Making a Difference in the Political Process

This week lawmakers are debating a stimulus package that would dwarf any other such legislation in our country’s history. Unfortunately this package is filled to the brim with all kinds of projects that have nothing to do with the economy. This not only bad for our economy, but there are also items in this package that are bad for the moral fabric of our country. Some of this has already been detailed in the news over the last few days, and I don’t want to simply re-hash that.  Mainly, I am just voicing my frustration and trying to figure out what I can do.

So, what can I do?  The answer is not much. However, the National Taxpayers Union has put together a “Fight the Stimulus Hoax Tool Kit” that will help you do what you can. Specifically, it has a form that wil allow you to contact your representatives in order to voice your displeasure over this stimulus package.

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Lincoln opposes abortion?

I have said it here in the past, and I will say it again.  Abortion is the greatest injustice/moral tragedy in the history of our country.  The second would be slavery.

Last week John Piper also noted the similarity between these two injustices.  He also quoted an argument against slavery used by Abraham Lincoln, and then used that same argument to demonstrate the injustice of slavery.

Here is an excerpt:

There are no morally relevant differences between white and black or between child-in-the-womb and child-outside-the-womb that would give a right to either to enslave or kill the other.

You really need (I use this word with caution b/c I have a 2 yr old who needs everything) read the entire article HERE.

By the way, here are a couple of examples of children that you do not have the right to kill… oh, I apologize.  I mean “abort.”

becca-newborn-320x200
makaylahs-first-days-045-320x200
sonogram-becca-1

Enduring (pt. 3)

Endurance in Gospel Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

Here the apostle Paul reveals to us how he endured in his own ministry.  As we look at this passage we will see that if we want to endure the difficulties of gospel ministry we must understand the purpose for those difficulties.  And here Paul gives us two reasons why we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry. First, we must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God.  Second, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

I. We must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God. (vv. 7-9)
II. We must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

The second reason that we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry is found in vv. 10-12. Here Paul gives us one more paradox. In this final paradox Paul explains that not only do we display the power of God by enduring difficulties, but also that we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

Paul says that he was “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus ….” But what does this mean? Well, the word that is translated here as “dying” is not the normal word that would be used to refer to death. When Paul uses this word he does not have in mind the death of Jesus, but rather the events leading up to the death of Jesus. One commentator put it this way, “Paul uses νέκρωσις in v. 10 to portray not a single event (the death of Jesus), but a prolonged process, the course of events leading up to Jesus’ death or the daily trials and hardships that befell Jesus as an itinerant preacher….[1] This means that when Paul said that he was “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” he meant that he faced persecution, hardship, and difficulties just like Jesus did. We saw this in vv. 8-9 not only in the case of Paul, but in the case of every minister of the gospel. Jesus said in John 15:20 that “if they persecuted me they will also persecute you. As ministers of the gospel we can, and should expect to bear the afflictions of Christ. In fact, all followers of Jesus will encounter these afflictions in some way, but the apostle Paul in particular knew what it was to bear the afflictions of Christ. He was able to bear this burden because he understood what the result would be.

Paul tells us that through “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus… the life of Jesus [was] manifested.” The life that Paul speaks of is the life that belongs to Jesus. Here Paul is using this phrase as a shorthand way of referring to the gospel message. For it is through the life of the resurrected Jesus that we sinners can be saved and receive life themselves. Really Paul is saying that by enduring difficulties he was fulfilling his role as a minister of the gospel. What is so ironic about this is that by enduring—as Paul puts it— in “our mortal flesh” he was able to reveal the life of Jesus. This is ironic because this last phrase, ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ, refers to the physical body, and it does so in such a way so as to highlight the weakness of mankind. “Our mortal flesh” is that exact opposite of the “life of Jesus.” It reminds us that we are transitory, finite, weak, feeble creatures, yet we are able to reveal the eternal life of Jesus. Truly this is a testament to the power of God. Only God could use such weak and feeble creatures to proclaim such a powerful truth. And this is exactly what he does when we endure.

