October 3, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (2 Corinthians 1-4)

Please reflect on today’s passages, and think about what they say about:

  • the nature of the gospel
  • the call of a minister
  • the self-giving nature of love
  • earth and heaven
  • holiness
  • generosity
  • suffering, power, weakness

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12 (ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Submitted by Debbie F., from Gracepoint Austin Church

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

What afflictions do we face?  We face affliction from brokenness and sin within, and brokenness and sin without.  Which is why the promises of these verses are so strengthening, because the self-inflicted affliction that I struggle with, God addresses over and over again with the gospel of my Father of mercies.  This is the one and only source of comfort that I can find when I’m faced with the pain and regret of my own sin and failures.  What else can I do?  Can I actually comfort myself by trying harder… just to find sin coming forth from me yet again and again? Can I fool myself into thinking I’ll find comfort in “creature comforts,” like sleeping it off, distracting myself, evading the issues by busying myself with other things, and thereby allowing the sin to continue to rot my soul and conscience?  The one and only comfort I can find is in my God of mercy, my God who sent me my Lord Jesus Christ, to give me true rest and comfort, through acknowledgement of the truth of my sin, through the forgiveness of my sin, through calling me a faithful daughter of righteousness (though I am not, I’m called to trust Him at His word), and through restoration as His heir, just as the Father restored the prodigal to full sonship and ownership of His household.

The comfort of God’s mercy is beyond any comfort to be found anywhere else in the world.  There is no true comfort apart from God’s mercy upon me, the sinner.  And it is this amazing gospel that I desire so much to pass on, and which God calls me to pass on to others afflicted with guilt and regret over their failures.  Even today, as I met with someone who’s struggling over the guilt of her sin, hopeless in herself, fearful of what the future holds in light of her own brokenness, all I could do was share with her how I’ve heard, believed in, and experienced the truth of God’s promises, like that of Luke 15, and how I just need to believe Him at His word, that He calls me “faithful daughter,” and “minister of reconciliation.”  And over the years, the comfort I’ve come to experience is completely based on His grace and mercy.

This is the nature of the gospel, and my call as a minister.  I’ve received this amazing gospel of reconciliation of the sinner to God, and have experienced the full comfort of God’s forgiveness and restoration, and I desire so much for others to know this gospel.  How can I, as a minister, not desire that for those whom I minister to.  Apostle Paul, as he shares these words to the ever-so-faulty Corinthian church, he truly means every word of it.  Because he knows that God had mercy upon himself, a self-described “chief of sinners,” it’s out of the overflow of comfort, thanksgiving, humility before this amazing gospel that he shares these heart-felt words to the Corinthians.  As I experience this in greater measures, as each year passes, I want so much to pass this on to the next, for people to know my Father of mercy and God of all comfort.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

What’s clear is that the Christian must affect the people around her.  A Christian who is a non-factor to the people around her is clearly not understanding some very basics about the gospel for even herself.

As a follower of Christ, my life needs to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  When people encounter a relationship with me, they need to be affected by Christ.  They need to get to know Christ a little more. They need to understand His heart, experience His love and mercy, see what He values and what He despises, grasp truth and reality a little deeper.  And their reaction to my life will be very telling, about my life.  Do they find themselves attracted to the aroma of Christ in my life, drawn to Christ himself, and are brought a step closer to being saved, or do they find themselves recognizing that they are perishing under the truth of God that they’ve consciously been rejecting?

Indeed, who is sufficient to represent Christ and give off His aroma.  I’m a sinner, a broken vessel, a jar of clay with my own long list of sin and failure.  And yet, God entrusts the “display” of Christ to my life.  This is God’s call for me, as a minister.

But I’m not called to do this on my own, by my own merits, by my own efforts.  Christ leads me in this procession, He’s demonstrated to me what a life of obedience is, which from the moment of his birth was a life of selfless love and sacrifice.  I need only to follow in His steps, I don’t need to make up my own ideas about it.  Christ has also taken me captive, He owns me, and I need simply do as He directs me in His word.

