power" (2 Corinthians 13:4).


In his commentary, John MacArthur says, "A church should not ordain anyone who has not read (2 Corinthians) and commentaries on (it)."


The Theme: Power Through Weakness. The magnificent message of 2 Corinthians is that God’s power comes to people in their utter helplessness and weakness, not in their human strength. So...


Do we defensively show our strength, our smartness, our significance, our success?

Or are we free, even happy, to be regarded as useless, foolish, worthless, weak?


(Related posts: Why Do We Have Divisions?; A Church with Major Problems)


The Problem: Shadowy Opponents Regard Paul as a Fool, as Scum and Garbage. Today, Christians highly honor Paul as the greatest Christian who ever lived. But Paul’s own real life situation and reality was quite the opposite: he was regarded as a fool--a horribly depraved and undesirable human being. To many Christian leaders, he was scum and garbage (1 Cor 4:13)! He had multiple opponents and opposition, who attacked him, criticized him, and slandered him mostly behind his back. In this letter Paul confronts his shadowy opponents who "ganged up" against him with the local church leaders and members of the church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians is a fascinating record of that painful conflict, which is often a sad reality today behind many church conflicts, church divisions, and church splits. No preacher in the history of the church has faced more intense persecution as did Paul, and in this letter he models how to handle suffering in the ministry (2 Cor 1:4-10; 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 11:23-33).


Paul's Godly Character shines through as he interacts with his most troubled church. Paul's humility is evident through out. He describes himself as a lowly clay pot (2 Cor 4:7). He stressed his human weakness and inadequacy (2 Cor 3:5, 11:30, 12:5,9-10). He was reluctant to defend himself when attacked (2 Cor 11:1,16-17,21; 12:11). He reveals his passionate concern for God's flock, both for their spiritual growth (2 Cor 3:18, 7:1), and for their spiritual safety (2 Cor 11:2-4,29). His selfless concern for them is seen in his declaration, "For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor 4:5).


An Important Principle in Studying 2 Corinthians. Paul's 13 letters were expected to be read straight through, not broken up into chapters or paragraphs and studied section by section or verse by verse. Thus, when preaching or teaching through any portion, the whole big picture should not be lost or ignored. This is true for all 66 books of the Bible.


Time Line. Paul’s relationships with the Corinthians span 7 years. (Dates below are approximate.)


AD 50-52: Paul spent 1 ½ years in Corinthian planting/establishing the church.

AD 54: 1 Corinthians written.

AD 55: Paul made a 2nd visit to Corinth (2 Cor 13:2), the painful visit (2 Cor 2:1) to deal with an emergency disciplinary problem in the church.

AD 56: 2 Corinthians was written from Macedonia after this 2nd visit.

AD 57: Paul came to Corinth for the 3rd and final time (2 Cor 13:1) and stayed for 3 months.


Differences Between 1 and 2 Corinthians. Of all the churches planted/founded by Paul, the Corinthian church was the most demanding. As a result, Paul wrote 4 letters to them, 2 lengthy ones remain, while 2 were lost, 1 written before, and the other after 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:3-4, 7:8-12).


1 Corinthians deals with major problems of behavior (divisions, immorality, lawsuits, favoritism) and doctrine (doubts about the resurrection). They also questioned Paul’s abilities and authority (1 Cor 2:1-5, 4:8-13). Paul addressed all of these issues objectively and unemotionally.