In v. 12 Paul explains to us specifically how his endurance revealed the life of Jesus. Here he reminded the Corinthians that “death works in us, but life in you.” The false teachers had made the Corinthians doubt Paul’s ministry credibility because of the afflictions that had come upon him. However, Paul is quick to point out that it was through these afflictions—this death at work in him—that the Corinthians had received the life of Jesus in the first place. If Paul would have quit then the gospel would not have made it to Corinth (1:6). But he did not quit. He endured all of these afflictions so that the Corinthians could receive the gospel. To use Paul’s words, death was at work in Paul, and because of this life was at work in the Corinthians. This was the glorious result of all these difficulties, and it should keep us motivated to continue minister the gospel to sinners in need despite the opposition that we might face. In fact, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

Conclusion:

Ultimately the Apostle Paul’s ministry had more of a lasting effect than anyone other than Christ himself. This was because he endured through the difficulties and continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel message. If we are going to be effective ministers of the gospel then we too must endure through the difficulties of ministry. Men, this is a daunting task. We will face trials, and affliction, and opposition (maybe even from within our own leadership team). But, as we reflect on vv. 7-12 it is plain to see that there is a purpose for the difficulties that we face as we seek to serve the Lord. By faithfully enduring through difficulties we have the opportunity to display the power of God to the world around us, and to spread the gospel of Jesus to those who desperately need it. It is not going to be easy, but by God’s grace it is possible. We must keep reminding ourselves that there is a reason why we are facing difficulties, and we must understand that by enduring were are displaying the power of God and revealing message of the gospel.

[Read Part I HERE]

[Read Part II HERE]


[1]Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 345.

Enduring (pt. 2)

Endurance in Gospel Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

Here the apostle Paul reveals to us how he endured in his own ministry.  As we look at this passage we will see that if we want to endure the difficulties of gospel ministry we must understand the purpose for those difficulties.  And here Paul gives us two reasons why we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry. First, we must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God.  Second, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

I. We must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God. (vv. 7-9)

The first reason that we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry is found in vv. 7-9.   Here we see that we must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God.  Paul begins to explain this point to us in v. 7 by using a paradoxical illustration.  Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”

In this verse Paul does not tell us exactly what “this treasure” is, but the context makes it clear what Paul is referring to.  Paul has in mind the gospel, but more specifically Paul has in mind his ministry of the gospel.  This is the same ministry that Paul referred to in 4:1 when he said, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”  Paul viewed his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel as a “treasure.”  He knew that the message of the gospel was the most important message that anyone could ever receive because of its eternal implications.  Paul had been entrusted with the message of Christ crucified.  Because of its glorious nature, this message was rightfully treasured by Paul.  However, the glorious nature of the gospel is not the only point that Paul has in mind here.

Paul goes on to say that he has “this treasure in earthen vessels.”  To understand Paul’s point here we must understand the phrase “earthen vessels.”  This phrase translates two words from the Greek.  The first word, ὀστρακίνοις, literally means something that is made of clay.  The second word, σκεύεσιν, denotes a vessel or container used for various purposes.  Thus, Paul is literally referring to a container made of clay.  Containers such as this would have been extremely common in the ancient world.  They were used in all kinds of different ways and for all kinds of different purposes.  These “jars of clay” were essentially the ancient world’s version of cheap Tupperware.  As Kent Hughes puts it:

Clay jars were the throwaway containers of the ancient world, so that their life spans were generally a few years at the most…. No one took note of clay jars any more than we would of a fast-food container. They were simply there for convenience. It was no great tragedy when such vessels were broken. They were cheap and easy to replace.[1]

Paul’s metaphor is clear.  Just like jars of clay, ministers of the gospel are fragile, chipped, and common vessels.  Yet they are carrying the priceless treasure of the gospel.  All the difficulties that we face and all of our weaknesses confirm this truth.  We are nothing more than “jars of clay,” but there is a reason that God chose “jars of clay” to carry his treasure.