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Again, who is sufficient for such a task, to be one to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere?  No one.  I am completely insufficient… let alone the fact that I lack a lot of basic competence, I’m an utter sinner, and whatever competence I might even display is riddled with my selfishness and ego.  How is it that God calls anyone who is a sinner to be ministers of Christ?  Yet that is what God has chosen to do.  Is He foolish?  No, He knows exactly what He’s doing, and it’s because He knows what He can do through broken vessels.  I have nothing whatsoever to claim for myself… I can’t even claim my “being good with newcomers” for myself, because I know that were it not for Christ, my personality is filled with laziness, selfishness, lovelessness… it’s only because of the cross that I have any love for others at all.  I can’t claim my grasp on apologetics and being able to address questions for myself, because all that I know, I’ve received from others, who ultimately received their depth of insight from God.  I can’t claim anything in my ministry as my own, because ALL that I have is from God.  Who gave man his mouth?  Who gave man his mind?  Who gave man his LIFE?  Who gave man his purpose?  Praise be to God that He calls me, a sinner, a minister of His covenant.  That is truly a miracle.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12 (ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The promises of this passage becomes more and more and more real to me, as I see how broken I am.  One affliction that I’ve had to struggle with the most is regret from failures in the past, when I was trying to minister to people, but I was so loveless, heartless, self-focused, critical/judgmental, arrogant, a much bigger burden than a help to my leaders. That period has haunted me over the years, and every time I fail (in these exact same areas), I’m brought back to this time.

But God said, “Debbie, let light shine out of the darkness of your life.”  He says that my being a minister now is not because I’ve proven myself to be a good minister.  It’s not because I’m less of a sinner than I was 10-15 years ago.  It’s only because of the surpassing power belongs to God and not to me, in that He has given me the gospel.  Not simply that he has given me the gospel to give to others, but he has given ME the gospel.  He’s forgiven me time and again, and continues to do so, with no emptying of his abundance of grace and mercy upon me, and keeps on restoring me as His daughter and minister.

So I find this amazing fact that Christ’s death is constantly at work in me, and it’s only because of this that I can bring any sort of life in others. Because I’m always carrying the death of Jesus in me, I’ve find life on a regular basis in His resurrection, and His resurrection promise for me, and through that, my life gives hope to others as they see Christ at work in me.

With this as the basis of absolutely everything I do as a minister, I’ve experienced the rest of these verses, time and again, and in increasing measure.  My own sins don’t crush me, my own sins don’t leave me in despair, Satan persecutes me over my sin but I know that I’m not forsaken by God, I can be daily rebuked (within or without) but because of the cross, I’m not destroyed and instead I find new mercy and new life.

With regards to ministry, there are so many ways that those I minister to fill my heart with affliction and perplexity and pain, but I simply can’t give up because I already know how God’s surpassing power has worked in me, and I know for a fact that if God can forgive me and save me, then He can forgive and save anyone.  Even the affliction to my body that I’ve been experiencing by my frequent illnesses, though Satan tempts me to despair (and I might teeter at the edge at times), I cannot despair because I know, as Job proclaimed, I know that my Redeemer lives, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.  God has displayed his surpassing power to me so many times, I cannot despair.

I thank and praise God for the gospel that has become so real to me, through verses like these, as it really feeds me with all I need to pass on the good news to others.

Submitted by Sam K., from Gracepoint Austin Church

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 4:6-12 (ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

One thing that echoes throughout these passages is how God’s power and glory is displayed through our own weakness and suffering.  It was a reminder again that God uses the brokenness of our past, the sins that we have struggled with, and the circumstances that we have faced and uses those moments in our lives for a greater purpose.  That purpose is to bless and minister to the people around us through the same struggles that we have gone through.  God indeed uses our broken past to display his glory and power so that others can experience his forgiveness, healing, mercy, and the ministry reconciliation.  As I think about how God uses me for this greater purpose, it’s a startling and amazing reality that God has for my life.  On the other side of the coin, I think about my own brokenness, immaturity, the people that I have hurt in the passed through my actions and words, the sins that I have committed, and I can feel the weight of my inadequacy and wonder how God can use someone like me when certainly there are other people more adequate and experienced for the task.  It’s because that God sees me more that what I may be and that God wants to display his power and glory through me.  It’s by taking the lowest of lows like myself so that the something higher which is God’s salvation work and the transformation of lives can be displayed.

How is it possible that God can use me for his good work?  The 4 verses talk about how “we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4), “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere,” (2 Corinthians 2:14), “minsters of a new covenant,” (2 Corinthians 3:6), and “…the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our moral flesh.” (2 Corinthains 4:12).  These passages talks about being able to minister to other people, but what proceeds is that these 4 verse talk about “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that…” (2 Corinthians 1:4).  It is the fact that God has first comforted us through our circumstances and issues so that we can comfort those who struggle with the same issues and circumstances.  “…who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” (2 Corinthians 2:14).  It is the fact that I have been defeated by Christ and I am able now God’s prisoner and not the prisoner of my sins that I can spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  “…our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient” (2 Corinthians 3:6).  God makes us sufficient when we feel insufficient and when we recognize that we are weak.  “For we who live are always given over to death…” (2 Corinthians 4:11).  It is the fact that I have been constantly put to death from my own sins and issues so that the knowledge of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal bodies.  Therefore, for God’s power and glory to be displayed in me is only possible when I give God total spiritual authority to speak into my life.  What does it mean to give God spiritual authority?  It means to struggle over my sins and issues and through that, recognize my own inadequacy, weakness, and suffering and allow God to transform my life so that I can take what I experienced to love and minister those around me and in that regard experience the transforming power of someone’s life.