2 Corinthians, however, reveals a range of unashamed emotional extremes in Paul. He is overjoyed and confident (2 Cor 7:4), yet deeply hurt by their coldness toward him (2 Cor 6:12), by them “putting up” with him (2 Cor 11:1), and believing all the criticisms leveled against him, that he is weak, ineffective and not a true apostle/leader. They believe that Paul is all of the following:

  • He is worldly; he can’t keep his decision (2 Cor 1:17).
  • He is deceptive; he distorts God’s word (2 Cor 4:2).
  • He is weak; he will just fade away (2 Cor 4:16).
  • He is corrupt; he exploits people (2 Cor 7:2).
  • He is not a true servant of God (2 Cor 10:7).
  • He is unimpressive in person, while he boldly talks big in his letters (2 Cor 10:1,10; 11:6,21).
  • He is a fool; he is out of his mind (2 Cor 11:1,16,23).
  • He is untraditional, unconventional, crafty; he refused financial support (2 Cor 11:7; 12:13-16).
  • He is not a leader; he lacks credentials as a leader (2 Cor 12:1,11-12).

Because of all such criticisms against him, spurred on by other Christian leaders, Paul was forced to defend his doctrines/teachings, his ministry, and his integrity/character (2 Cor 1:12-13; 2:17; 3:5; 4:2, 5; 5:9-10; 6:3-4,11; 7:2; 8:20-21; 10:7; 11:5-6,30; 12:11-12; 13:5-6). He is sorry that the Christians do not reciprocate his love for them (2 Cor 6:11-13), and that they do not acknowledge the authenticity of his Christian life--his apostleship, and God’s work done through him (2 Cor 3:1-3; 12:11-13).


Why Christians Criticized Paul. There may be 2 major factors:


1. Cultural differences. Since Apollos and Peter had visited the church at Corinth, the educated Greek Christians were drawn to the gifted orator Appollos, an Alexandrian Jew (Acts 18:24-28), while the Jewish members were attracted to Peter. These southern Greeks, who were fascinated by oratory, rhetoric, intellectualism and sophisticated discourse, were unimpressed by manual worker Paul because of his amateurish speaking abilities. They also felt insulted by his refusal to accept money from them, while he accepted money from the rustic northern Greeks (2 Cor 11:7-9). They also likely didn’t like Paul continually admonishing them about their idolatry and immorality (2 Cor 6:14-7:1; 12:20-13:1). The Jews, on the other hand, were upset with Paul for not championing their conservative Jewish Mosaic tradition. (See below.)


2. Senior Jewish ministers criticism of Paul. Paul does not name or identify these elite, special, superior, “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:13,23). They were persuading the Christians in Corinth that Paul’s Bible study and theology was bad/wrong, because he seems to dismiss the Law of Moses and promote cheap grace. They also claimed their own legitimacy on the basis of their works, their achievements, and their miraculous/mystical experiences, which they claimed Paul lacked. They also slandered Paul for being personally and morally deficient in many ways (2 Cor 7:2).


Thus, Paul was preparing to make his 3rd and final visit to them (2 Cor 13:1) by writing 2 Corinthians, which is Paul's own defense for why he did what he did. Paul explained why he deferred the 3rd visit and wrote to them instead (chap 1-2). He nevertheless expressed joy that the moral problem which necessitated the 2nd, painful visit and the (now lost) "sorrowful" letter has been resolved (chap 7). He urged that the collection of money for the Jerusalem church (which had lapsed) be revived and completed (chap 8-9). The major part of 2 Corinthians is devoted to answering the criticisms against him by the "super-apostles" (chap 3-6) and their assault on his character (chap 10-13).

 

Can we overcome our endless need to defend ourselves and prove our worth to others? Or are we happy to be regarded as scum and garbage as Paul was, and be content to let God reveal His power through our utter weakness and helplessness?


Reference:


The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, 1988, The Bible Speaks Today.

 2 Corinthians, John MacArthur, 2003, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

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10/13/2011

What is the Purpose of West Loop UBF Church?

Bound_lamb_3
"I consider my life worth nothing to me ... my only aim is to ... testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24, NIV, ESV)

What's the point? When we began having Sunday Worship Services at West Loop on Jan 4th, 2008, I came up with 3 short catch phrases: "Love God. Understand People. Impact the World." Yet, over the last few years, not a few people have asked me, "What is the purpose of West Loop UBF?" After almost 4 years (probably a little late!), this might be my first written attempt to answer the question.

