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God’s Favor

August 17th, 2017

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NIV)

In chapter six of 2 Corinthians, Paul begins a section of application of his teaching so far in the letter. He directly confronted the Christians of Corinth regarding the many blessings they had received - forgiveness, the presence of the Spirit, their new life in Christ, and the friendship and devotion of Paul and his companions - and challenged them to not let these blessings slip through their fingers unclaimed or without taking full advantage of them.

He rebuked them and challenged them to open their hearts to him and his companions (6:11-13), for they had opened their hearts to the Corinthians, and had sacrificed much to minister to them. He also confronted them regarding the many unbelievers they had become yoked with in life. He does not go into specific details regarding the nature of this “yoking” - probably because he had already dealt with this matter in his first letter, dealing with pagan sexual practices, marriages, to pagan temple prostitution, food sacrificed to idols, business practices, and social life in general (1 Cor. 5-8).

But he began this section with this word “favor” (NIV) or the phrase “favorable time” (ESV). What does this mean? Some of my Charismatic brothers have spoken on this matter quite often, and perhaps some have made too much of it. But the non-Charismatic brothers I have seem to have made too little of it. The issue comes down to whether all the work depends on the movement and work of the Lord’s Spirit in this world, or whether it depends on our faith.

There should be no conflict between these two thoughts - our faith and the Holy Spirit’s movement in the world. We can only believe as the Spirit enables us to, yet we are to choose to believe and to exercise faith. Any time we put the emphasis entirely on God or entirely on us then we drift into error. Though there is a great mystery here that we may never be able to fully explain, it is equally clear that both God’s work and our faith are clearly emphasized in scripture. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3), yet we are also see numerous commands in scripture to believe: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20b).

We find three realities of living in the favor of God.

Favor means the grace of God in Christ: The King James translated it as the “accepted time,” and that is a literal translation from the Greek: kairos euprosdektos. But Paul had quoted Isaiah 49:8, which in Hebrew means “the season of acceptance” and this thought is built upon in Jeremiah 31:31 with the idea of a new covenant: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In this new covenant God’s law will be written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33).

Christ taught that this “new covenant” is initiated and mediated by His blood (Matt. 26:28 and Luke 22:20), and this is the idea that Paul is primarily building upon. God’s favor is now displayed toward all who hear the gospel, who are called to repentance, reconciliation, grace, and to new life in Christ. Even the Gentiles who had been separated from God are now embraced and brought near to Him through Christ. So this idea of the “acceptable time” or the favorable moment, has a broad meaning that applies to everyone in the whole world who hears the gospel. That moment of hearing the good news is the acceptable moment for them, for their salvation.

Though I have preached for many years and have seen many people trust in Christ, I am still impressed how for each of them it is a new and revolutionary experience. For the unsaved person to hear the convicting voice of the Spirit that urges them to repent and believe in Christ, and to hear through the gospel that God loves them and wishes to save them, and to then experience the conversion of the Spirit through the gospel of Christ - this is all as exciting as it can possibly be for each of them. They have each come into the favor of the Lord, into the acceptable season of God’s grace.

Favor also has an application for those who live by faith: But the meaning is not only for the sinner who becomes saved. It also has an application for every Christian, and every church, that chooses to live by faith and to follow the Lord. Many people keep the joy of their salvation all to themselves and they never venture out in faith beyond themselves. But for those who dare to believe God and who care to love others and take risks to love them, they find themselves also in the favorable time of God.

So Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now is the time of God’s favor.” He was not talking about their salvation, but about their commitment to Christ after salvation. They had been worldly Christians, entangled in sin and worldly relationship and worldly values. They had not considered their privileged position as new creatures in Christ. They had not considered the ministry of reconciliation or the compassion of Christian love that would constrain them to preach and serve and help others. They had not imagined the incredibly exciting and fulfilling life that could be theirs - as individual believers and as a local church - by living and serving in faith.

Living in God’s favor leads us to love others (2 Cor. 5:14-15), leads us to be compassionate in seeking their salvation (5:20), and it leads us to link hearts and souls with others who are of the same mind (6:11-13). In fact as we read the rest of this letter, we see the great lengths that those who live in God’s favor will go to for the salvation and reconciliation of the world to God. They will separate from ungodly ways. They will give and serve generously. They will risk people and their own lives for the sake of the gospel. They will find God’s strength in their weakness (12:9). They will be willing to spend and be spent for the sake of Christ (12:15). They will build others up, not tear others down (13:10).

