September 5, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (2 Corinthians 4)

Submitted by Jenny C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:2-3

·       Reflect on Apostle Paul’s description of proper ministry in vv. 2-3.  What did he renounce, what did he refuse, and what does it mean to “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God”? 

Paul renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways and refused to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word. To “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” means we engage in the “open statement of the truth.” In other words, when our aim is to speak the truth of God to everyone, we are counted as people who are commended, or trustworthy. This means when we don’t “peddle the word of God” for profit (cf. 2 Cor. 2), but we seek first to state the truth of God’s word, we actually gain this sense of entrustment in people’s lives.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

·       What kind of character and life would end up effectively commending itself to people according to vv. 7-12?  Have I experienced something of what these verses describe in my effort to show forth the “treasure” of the gospel through my life?

The life that would commend itself to people is one that endures hardship and suffering. As it says in vv. 7-12, it is to be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, but not crushed, in despair, forsaken nor destroyed. It is someone who is “always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” – that is, learning how to die to the self, to that sense of entitlement, your own expectations for your life, your reliance on yourself and your own efforts so in the end you can say that it was the surpassing power of God and not your own power that was at work.

In my own life, I’ve experienced some small part of this as I try to share the gospel with people. I am perplexed at how to help people who seem stuck spiritually; I am burdened by people who run after things that are harmful to them; I feel “struck down” when someone I minister to and invested time and energy in is no longer responsive or decides that Christianity is “not for them.” Furthermore, I feel afflicted by my own sinfulness – the persistent selfishness, pride, the thoughtlessness, and lovelessness that is rooted in me and surfaces as I try to love people and do God’s work; perplexed at my own warped thoughts and continuous struggle against the holds of comfort, human approval, and desire for control over my life. In addition, after having a child, I find myself being perplexed at how to handle motherhood and also being able to still be available to love others in ministry. Yet it is through these struggles that my trust in myself and in my competence is slowly being broken down. It’s only after I run up against my own sinfulness that I see that the treasure is not in me, the container, as if I were some porcelain vase (admirable) or a titanium capsule (strong, durable), but on my own I am simply an empty jar of clay with a bunch of cracks and the treasure is only what God gives me to fill this jar.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

·       For the second time in this chapter, Apostle Paul asserts that he “does not lose heart.”  Why did Apostle Paul “not lose heart” according to this passage?

Apostle Paul does “not lose heart” because he firstly has this ministry by the mercy of God – it’s not his own ministry that he’s trying to secure and build up, or earn credits in. Secondly, he sees that eternal destiny has already been set for us, we are heavenbound, and in Christ, we are inwardly being renewed day by day. For Apostle Paul, the grand truth of our salvation and the glorious fate he looked forward to was greater than the troubles he faced. Because of this, in vv. 16-18, he mentions how “light momentary affliction” is preparing us for an “eternal weight of glory beyond comparison.” Though the difficulties themselves do not change, in view of heaven, they seem light and momentary, and they can even shape us and make us ready for the eternal glory that awaits us. Because his focus is on this eternal reality of heaven and the inward renewal he experiences as he is sanctified, Apostle Paul does not lose heart, no matter how much hardship he goes through.

·       Reflect on the two contrasting themes in vv. 16-18, and arrange in two columns the contrasting pairs of words.

 Outer self Inner self
Wasting away Renewed day by day
Light momentary affliction Eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison
Things that are seen Things that are unseen
Transient Eternal

·       To what extent has my life focus shifted from one column to the other?

Over the years, I think God has been getting me to shift my focus from the outer self that is wasting away, the things that are seen toward the inner self, which is being renewed day by day. This “outer self” is my dependence on myself, what I can do, my physical strength, my desire for competence. I remember when I first started off as a new Christian and as an intern in ministry, I thought spiritual life banked heavily on being able to execute tasks well, that I needed to have results to show for my ministry efforts and discipleship or else I would not be a “good Christian.”  While some of that still is there in my life, the reality is though, as I see myself a little bit more clearly, and I run up against my limitations, I recognize the truth that my outer self is wasting away. Especially as a new mom, I no longer have the same body and physical capacity as before; I am tied up with more demands than before that tire me out more easily and sometimes seem overwhelming. Yet the truth is that my inner self is “being renewed day by day,” and as I see my weakness, God’s word is able to come in to renew me. Even as I find myself feeling wearied, there will be a DT, message, or time of prayer, a word of encouragement from someone – these things that are unseen – that lifts me up and gives me renewed strength to keep going.