10/05/2011

Philippines UBF

Antipolo

The Wind Blows Wherever It Pleases (Philippines UBF)

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).


Like I had never left Chicago. After living in Manila for over 2 months (minus 1 week in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur), I returned to Chicago on Oct 3. When I got home, I said to my wife, "It feels as though I had not left at all." She echoed the exact same sentiment and added, "We are so close that we can even dance together in 2 different countries." Even an unromantic person like myself was quite touched by her spontaneous comment. I am so glad to be back, and I also look forward to going back to the Philippines again.

Previous Reports on Philippines UBF. I had previously blogged about Philippines UBF as a fruitful and exemplary indigenous ministry, and why I am going to the Philippines to live for an extended time. I had planned to stay for 3 months, but I had to return 3 weeks earlier due to issues in my medical clinic.

The Wind and the Spirit Blowing in Philippines UBF. John 3:8 always comes to mind when I am in Manila: I feel the wind of the Spirit blowing wherever the Spirit pleases and working tenderly in the hearts of people in various campuses through out Manila. Over the past year, we have began 3 church plants:
  1. At Antipolo (2 hours from the main Philippines UBF center), led by Dr. John Talavera and his wife Hannah. Their 2 weekly Bible study fellowship meetings on Wed and Fri (called Ignite UBF) has up to 30 students from Fatima University attending and participating. I met them each week on Fri to lead a Bible study. On the last Fri before I left the students made me a picture with a collage of each of the students faces. (See picture) This ministry is lively and vibrant because students like AndrewJimmonRemKaiser, Marjenel, Monique, Pie, Camille, Moja, Kevyn, etc, take stewardship, leadership and responsibility over the ministry and they are constantly inviting their friends and class mates to join in Bible study and fellowship.
  2. At Caloocan City (half hour from the center), led by Jonathan and Grace Reytos. I led their group Bible study on Tue. The first time I went there were about a dozen students. The last time I went about 25 students came, all from UCC (University of Caloocan City). Grace is a warm, gracious and friendly lady who has the gift of inviting many students to come, while being a busy mother of 4.
  3. At the University Belt (an hour from the center), led by Timothy and Esther Ipapo. I've served their Sun service with a sermon/Bible study on Sun 4 pm, after giving the sermon at the main center at 10 am. About a half dozen students attend. Suzette, a nurse, is in the process of going to work in Singapore as a nurse. We are praying that through her, God may enable us to begin to pray about planting a church in Singapore. Esther is expecting her 4th child, which is a girl.
  4. Once a week on Thu, I also lead a group Bible with students at UP (University of the Philippines), which is the top school in the country, perhaps like SNU in Seoul, or Harvard in the US. Students who graduate from UP have their bright futures set in stone, and they can virtually get jobs anywhere else in the world. Each Thu, up to a dozen students, mostly women, come for Bible study, not as skeptics but as open-hearted seekers. Arlene, who recently married Andrew Jaegers of U of C, is the faithful steward of this ministry, together with AyraKyra and BebsAivy, who just recently joined Bible study and fellowship, gave me a plaque signed by her, which states "Outstanding Servant of the Lord Award." I am quite touched and humbled by her gift, and trembling to live up to it!
  5. William and Sarah Altobar, who live in the main center near Fatima University in Valenzuela City, are truly the backbone, pillar and foundation of the ministry. They are literally and functionally the mom and dad of everyone in the ministry. They live together with about a half dozen single boys and half dozen single girls, who are all either students or recent graduates. William is like a Barnabas who loves, embraces, encourages, and welcomes everyone, while I am socially awkward and might be more of a heady cerebral sort of person, like a super mini version of Paul. So William loves and serves and embraces everyone, while I seem to spend most of my day reading and studying and then meeting everyone for Bible study. The women who live in the Bible house served me in every possible way while I lived there: Sarah Altobar, GemmaMindaRachelLuz. Without them taking care of me, I could not have lived there. Thanks!
Preaching Christ from Genesis. During my stay there, I gave 9 sermons on Genesis on Sun, by showing how each text and each narrative points to Jesus, since Jesus said that Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:46), and that the Old Testament Scriptures are not primarily instructions for living, or examples to follow, but that they are all pointing to Christ (John 5:39; Luke 24:27,44; Acts 10:43). I had previously explained what the point of Genesis is. For instance, I shared how Jesus is the true Joseph (who suffered more than Joseph), or Jesus is the true Abraham (who made the ultimate sacrifice), or Jesus is our true Rebekah (who took our curse in our place), etc. Then I sensed that the hearts of our audience were being touched by the grace of Jesus, who loves us at great cost in spite of all our sins. Several confessed to me that their hearts were moved to tears because of the grace of Jesus through our Christ centered and gospel driven approach to studying Genesis.

