September 4, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (2 Corinthians 4)

Submitted by Hannah Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:1-5

  • Why did Apostle Paul not “lose heart”? 

At the end of Chapter 3, Apostle Paul talks about this ministry of the new covenant which is a ministry of the Spirit, of life, and of righteousness that comes from Jesus and not himself.  He talks about how this ministry of the new covenant is not dependent on one’s ability to carry out the law like the old covenant was.  And then here in Chapter 4, he starts out again by reiterating that having this ministry is by the mercy of God.  Apostle Paul did not lose heart because he had confidence that the ministry that he had did not depend on his efforts and his competence to obey the law and earn his righteousness before God.  Apostle Paul’s focus was not about himself at all, neither was it about his speaking skills, his competence, or his ability to gain a following of disciples.  He was mainly focused on doing everything “in the sight of God” and setting forth the truth plainly and appealing to people’s consciences.   In v. 5, he makes this very clear when he says “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  This is what the mercy of God allowed him to do through Jesus because now it wasn’t about his ability of what Christ did.  This was apostle Paul’s secret to not losing heart.

  • How has “the god of this world […] blinded the minds of unbelievers”?  What evidence of this do we find in our world?

The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers by selling a picture of life that ultimately will not satisfy.   It is a subtle message that I see everywhere I go.  Whether it be in a movie, a billboard, advertisements, slogans, songs, images, etc., there is this message that this is the kind of life you need to live in order to be happy.  It is the lifestyle of convenience and ease, wealth, rest and relaxation, carefree independence, and freedom to do whatever you please with no restrictions.  When taking it in, it doesn’t seem wrong or bad at all.  But upon deeper reflection, there is something about this worldview that ultimately leaves people hollow and empty.  So many people strive after this picture of life but even after getting all they want, they are still looking for something more. I find this evident when I talk to people who are not believers.  Their lives seem so busy chasing after this picture of life and they find it hard to find time to think about God and their purpose of life.  They are focused and single mindedly striving for this picture of life, and it keeps them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.   I think another way that the “god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers” is to whisper voices of accusation. People are blinded by thoughts of worthlessness and all the things they are not. The god of this age also blinds them with guilt from past baggage, pain and hurt from shameful things that they have done or others have done to them.  They are blinded by feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety and it keeps them from seeking God and turning to Him.  They remain so focused on themselves and blinded by their lack, and it keeps them from experiencing the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

  • How have I experienced v. 6 since I became a Christian?

I have experienced v. 6 in so many ways since I became a Christian 11 years ago.  Indeed, I was living in darkness before I met Christ.  I had so many shameful sins that I had been steeped in for years and the sins seemed to only progress and get worse as time passed.  It was life of unrest because I was so hungry for love and attention and everything I pursued only left me wanting more and more.  It was a life of striving to make myself more likeable by others, anxiety over how other people viewed me and what others thoughts of me, sense of inadequacy and insecurity because I was so utterly focused on myself.  But in the midst of that darkness, God shined His light of the knowledge of the glory of god. While before, my life was just about myself which only left me in a pit of darkness, when I started looking outside of myself, light started coming into my life and showed me the kind of life I could have through Christ.  I remember that first year after becoming a Christian, God shone in my heart through doing devotions and coming to His Word daily for the first time.  I remember experiencing the knowledge of the glory of God giving me confidence and security and slowly moving me out of the darkness that I was in. Confession of my sins during prayer meetings, talks with my spiritual leaders and peers helped me come into the light and expose the truth about myself. Serving in ministry, having to think about other people, the younger ones that God placed in my life caused me to take my eyes off myself and look out for others.  Taking focus off myself helped me to actually be a source of light to other people.  It is only through Jesus Christ and His blood and the work of God that made light shine out of darkness in my life.

  • Reflect on the words Apostle Paul uses to describe his life: “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” but, ultimately not “crushed,” “driven to despair,” “forsaken,” or “destroyed.”  What is the link between Apostle Paul’s paradoxical experience—“struck down, but not destroyed”—and Jesus’ life?

I realize how in every word that Apostle Paul uses to describe his life, there must have been so many stories and incidences that He could tell and recount.  Even though it seemed like such a hard life to live, going through afflictions, being perplexed, persecuted and struck down, in the end, Apostle Paul was able to experience the amazing thing that he was never crushed, never fell into despair, forsaken or destroyed.  Each experience that he went through must have strengthened him and gave him even more power and confidence because despite being on the brink of destruction, he was not destroyed.  The link between Apostle Paul’s experience and Jesus’ life was that because Jesus first exemplified this kind of life and triumphed even over death, Apostle Paul had the courage to endure through affliction and persecution  and experience God delivering him.  Had it not been for Jesus’ life and his example of this kind of surrendered life, I don’t think Apostle Paul could have experience this kind of paradoxical life that He did.