Moreover, I used to live primarily for things that are seen – though I was not very ambitious, I placed my hopes in that dream of having a well-balanced, cozy life at home with nice amenities, and building up a family. Now that I actually have a child, I find myself struggling against this desire for comfort and the idol of family and it is only because I now know that life is short and eternity is long. To focus on the things that are seen would be to spend my time at home with my child; to just look at the hassle of needing to bundle up the baby, prep the diaper bag & bottles in order to go out, needing to coordinate my schedule so that someone stays home to watch the baby, and say it’s too hard, why bother. But if I have this “eternal weight of glory” to look forward to, I have to continue to say no to just settling for the transient things, to continue to make myself available for God’s work in the face of these “hardships.”

Personal Prayer

God, You have shown me through times of being perplexed, afflicted and struck down that I am not an impressive vessel, but simply this jar made of clay, and that true power comes not from me, but from You. It is through my weakness and limitation that Your power is displayed. I thank You that I do not have to lose heart when I run up against difficult situations, but that You are renewing me day by day, preparing me for this eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. I take heart at this truth, and reaffirm my commitment to not look to things that are seen, but to look to the things that are unseen – the hope of heaven, the security and joy of my salvation. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Submitted by Ben K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:2-3 

• Reflect on Apostle Paul’s description of proper ministry in vv. 2-3.  What did he renounce, what did he refuse, and what does it mean to “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God”?  

From Apostle Paul’s description of proper ministry in vv. 2-3, I can learn that integrity is very important to a proper ministry.  Apostle Paul renounced “disgraceful, underhanded ways” of living.  He refused to “practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word,” refused to water down the gospel or change it to suit what people want to hear or manipulate it for deceitful gain.  He didn’t live a hypocritical life, he didn’t say one thing and live another way, and so he was able to “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”  He was vouching for himself through his life of integrity so that they would be able to receive the gospel he shared as true.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 

• What kind of character and life would end up effectively commending itself to people according to vv. 7-12?  Have I experienced something of what these verses describe in my effort to show forth the “treasure” of the gospel through my life?

Apostle Paul says he was “afflicted in every way.”  He was “crushed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down.”  These words are not exaggerations, and it’s very moving in light of the suffering he details in 2 Cor 11.  He had suffered lashes, imprisonment, countless beatings nearing death, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, betrayals, etc.  And yet, he was “not crushed,” “not driven to despair,” “not forsaken,” and “not destroyed.”  Apostle Paul suffered these hardships and yet, he continued to live in obedience to God to share the gospel and build up the church.  He was “always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.”  In v.12 he shares that he suffers this “death” so that the Corinthians would be able to experience life.  The picture of Apostle Paul we get from these verses is one of complete obedience to God and intense love and commitment to people.  It would not be difficult for the Corinthians who witnessed this life of Paul and received his love and commitment in this way to receive him warmly.

As a minister I am to demonstrate level of commitment and love to people as well so that I can show forth the “treasure” of the gospel through my life.  I don’t face persecution here in the US, at least nothing like what Apostle Paul faced.  But I have had opportunities to “suffer” difficulties in loving people and so commend myself to them so that they will be open to receiving the “treasure” of the gospel.  One example of this was when I was doing youth ministry and ministering to a student who lived far away from our church building.  After ending bible study late on a Friday night I would drive him home.  He appreciated the ride home as well as the conversations we had.  He’d often open up on this drives back and we’d talk late into the night parked outside his place.  After these talks sometimes I’d get home at 1 or 2am, sometimes even later because I’d be so tired and have to stop at a Starbucks or gas station to take a nap.  This was my way of committing to this student and expressing my love for him, an example that I had learned from my leaders who loved me in a similar way.  Through this he came to understand that I cared about him and he became more receptive to the gospel message, eventually making a decision later on in life.

Submitted by David T. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

2 Corinthians 4:2-3
Reflect on Apostle Paul’s description of proper ministry in vv. 2-3.  What did he renounce, what did he refuse, and what does it mean to “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God”? 