God’s favor - that is His empowerment, the open door of serving and sharing, the joy and excitement of being used of God - is available for all Christians who will commit their lives unreservedly to Him. The issue must first be resolved in our hearts. Will we live for Him, or will we try to turn this to some selfish end?

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We Are Ambassadors for Christ

August 16th, 2017

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV

How clearly and brilliantly Paul lays out this case, that his mission, and our mission as Christians, is not for our defense, nor really for our cause. It is rather for Christ, for His cause and His glory. We are His ambassadors, not our own.

The background of this passage was the situation in the church of Corinth that was divided due to petty ego issues of the leaders. Some felt that their positions in the church where given to them so that they may exalt themselves and elevate their own reputations among people. They desperately needed God’s perspective on this matter, that they were to be, and we are to be, ambassadors for Christ, conveying His matchless love for people.

It is not about us. It is all about Him.

There is immeasurable potential for the individual in Christ. Since God has made Christ to be sin, even though He had committed no sin, neither did He know sin in His heart, now every person who believes, who is enlightened by the gospel and converted by the Spirit, becomes the very righteousness of God. As we read in Romans, in the gospel a righteousness is revealed that comes to us by faith and by faith alone. It is “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17).

So in denying our rights and taking up the cause of Christ, we have enhanced our status by immeasurable bounds. If we represented ourselves, we would have our own small little world, our own narrow self interests, our own reputation, or our family and friends to promote and protect. It would all inherently be about us and not about anything else - certainly not for the cause of or for the glory of Christ.

But neither would it be for the salvation of the sinner. Our goal would simply be to get people under our control for whatever benefits we think we could derive from them. And we would do that by trying to convince them that we could help them also in some manner. Not to say that we humans cannot help one another, for certainly we can, and some manner of helps can even be life-saving in nature.

But the whole gospel enterprise would then slide off into mere humanism or politics or public policies or psychologies - not eternal salvation, not God’s incredible grace to us through Christ, not the righteousness of Christ bestowed to the guilty sinner on the basis of grace, not conversion of heart and soul by the Holy Spirit, and not a joined-in and shared united mission as God’s ambassadors.

By being identified as “ambassadors” we have not lowered our rank at all, rather it is an incredible elevation for those who live and serve in this spirit. It is a privileged and exalted position to be an ambassador for the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, for the Savior of the whole world! Albert Barnes observed:

An ambassador is a minister of the highest rank, employed by one prince or state at the court of another, to manage the concerns of his own prince or state, and representing the dignity and power of his sovereign.— Webster. He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present. They are sent to make known the will of the sovereign, and to negotiate matters of commerce, of war, or of peace, and in general everything affecting the interests of the sovereign among the people to whom they are sent. At all times, and in all countries, an ambassador is a sacred character, and his person is regarded as inviolable, he is bound implicitly to obey the instructions of his sovereign, and as far as possible to do only what the sovereign would do were he, himself present.

When we have put aside our self-interests and taken up the message and cause of Christ - and I do not believe we can take up His cause until we have laid down our own - then we have been elevated to the highest position imaginable. And we are armed with the greatest message imaginable - forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, sonship, eternal life, and a new and eternal spiritual existence.

Sometimes, as it is in political alliances in this world, as Christ’s ambassadors we are sent to negotiate and proclaim the peace and salvation offered through Him to guilty sinners, and perhaps these sinners have sinned against us. Imagine a political ambassador sent to negotiate the end of a war or the establishment of peace, and he himself had lost his son in that war. His personal feelings would be of no account or no matter for consideration. He would represent the government that sent him and negotiate the terms that they dictated. That is the way it is for us as well.

So our feelings, our emotions, our fears, our concerns, our personal experiences - none of these are matters of eternal importance. We are privileged to receive and to share the bountiful grace of God in Christ toward all people - and we are responsible to do it as well. But in putting aside our personal feelings, and taking up the position of ambassadors for Christ, we also experience inner spiritual blessings that are immeasurable. We receive the peace of God that transcends all human understanding, the joy of the Lord, the joining into the eternal purposes of God in Christ Jesus, and the elation of seeing the salvation achieved through Christ being received by human beings.

As Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

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