Paul says that all of this is “so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”  This is the purpose for our frailty and weakness.  This is why we face difficulties that we are unable to resolve by our own ability.  If we were powerful beings who never had any troubles with anything it wouldn’t take the power of God to spread the gospel.  This is why we must face difficulties.  Our suffering and our weaknesses play such an intricate role in gospel ministry.  It is all a part of the divine plan to make it clear that the power of the Gospel comes from God not from those who are ministering the gospel.  This is why God chose “clay pots.”   

Even though the false teachers saw Paul’s difficulties in ministry as a sign of failure, Paul understood that his difficulties in ministry displayed the power of God.  For this reason Paul did not mind being a clay pot, he was not like the false teachers who fancied themselves to be jewel covered goblets.  Paul viewed himself simply as an instrument for God’s use and he saw his weaknesses as an opportunity to display the power of God.  In 12:9 he said, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Do you have this same mentality that Paul had?  As you involve yourself in gospel ministry are you satisfied with being a clay pot, or are you seeking to display your own power, giftedness, and worth through your ministry?  If you are satisfied with being a pot then you will be able to effectively endure through difficulties as Paul did because you will understand why you are facing these difficulties.  However, if you are not satisfied with being a pot-ministering in the way that God has gifted you, being behind the scenes while someone else is up front, serving wherever the Lord has placed you-then you will never be able to endure in gospel ministry.  You may be able to hang onto your ministry for a long time, but you will not be effectively endure for the gospel.

In v. 7 it is clear that our weaknesses display the power of God, but Paul does not leave it at that.  In vv. 8-9 Paul specifies exactly how our difficulties display the power of God.  He does so by listing four paradoxes that illustrate what it means to be a clay pot.  Here it says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….”  This list of paradoxes is obviously influenced by Paul’s own experiences, but it is also applies to all who are involved in gospel ministry.  These paradoxes illustrate what it means to be a clay pot holding a glorious treasure.  They illustrate this by outlining our weaknesses and God’s provision.

First, Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.”  The word here, θλιβόμενοι, literally means to press, compress, or to make narrow.  Here it is used passively and it refers to being under enormous pressure.  As a clay pot Paul should have been squashed by this kind of pressure.  However, Paul tells the Corinthians that despite this great pressure he had not been crushed.  As you hear Paul’s vivid language, you can almost picture an action movie where the hero is trapped in a room with the walls closing in around him.  At the last minute the hero finds something to wedge against the wall or some window to escape out of at the last minute.  The only difference here is that Paul did not save himself with some heroic act of ingenuity.  It would have been impossible for a clay pot to withstand this kind of pressure alone.  This is the point.  The clay pot-Paul-was sustained only by the power of God.

Second, Paul says that he was “perplexed, but not despairing.”   Here Paul is using a play on words that does not transfer over in our English bibles.  Both words that Paul uses here (ἀπορούμενοι/ἐξαπορούμενοι) are actually from the same root word.  The idea is that Paul was at a loss because his situation but never at a total loss.  As perplexed as Paul was in the midst of his difficulties because of the power of God he never reached the point of utter despair. Even though he did not know what to do, he never reached the point of hopelessness only because of God’s provision.

Third, Paul says that he was “persecuted, but not forsaken.”  John Calvin paraphrased it this way, “Many enemies are in arms around us, but under God’s provision we are safe.”[2] Another commentator pointed out that “the idea here is that God did not leave Paul behind or in the lurch for the enemy to pick up.”[3] Paul knew persecution all too well, but he also knew that God would never abandon him.

Fourth, Paul says that he was “struck down, but not destroyed.”  In this last paradox you can almost picture Paul in a boxing match getting “beat like a drum,” but always getting up before the ten count.  In other words, Paul may have been knocked down by the difficulties that he encountered, but because of the power of God he was never knocked out.  By God’s power Paul, as well as all Christians, persevered.

In each and every one of these paradoxes you can see the frailty of man as a clay pot, and the power of God.  God is so powerful that He is even able to use clay pots such as these for His purposes.  This should be a comforting thought to us as we seek to minister the gospel in the face of overwhelming difficulties.  We can be assured that as we faithfully serve our God we may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but we will never be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.

In all of this the power of God is on display.  In fact, the very reason that we must endure these difficulties is in order to display the power of God.