The things that Apostle Paul renounced and refused were disgraceful ways, underhanded ways, cunning, and tampering with God’s Word.  Instead, his practice was to openly state the truth to everyone – and thus he was in a position where nobody could bring any charge or word of blame against the way that he was proclaiming the Gospel and his aim to convince people of the truth of the Gospel.  He made sure that his ministry of the Gospel was blameless.  And this shows that what he really cared about was that the true Gospel was pronounced – it wasn’t about gathering a following around himself, or having more disciples than other teachers, or any kind of prestige or stoking of his ego.  If these other things were his goals, there were many things that he could have done – he could have made the Gospel easier to accept by downplaying how sinful we are or minimizing the true demands of discipleship – these are things about the Gospel that people do not like accepting as true, and if they were just minimized or ignored, how much easier it would be for people to “accept” the Gospel.  And these are lessons that are true to our context as well.  Certainly, we sincerely hope that many people will come and accept the Gospel and be a part of our church, but we cannot and must not compromise on the truth and God’s standards in the hopes of just having a bigger and more happening group.  And some things are hard to accept – taking a firm stance on purity, taking people’s sins very seriously, and taking people’s claims of having Christ as Lord seriously are things that are potentially hard to do, because it can be a hard thing to swallow, and it may be easier to ignore such things.  But if our desire is to have proper ministry, we cannot neglect these things.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
What kind of character and life would end up effectively commending itself to people according to vv. 7-12?  Have I experienced something of what these verses describe in my effort to show forth the “treasure” of the gospel through my life?

Apostle Paul sums it up well in verse 11 – “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”  To see someone afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, and yet not be overwhelmed by their trials and instead being a source of life and love to others – that is something that really testifies that the Gospel is real and that it has very real power.  This was true of Apostle Paul’s life, and it is true of the lives of many of our modern day heroes of faith.  I think about couple of missionaries I know who have brought so much life and light and hope to the people in this particular third world country even as they face so much opposition and day-to-day hardship.  They are in a situation that would overwhelm most people, but instead of being overwhelmed they continue to love people and their lives show the power of the Gospel.  There are also people who are closer to home – many of my leaders, like Pastor Ed and Kelly, come to mind – they are people who have undergone all kinds of toil in dealing with peoples deeply entrenched sins, enduring rejection and criticism, and much more – but instead of being destroyed, they continue, year after year, to minister to people and the power of the Gospel is demonstrated in their lives.

For myself, I know that I have only seen a shadow of what Apostle Paul describes here, because there is little in the way of my life in terms of affliction, being crushed, persecution, and being struck down.  There is so many ways that I have not sacrificed.  But I at least have a taste of the truths here, because I know that it was when I chose to die to myself, even in the small ways, that the life of Christ manifested.  It was through sacrifice that people’s lives were impacted for Christ – whether it was driving out to meet my guys when they lived far away or giving up a free Saturday to spend time with some youth students – and I remember that when I moved down from Berkeley to Riverside, some guys shared that it was precisely through that kind of dying to my agenda and plan for my time that they were able to draw closer to God and take God more seriously.  It is through sacrificial love and dying to myself that people end up seeing Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
For the second time in this chapter, Apostle Paul asserts that he “does not lose heart.”  Why did Apostle Paul “not lose heart” according to this passage?

In verse 1, Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”  He says this after he has spent chapter 3 talking about the ministry of the new covenant that has a glory that does not fade, unlike the old covenant.  Then again, in verse 16, he says, “Therefore, we do not lose heart.”  This is after he has just spent many verses talking about many things that would cause me to lose heart – affliction, being perplexed, persecution, being struck down, and death – and we know some of the stories behind those words: we know about Apostle Paul’s hard work and sleepless nights, his imprisonments and beatings, and the criticism and rejection he experienced from many people that he had loved and ministered to.  These are things that would cause me to lose heart and think, “What’s the point?  Why bother?”  But, Apostle Paul does not lose heart, because he not only sees his suffering, but he sees all of the ways that God’s life and power to save was communicated and mediated through his suffering – and ultimately, he saw that through his suffering grace was being extended to more and more people.  The reason why Apostle Paul did not lose heart was ultimately because he saw that no matter how daunting or overwhelming his present suffering might seen, it was ultimately finite and temporary, and that the result of him obeying God and enduring through that suffering was that the kingdom of God was being advanced, grace was being extended to people, people were being saved, and he was making an eternal difference and that there was an eternal weight of glory that was in store for him.

Reflect on the two contrasting themes in vv. 16-18, and arrange in two columns the contrasting pairs of words.
Outer nature                         Inner nature
Wasting away                      Renewed day by day
Slight and momentary        Eternal, weighty, and beyond comparison
Affliction                               Glory
Seen                                       Unseen
Transient                               Eternal