Some final general encouragements from me.
  1. The Bible is about Jesus, Grace and the Gospel, not about Law, Legalism and Religion. Religion says, "I obey, therefore God will bless me." The Gospel says the exact opposite, "God already blessed me through Christ's sacrifice, therefore I obey." I pray that we may live with gospel driven obedience, rather than obedience driven by desire for some other reward.
  • Read, read, read. I left about 50 Christian books and encouraged them to read, so that we may learn to love God, not just with our hearts, souls and strengths, but also with all our minds. Francis Bacon said, Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.
  • Never feel inferior to anyone. Because of poverty, Filipinos tend to act deferential toward rich people or toward Americans who are richer. So, I encouraged them to repent if they, as a Christian, ever feels inferior to anyone because of their financial status or standing. Because of Christ in us, by his grace alone, and by faith alone, God has enabled and empowered us as his children to be the kings and stewards of the whole world.
  • A man must be a man (1 Kings 2:2). The symbol of a man is courage without any hint of fear. Only fear God, not man (Prov 29:25). One who fears man insults God. One who causes others to fear man plays God. When we fear God, we fear no one, while we live a life of repentance (Ps 51:4), and we work hard because of the marvelous grace of Jesus (1 Cor 15:10). Thank God for our MEN who meet for 6 am Daily Bread: LyndonArchieSamJimChristianJaysonMarlon
  • A woman must be unavailable. (1 Pet 3:3-4). This does not mean that she has to fast from boys, or be rude to them. Rather, while single, her heart must be unavailable to any boy, because her heart is available only and primarily to Christ, her true husband (Isa 54:5). Unavailability and mystery makes a woman truly beautiful. I wrote about this in A Woman's Beauty (1 Pet 3:1-6).
  • Thank God for the gracious work of the Spirit and the "blowing wind" in Philippines UBF (John 3:8). Thank God who helped me to not miss my wife (or my 3 cats!) while I was away for over 2 months. It helped that I could call and speak to my wife from Skype almost daily to find out the goings on in Chicago. From this trip, I realize that I can go and live anywhere as long as someone feeds me, does my laundry, and there is a good and fast internet connection! Oh my gosh, what a sacrifice!

    Posted via email from benjamintoh's posterous

    10/02/2011

    How Great is our (Incomparable) God (Micah 7:18-20)

    Micah7

    Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…?” (Micah 7:18)


    Micah’s name means “Who is like the Lord?” As the prophet completes/concludes his book he identifies himself with a question, which is also his name: Who is a God like you…?” (Mic 7:18) It is a rhetorical question that is an assertion of God’s incomparable glory and greatness. Micah is really saying, “There is no one like the Lord, for our God is greater than all gods!” The book of Micah reveals our God in 3 ways:

    1. Our Incomparable God.
    2. Incomparable Grace.
    3. Incomparable Faithfulness.
    I. Our Incomparable God


    What does the Bible teach us about who God is? What does Micah reveal to us about God? 3 thoughts:

    1. God’s holiness.
    2. God’s almighty power.
    3. God’s sovereignty.

    1. God’s Holiness. The book of Micah emphasizes repeatedly that God is a holy God, a God in a unique category, set apart from all others. God's thoughts/ways are never man’s thoughts/ways (Isa 55:8-9). The whole Bible sets “forth the awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator” (J. Gresham Machen, 1923). It relates to God’s absolute separation from all evil and sin. “…he is exalted above the possibility of sin—in him, as the absolutely good, evil cannot enter” (Gerhardus Vos, 1994).