[Read Part I HERE]


[1]R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 89.

[2]John Calvin, Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, Reprinted 2005), 203

[3] Linda L. Bellevile, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity press, 1996), 121.

Friday Quote:

…we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly percieve it, and if it takes root in the heart.

Calvin
Institutes
pgs. 61-62

Enduring

Sorry for my breif absence from the blog.  It has been a crazy couple of weeks with a lot to do, including the first preaching lab in the history of the The Expositors Seminary.  And guess who was first on the list to preach…  yep I got the not-so-coveted first draw.  It was a bit stressful, primarily because I had to continually repent of desiring to please men instead of God, but now that it is over and done it was a great time.  Ironcially, after missing some time here, I preached on endurance.  I thought that it might be encouraging for you as well, so here are the notes (NOTE: this was preached to seminary students training to entire vocationaly ministry, but it applies to all Christians who involve themselves in ministry at any level-even cleaning toilets).

Endurance in Gospel Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Theme: Endurance in Gospel Ministry.

Introduction:

When I received the schedule of preaching assignments for this class I began to think about what passage from the NT I might preach on.  As thought through it my primary objective was to do something that would be particularly encouraging to you men here today.  As I thought through what might encourage you I realized that those of us in the TES family have quite a bit in common.  Maybe the most obvious thing that we all have in common is a passion for gospel ministry.  This passion for gospel ministry is why we are all here, and whether you are a professor or a student you are involved in gospel ministry at some level.

This theme of gospel ministry is important for us to understand, and it is a theme that comes up quite frequently in the book of 2 Corinthians.  As Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church he was under the sharp attack of certain false teachers. These false teachers had infiltrated the church teaching a message that contradicted the message of Paul.  In order to build up their own credibility with the Corinthians, these false teachers had to discredit the apostle Paul.  These men were willing to stoop to all kinds of dirty tricks in order to discredit Paul-even mocking Paul’s personal appearance (cf. 10:10).  The most notable, as well as outlandish, charge these men had for the apostle Paul had to do with the difficulties that Paul had endured as a minister of the Gospel.

No one had been through more difficulties than Paul.  Paul described a few of these difficulties in 11:24-28:

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

While most of us would look at all Paul went through and marvel at his endurance, the false teachers in Corinth had a different perspective.  Their own lives and ministerial experience could not compare with Paul’s, and so they tried to discredit his ministry.  Their accusation against Paul was that he faced so many difficulties because his gospel ministry was not effective.  Apparently, they even attributed the trials that Paul faced to some sin issue in his life.

In light of this kind of opposition it would have been easy for Paul to compromise his ministry.  Why endure all of this hardship if you are just going to be criticized for it?  However, in 4:1Paul makes it clear that he had no intention of giving up:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart…

Paul was not going to give up.  His ministry was totally Christ centered and Gospel oriented.  He had no intention of letting any opposition change that.  This is the nature of true gospel ministry, and it is an example for us of how gospel ministry is to be done.

The only problem is that this kind of ministry is usually “easier said than done.”  Men, we would be right in thinking that the hardship and opposition that Paul faced was extreme, but it would be naïve for us to think that this kind of hardship and opposition was limited to Paul.  We can be certain that as ministers of the gospel we will face difficulties, and we will face opposition (many times this opposition will come from those who should be our closest companions in ministry).  Difficulties, hardship, and trials will always arise and make true gospel ministry backbreaking.  We will be constantly pressured to compromise; we will face persistent stress that tempts us to quit; there will always be criticisms about our ministries; and on top of that we will have to face the constant internal struggle with sin that already hampers our progress.

In light of all these difficulties, the question is how can we endure in gospel ministry?  We find the answer to this question in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

7But we have this treasure in (A)earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of (B)the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

Here the apostle Paul reveals to us how he endured in his own ministry.  As we look at this passage we will see that if we want to endure the difficulties of gospel ministry we must understand the purpose for those difficulties.  And here Paul gives us two reasons why we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry. First, we must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God.  Second, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.

On Monday and Tuesday we will look at these two main points, and see how they are reavealed in the passage (tomorrow I have a quote to post).