Slight and momentary affliction vs. eternal, weighty, beyond comparison, glory: These ideas must have constantly been on Apostle Paul’s mind given the life of suffering and dying to himself that he embraced, and they must have been the words that kept him going every day.  And they are true, because no matter how trying or hard his afflictions were, they were finite, they were momentary, and they were going to come to an end – whether they were beatings or imprisonments or persecution or rejection, this was a true fact about his afflictions.  Even if one of these things were to continue through his entire lifetime, it would come to an end.  And on the other side of the balance was glory that was eternal, weighty, and beyond comparison.  Apostle Paul did not suffer for no good reason or for nothing – the result of his suffering was that people were being saved.  And when someone was saved, it meant that his or her eternal destiny was changed – no longer would he or she be estranged from God for eternity, but he would be with God for eternity.  It made an eternal impact.  The person that was saved would be in fellowship with God for eternity, and also in fellowship with Apostle Paul for eternity.  Another result of Apostle Paul’s suffering was that it brought him into closer relationship with God – he was doing the work of God, he was sharing in God’s heart for people, he was doing the things that pleased God – and that was achieving for himself the crown of righteousness that was going to last for eternity and the commendation of being a good and faithful servant from his Lord for eternity.  There really is no comparison between these two things – on one side is slight affliction, and there is weighty glory on the other side.

Outer nature and seen vs. inner nature and unseen: Even though I know that there is eternal and weighty glory in following God, why am I still constantly struggling to embrace the same kind of life that Apostle Paul embraced?  I think it is because of these contrasting ideas – it is because although our afflictions are transient, they are still the things that we can see right here and right now.  And on the other hand, so much of the eternal glory that is in store for us is unseen – it has not yet fully come and we will not see it fully until we reach the end of our lives on this earth.  Because, the reality is that in the day-to-day living of things, it is easy to see that following God can be hard – it is easy to see that meeting this person or helping out with that thing is going to involve me spending X dollars and Y hours and Z units of emotional energy.  It is easy to see that I am going to lose X hours of sleep if I give myself to God’s work in this situation.  It is easy to see and feel that confronting this sin or this person is going to be emotionally trying and draining and devastating.  And that reality seems so much more real than the things that are eternal – because it is often hard to see how people are ever going to change through ministry, and it is so hard to see how I am ever going to change and resist my sins, and it is hard to see how my relationship with God has grown or changed.  Seeing these things does not come naturally to me, but at the same time, it is certainly not the case that I cannot see them.  It just takes work and energy and effort and thoughtfulness – it takes reflection.  It means that I need to constantly be reminding myself of these truths – that is why we need things like daily DT, weekly prayer meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday service.  We need those regular disciplines to come back to the truth about what is actually real.  This is why we need to take time to reflect on what we have experienced or why we need to share stories with one another about divine encounters and how God is working in our lives and the people we are ministering to – we need these constant reminders and the discipline to bring what is unseen out so that we can appreciate it.

To what extent has my life focus shifted from one column to the other?

From the moment that I gave my life to Christ, I made the commitment to shift my focus to the second column – but the reality of my day to day life is that the things of the first column are still very real to me and on my mind – the outer nature, the “afflictions,” and what is seen.  It is still so easy for me to see and know just how much obeying God is going to cost me – whether it is in terms of resources like time or energy, or in terms of emotional toll like confessing my sin to another person.  On the flip side, the reality of the eternal glory that is unseen and the eternal stakes and impact that we are striving for is something that is not constantly on my mind.  And I see the effects in my life – because unlike Apostle Paul, who did not lose heart, I often lose heart and get discouraged or down, even though the afflictions that he went through are several of orders of magnitude greater than mine – and thus, in my life, things like struggle or ministry become that much more difficult.

In response, what are some things that I can do to move my focus from the first column to the second?  Of course, being faithful to and all there for things like DT and prayer meeting and messages is an absolute must.  But, there are many other things that I can do as well, and I think one way is to be intentional about talking about ministry and how God is working in my interaction with my brothers and sisters – and in that way, bringing what might be unseen to the forefront.  And I have plenty of opportunities for that – when I video chat with my peers, that is an opportunity to share and pause and marvel at what God is doing in all of the different ministries of my church.  I commute with several of the Riverside staff brothers, and that’s also an opportunity for us to share and marvel at what God is doing – and in both these situations, I am not only marveling at God working and accomplishing eternal things in the lives of my friends, but it is also a chance for me to reflect and think about how God is doing similar things in my life and to bring those to the forefront.

Personal Prayer
Father God, I want to live the kind of life that has been so clearly modeled for me by people like Apostle Paul and my leaders and many Christians who came before me – a life of embracing suffering and dying to myself, so that the life of Christ might be manifested.  I want to live for eternal and weighty things that will last, and not allow my life to be dictated by the visible but temporary circumstances around me. As the season of fall outreach is here for our church, I know that there are going to be many opportunities to embrace such a life.  I know that my sinfulness and selfishness will get in the way, but I ask that you would persevere with me and help me to persevere.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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