    Micah confronts us with the reality of God’s holiness all through his book. God appears in frightening cataclysm, where “the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open” (Mic 1:3-4). The reason? “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of…Israel” (Mic 1:5). The holy God is always grievously offended by all sin. God is a just God who judges sin with great severity (Mic 2:1), until he regards his sinful people as an enemy (Mic 2:8).


    2. God’s Almighty Power. The holy God also has power to judge sin. “I will make Samaria a heap…and uncover her foundations” (Mic 1:6). No one can match God’s power. No foundation can withstand God’s power. When Sennacherib, the Assyrian conqueror, besieged Jerusalem, the Lord struck down 185,000 soldiers of his army in a single night.


    3. God’s sovereignty. No human king or authority determines the fate of peoples. Only God in his sovereign majesty reigns supreme. God is omniscient, knowing all our secret thoughts (Mic 2:1), while we know not his (Mic 4:12). God’s absolute sovereignty over all history includes the minutest details of the affairs of men and nations, as seen in the many and specific prophecies Micah makes regarding the future.

    • He foretold the judgment of wicked Samaria (Mic 1:6).
    • He predicted details of the Assyrian advance prior to the event (Mic 1:10-16).
    • He prophesies God’s deliverance of his people when the enemy comes to the very gate of the city (Mic 2:12-13).
    • He sees the Christian age of the gospel, when people from all over the world will come to God to worship and learn (Mic 4:2).
    • Most dramatically, he provides one of the most detailed and accurate predictions of the Messiah’s birth, nearly 700 years in the future (Mic 5:2).

    Micah spoke boldly about specific events that have not yet happened because he speaks for a sovereign God, who exercises perfect control over all things, past, present, and even into eternity.


    II. Incomparable Grace


    Is there 1 thing about God that causes Micah to celebrate his incomparable glory? The answer is in his final verses (Mic 7:18-20). It is that the majesty of the holy, almighty, sovereign God is seen most wonderfully in his grace. Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…?” (Mic 7:18). We observe 4 things:

    1. What God forgives.
    2. How God forgives.
    3. God’s attitude in forgiving.
    4. The finality of God’s forgiveness.

    1. What God forgives. What is it that God forgives? Micah uses 3 terms to describe sinful man’s offense to God.

    1. God pardons “iniquity” (Mic 7:18). ‘Avon (Hebrew) refers to our guilt. Our sins incur a debt to God’s holy justice that must be paid.
    2. God passes over “transgression” (Mic 7:18). Pesha denotes rebellion against God. We reject God’s right to govern our lives. In the parable of the 10 minas, the rebels insist, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Lk 19:14), which incurs the king’s rightful response of judgment and destruction (Lk 19:27).
    3. God casts our “sins” into the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19). Chatta’ah refers to wickedness or evil, which God, as ruler of creation, cannot tolerate but must destroy.

    All 3 of these terms—guilt, rebellion, and wickedness—have been ascribed not to pagans but to God’s people residing in Jerusalem where they worship in the temple of God. Judging by the standard of God’s perfect law, no one is righteous, not even one, and no one does God, not even one (Rom 3:10,12).


    2. How God forgives. How can a holy God ever forgive his people’s sins? Micah’s language is vivid and instructive, containing the very heart of the Bible’s gospel. He virtually uses NT language that only Jesus is able to fulfill.