  • What is the relationship between my frailty (“jars of clay”) and revealing God’s “surpassing power” through my life?  Think about the things that cause me to feel “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” or “struck down.”  What should be my response to these things?

God chooses to show his surpassing power through my life by using my frailty and weaknesses.  I thought about how it would be if Apostle Paul was strong, competent, well skilled, well regarded, never experienced weakness and frailty.  With a life like that, God would not be able to show His power shining through his life.  Apostle Paul’s ministry would just be about him and people would only see Paul with all his human abilities and merit, not God’s surpassing power.  Although that would seem so tragic, I find that those are the qualities that I often strive after.  I want to work toward being strong and competent, being well regarded and capable and dependable.  I try to avoid people and situations that might cause affliction, persecution, and being struck down.  The things that cause me to feel this way are speaking hard truth to someone that I love, getting more intimately involved in someone’s life so that their burdens become my burdens, sharing the Gospel with people who are hostile, loving people who are harder to love or don’t want to be shone love, working through relational tensions and misunderstandings, forgiving people who have hurt me, looking for ways to connect with others and love them at the expense of time on my own or with my family.  My response to these things should be to pray to God to bring it on and to invite more and more opportunities that I can be weak so that God’s surpassing power can be revealed through my life.  My response should not be to avoid it or turn a blind eye when God is asking me to be weak, but instead, receive it with a sense of anticipation for how God can work through my life.

  • What can be learned about the path of deep fellowship with Jesus from these verses?

I can learn that the path to deep fellowship with Jesus is to share in His weakness that He exemplified on the cross.  It’s true that you have deeper fellowship with people who you go through things together with.  When I see people who have suffered for Christ’s sake, I can sense that they have such a deep fellowship with Jesus.  I know it is because they have experienced weakness for His namesake and experienced not being destroyed and ultimately enjoying such a strength and confidence in their relationship with Him.  I can learn that this is the path to greater closeness with God.  I need to empty myself of that desire to prove my worth through my own human efforts and competence and to throw myself into situations where I can be weak, where I am not in control and to experience this kind of intimacy with Christ.

Submitted by Allen C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:1-5

  • Why did Apostle Paul not “lose heart”?

Apostle Paul did not lose heart because it was by God’s mercy that he had the ministry of the gospel in the first place. To him, it was very clear that God was the one who called him into ministry. Apostle Paul’s identity was rooted in God’s calling upon his life such that he starts off his letters by declaring himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians and 2 Timothy). It was not because of anything he had done to earn this ministry; rather, it was completely because God had mercy on him and turned his life around from being “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim 1:13). Though he was “the foremost” of sinners, he received mercy so that “Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16). So, for Apostle Paul, since the ministry he gratefully received from God was a gift out of His mercy in the first place, his performance and rate of success are not things that cause him to lose heart.

The lesson for me here is that understanding how I’ve received mercy is a fundamental key to sustaining ministry when it gets tough. This is crucial because a lot of ministry entails suffering: rejection from people I’m trying to love, people who lash out because they don’t want to receive the truth that I’m trying to speak, discouragement from others who aren’t responding to the message or who leave church even though I’ve invested in them, persecution from those who tell me not to live such a radical life, enduring the physical labor of love, trying to be sacrificial in giving, rejecting a comfortable life, or dealing with the consequences of mistakes I make out of my own folly or pride or character flaws. Sooner or later, the cost of discipleship goes up, the excitement and newness of ministry will wear off, and the results may not be as visible or fruitful as I’d hoped. But if I go back to my testimony, remember how God saved me from a life of destroying myself in reckless behavior, of wasting my time away, of living a life of despair and emptiness and meaninglessness, of being full of anger and hatred against others that led only to isolation and loneliness, and of having a purposeless existence, then I can appreciate that out of His mercy toward me, He saved me from my old life and gave me the privilege of joining in His work to save lost souls. And there is nothing greater I can do with my life than to be a part of this work that has an eternal impact on souls. Whether I have “success,” I don’t lose heart because I’m privileged to be here in the first place, and I can trust that my “labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

  • How has “the god of this world […] blinded the minds of unbelievers”? What evidence of this do we find in our world?

The “god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers” by distracting them with all sorts of messages that seem more urgent than the gospel. Whether it’s the American dream, pursuit of pleasure, pursuit of comfort, indulgence in the flesh, amassing of wealth or material goods, personal ambition, careerism, investing in the nuclear family, fears and worries regarding the future, battles over my ego vis-à-vis others, or simply the endless amount of entertainment that is available through games, movies, Internet, and different media, there is so much in this day in age that distracts and keeps people away from hearing the gospel and thinking about spiritual matters. The ideology of this world includes beliefs such as “people are essentially good” and “life has whatever meaning you decide.” This all goes toward deceiving people into thinking that they don’t need the gospel, that they’re not utterly depraved sinners in need of salvation, or that they have more pressing matters to attend to and don’t need to consider death until much later. And so we are in the midst of a generation where there is this spiritual blindness that we have to fight against and offer the light of the gospel to people. This is no small task, so this is why “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.” If we don’t preach in a way that renounces disgraceful, underhanded ways and refuses to practice cunning or tamper with God’s word, unbelievers will remain blind. Therefore, our mission and goal are the same as Apostle Paul’s: to state the truth openly and commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. This means that we need to be a people that takes the Word of God seriously, that lives blamelessly, and that embraces a life of suffering love.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

  • How have I experienced v. 6 since I became a Christian?
  • Reflect on the words Apostle Paul uses to describe his life: “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” but, ultimately not “crushed,” “driven to despair,” “forsaken,” or “destroyed.” What is the link between Apostle Paul’s paradoxical experience—“struck down, but not destroyed”—and Jesus’ life?

The link is trusting in the surpassing power that belongs to God and not to us. Jesus displayed His trust in the Father by going to the cross to die for our sins, and though He was struck down, He was not destroyed: God resurrected him from the dead. Apostle Paul experienced this same resurrection power from God as he suffered affliction, being perplexed, persecution, and being struck down. Somehow, despite going through those things, he was not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.

  • What is the relationship between my frailty (“jars of clay”) and revealing God’s “surpassing power” through my life? Think about the things that cause me to feel “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” or “struck down.” What should be my response to these things?

The more I choose to put myself in situations where I am frail, the more opportunity I give for God to reveal His surpassing power in my life. The situations in which I’ll experience frailty are when I embrace the difficulty of loving people who don’t respond in the way that I’d expect or hope them to. Though I haven’t come close to feeling afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down in the way that Apostle Paul did, I can relate to some of these to some extent. I feel afflicted when hearing about the burdens and guilt that people carry around due to their sins and addictions, and though I counsel them and express my care and concern, they still fall back into the same sins and habits. In the end, I cannot force someone to change or repent. Or when I find out about a difficult situation in their lives, I feel helpless and often don’t know what to do or say to comfort or encourage them. I feel perplexed when those I’m ministering to respond negatively to a conversation or correction. I wonder what I could have done better and how I need to swallow my pride to fix things. Especially during the times that I see my mistakes and poor character, I feel like despairing. I feel persecuted when well-meaning people question how I’m living and give me trouble for not relaxing more.

My response to these things should be to endure by taking these things to God. It’s to be honest and confess how I’m feeling—afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down—and ask God for His surpassing power so that I may not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. I can share these difficulties with the body of Christ and receive help, encouragement, wisdom, or perspective. And perhaps through God’s Word and the body of Christ, God will help me to experience this paradox of Christian life: that I have this surpassing power from God, which empowers me to miraculously stand despite my frailty.

  • What can be learned about the path of deep fellowship with Jesus from these verses?

The path of deep fellowship with Jesus is through suffering: “carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” A life of avoiding suffering will not bring us closer to Jesus, because Jesus was the suffering servant. We will never understand the suffering love He had unless we are willing to partake in it, trusting that as we die to ourselves, God will not only enable us to endure it but also bring life and cause life to be at work in others.

Personal Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for Your mercy, rescuing me from the empty way of life that I was headed toward. Help me to always remember how I was dead in my transgressions and sins when You rescued me, and how You’ve given me this ministry by Your mercy. It is a privilege to join in Your work of sharing the gospel. Thank You for giving me such a high calling for my life. Help me to endure suffering patiently, knowing that I can rely not on my own strength, but on the all surpassing power that comes from You. I want to embrace suffering love instead of avoiding it and running away, so help me to carry the cross faithfully and die to myself so that others may find eternal life. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Submitted by Jasper C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:1-5
• Why did Apostle Paul not “lose heart”? 

Apostle Paul did not lose heart because he knows that he has his ministry only because of the mercy of God. Even though he experienced ministry to be discouraging at times, he didn’t take setbacks as an undoing of his own effort and work because he had this baseline perspective he did not earn this ministry himself anyways and the one who is responsible for driving the ministry is God. I think this connects with the rest of the passage as apostle Paul talks about the reality of human frailty and weakness, he must have personally have felt weak and failure-prone…indeed for him if sustainable ministry depended on his own human effort, then there is much reason to lose heart because he knows he doesn’t have what it takes to make it through, but if ministry doesn’t depend on human effort but rather on a God who is sovereign and powerful, then there is much reason to take heart and be assured that the ministry will survive even deep discouragements and setbacks.