    1.       God pardons our iniquity/guilt. Nasa’ literally speaks of God lifting our guilt, taking it away (Jn 1:29). An Israelite would naturally think of the Day of Atonement, where the high priest sets the scapegoat free (expiation), while slaying the other (propitiation), which shows that God takes away our sin/guilt by the substitutionary death of a God-appointed sacrifice (Lev 16:8-10; Rom 3:21-26). God had to both bear and take away our sins (Bruce Waltke, 2007). The NT applies this directly to the cross, where God cancels our record of debt by nailing it to the cross (Col 2:14). This transfer of our sins to Christ is imputation (2 Cor 5:21; Isa 53:6).

    2.       God passes over our transgression/rebellion. The language here also points to the cross, through the events of the Passover (1 Cor 5:7; Mic 7:18). This passing over of our sins happens for those who have confessed their sins and believed in the gospel of Christ. What other God or deity ever responds to our wickedness against him by placing our guilt onto himself? This is the main difference between Christianity and all other faiths.

    3. God’s attitude in forgiving our sins. Does God forgive begrudgingly, resentfully, or halfheartedly? “He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Mic 7:18). Micah’s hope is in the incomparable God whose heart is moved by grace. Chesed, is the great OT word for covenant mercy and love of God, for God delights in tender, loving, mercy for his people. This word is so rich that it can hardly be given a single English translation. It is rendered as:

    • “steadfast love” (ESV),
    • “faithful love” (Holman-HCSB),
    • “unchanging love” (NASB),
    • “mercy” (KJV, NIV)

    Seemingly, no godly people were left in the land (Mic 7:2-3). How could such depraved people be spared by a holy God? It is ONLY because of God’s mercy (Tit 3:5). Micah’s hope lay in God’s delight in mercy, and there he rested his burdened heart.


    4. The finality of God’s forgiveness: God casts away our sins…

    ·         God “will again have compassion on us” (Mic 7:19).  Racham speaks of tender affection, the way a mother loves a child.

    ·         Like a conqueror and a liberator, God “will tread our iniquities underfoot” (Mic 7:19). When God takes away the guilt of sin, that it may not condemn us, He takes away also the power of sin, that it may not rule us. Thus,

    o   Our guilt he takes away to the cross;

    o   Our rebellion he covers with Christ’s blood; and

    o   The corrupting power of evil in our hearts he treads underfoot.

    ·         God casts “all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:19). This allusion is to Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea. Just as the Egyptians were prevented by God from catching the Israelites to destroy them, God will not allow our sins to catch up to us.

    This knowledge is crucial to our relationship with God, and to our peace and joy in salvation: the finality of our forgiveness in Christ. Heb 8:12 echoes Jeremiah when God declares to us: “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” How can an all-knowing God forget that we have sinned against him? In Micah’s language, God has:

    • Lifted our sins and taken them to the cross;
    • Covered our sins with the blood of Christ;
    • Trodden them under his own foot;
    • Cast them into the sea of his incomparable grace.

    III. Incomparable Faithfulness


    How can we count on God extending such grace to us, when we stumble and stutter in sin? Only by God’s incomparable faithfulness to his covenant promises of old in the Bible (Mic 7:20). “Faithfulness” is emet, which also means “truth.” God will be true to Jacob (Gen 28:14) by working salvation for Jacob’s descendants. God will show steadfast love (chesed) to Abraham (Mic 7:20) to fulfill God’s promise to him (Gen 12:3; 15:5). God has sworn this to our fathers from the days of old (Mic 7:20). Thus, we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Heb 6:19).


    In conclusion, God delivers us from the power of sin by first assuring us of our complete forgiveness through the blood of Christ. Why would he do this? Because “he delights in steadfast love (chesed)” (Mic 7:18). When we behold the cross, we can praise God like Micah and say, Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…?” (Mic 7:18)

    Posted via email from benjamintoh's posterous