• How has “the god of this world […] blinded the minds of unbelievers”?  What evidence of this do we find in our world?

The god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of unbelievers through feeding them hopes and promises of fulfillment in life based on things that will not really bring true fulfillment, but rather he has turned them to false hopes (or idols) that not only do not deliver on those promises, but enslave the minds of people and keep them from turning to true hope in Jesus. The evidence of this in our world is that despair and addiction reign rampant even though societies have had centuries upon centuries of looking for solutions and answers. For example, some of the things that society tells people will bring them fulfillment are success in academics/career, pleasure-seeking and satiating one’s every desire, or finding that perfect soul mate that will ease all loneliness and fill your personal emptiness. Despite the fact that none of these things is new and that generations of people have tried all these things and have not found them to be fulfilling in the end, people still think those things will deliver. That’s blindness – for even though the facts are in and truth is available, the myth that these things will bring fulfillment persists. For many young people of our day, Satan perpetuates this blindness through forces like the media as that is what people consume. In the media, those hopeless pursuits are portrayed in their best light and still held up as the keys to fulfillment, the negative and disappointing aspects are kept hidden, and so people walk away with a distorted version of reality.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12
• How have I experienced v. 6 since I became a Christian?

Even though I grew up with a seemingly decent life, of having things all-together, my heart and inner life could be characterized as darkness, the outside was all an image I kept up, beneath the surface image there were sins of selfishness, lust and greed that remained undealt with and were slowly destroying my life and ruining my relationships with people and my sensitivity to God (how could I really relate with God when I was in denial and hiding the reality of my sins?) Because I managed to preserve an image of being a decent Christian guy on the outside, even being very involved in church, the problems within would have never really come out where at least they could be addressed and dealt with – not at least until it was too late and some part of my life fell apart. However God was merciful, he used the church, challenging Bible studies and loving/involved Christian leaders or peer relationships in my life over the years to dig beneath that surface and address the problems within. In the ways that I’ve been able to get real with the gospel and confess/bring my sins out to God and other people to get help, God has brought light into those areas and given me help in repenting and experiencing healing in those areas.

• Reflect on the words Apostle Paul uses to describe his life: “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” but, ultimately not “crushed,” “driven to despair,” “forsaken,” or “destroyed.”  What is the link between Apostle Paul’s paradoxical experience—“struck down, but not destroyed”—and Jesus’ life?

It’s interesting that because of his reliance on the power of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul’s life experience ends up mirroring this same overall pattern of Jesus’ life, where he finds that even though he is seemingly laying down his life, giving it all while more is being demanded of him that he has, it does not overwhelm him and spell the end for him. Likewise for Jesus he was treated in the worst possible way and bore the brunt of human sin, not just of the people who were present in his last days but the sins for all of humanity, yet even after it looked like death won he resurrected again three days later. The reality is that apostle Paul by his human strength would not be able to endure this kind of affliction and persecution, but because he living under the power of God given through Jesus’ conquering of sin and death, he is able to find that this is strength that is far deeper than his human strength.

• What is the relationship between my frailty (“jars of clay”) and revealing God’s “surpassing power” through my life?  Think about the things that cause me to feel “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” or “struck down.”  What should be my response to these things?

As a Christian, the parts of my life that I formerly regarded as weaknesses and limitations are no longer just that, but they become opportunities for me to demonstrate that there’s something greater than just my apparent abilities at work in me–this happens because the people of the world around me who don’t subscribe to a belief in God will naturally look for “practical explanations” for my faith and for what I’m doing–if all they see if me serving God at a level where I can stay pretty comfortable or where I’m only doing things that I’m already competent at doing and I’m benefitting too, then there’s really no reason for them to attribute that to the work of God. They say things like, “Oh I can see why you’re doing that/Oh that makes sense.” There’s no need to bring in God here, everything can be explained reasonably by these other factors. However, when someone is living Christian life at a level of sacrifice that seemingly defies what any worldly assessment would deem them of being capable of, then it throws them off and forces them to consider the idea that maybe there is something they ought to look into regarding this “God” thing. Given this, my response to the things that caused me to feel afflicted, perplexed or struck down should be to embrace it as an opportunity for God to provide me the means of getting through it and to be able to witness to other people when they see that the way I’m responding to this situation.

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