How does this apply to me?  As I get older and being on church plant, I have had to deal with more of immaturity and my sins and the shame of it and what consequences it has on God, me, the people that I am trying to love, church, and ministry.  He’s had to deal with my hiddenness and my sins of pride, envy, and desire for emotional and physical comfort.  And in light of dealing with my sins, it causes me to think and fall into despair of what authority do I have in being a person involved with ministry?  But I as I look back at those times of struggling and repenting over my sins and dealing with my immaturity, I see that the sins and immaturity that I have had to deal with is not in vain.  It is not in vain because it’s something God uses to transform lives and people’s hearts from the inside out.  It is for his glory and power.  It’s so that I can come to repentance, be shaped, and restored so that I can minister to others.  I am thankful to God for those times of struggling and where I recognized my own weakness as I faced the horror of my sins and that I can come to God for forgiveness.  God used those momentary troubles so that I could come to repentance and that through that experience, I can fully love the people around me with the hope and desire that they would experience and find rest in God’s mercy and grace.  It is a reminder again that those times of weakness and suffering are a good thing because God uses it for something more powerful and life changing.  A life of confession and struggling with my own sins is something that I need to constantly do because the more I deal with my own sins and issues then the more God makes me sufficient and adequate to comfort those around me.

Personal Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the God of comfort, making me your prisoner as you lead me in a triumphal procession, making me sufficient as a minister, and death being at work in me so that there may be life in others.  Thank you for this reminder again that you are the one that gives strength and makes it possible for me to love others and that the power of transformed lives is possible even through my own brokenness and sins.  Lord, as I continue to love and minister to others, I pray that I would continue to come to you in honest confession and constantly struggle and anguish over the my own sins of pride, envy, and emotional and physical comfort so that through repentance and restoration over my own issues that I can take those experiences to love and comfort those around me and they would in part experience your forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  Amen.

Submitted by Lillian K., from Gracepoint Austin Church

The nature of the gospel is that it will cause reversals in what is broken and fallen about mankind, and instead gives sinners a new life in Christ. Where sin demanded death as penalty, the gospel now reverses the sinner’s fate, and grants a victorious life over sin. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, this is shown through the victory that is brought in by the gospel, as indicated by the triumphal procession that Christ is now leading us in. Because of the gospel, what Christ has done on the cross in triumphing over death and redeeming mankind from their sin, we are no longer subject to the punishment of death ourselves. When we were once marked out for having to bear the consequences of our own sin, and headed towards death, now because of Christ, we are no longer marching towards death, but marching towards victory because of the new life that we have in Christ. Our fate has been reversed, and through our lives, rather than exuding the stench of our own sin, we are now spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. This means that our sins have been forgiven and cleansed, and that we are no longer under the power of sin, but rather we are given a new lease on life, where the punishment of our sin no longer looms over us. Instead, we can even demonstrate to a watching world the victorious life we have now that we know Christ, have been forgiven for our sin, and continue in our relationship with Him.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6-12, there is also the reversal of darkness into light, where God speaks, and makes “light shine out of darkness.” This is the God who created the heavens and the earth, who created light when all there was in the beginning of creation was just darkness. There is nothing about darkness that can bring forth light from itself because they are complete opposites, and the presence of one removes the presence of the other. Therefore, since sin causes darkness in our hearts, there is nothing within us that could ever bring forth light. However, because God Himself is light in that He is pure holiness, truth, and love, when He “has shone in our hearts,” then the darkness of our hearts can now contain the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, what now fills our hearts is this light, rather than the darkness of our sin and shame. We now possess the knowledge of God through Christ, and therefore our hearts will no longer be darkened by our sin.

I have personally experienced these reversals in my life because of the gospel. Since the majority of my life growing up, I was pretty unaware of how my actions affected others, it wasn’t until I first started to live as a Christian, did I become more aware of how clueless, hypocritical and blind I was to myself. There were many moments where my sin had to be painfully and humiliatingly exposed. But it was through those moments when my sin became so painfully real to me, that I understood the gravity of it, and how much I had been in darkness because of it. I didn’t realize how much my self-centeredness, my pride and ego, had hurt people around me, how much it was hindering me from maturing as a Christian and as a person overall. And ultimately, how much my sin had really grieved God and kept me from a relationship with Him. This process of repentance over my sin, as difficult and humbling as it was, I see how it has become the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” because through these dark times of repenting, I got to experience much more intimately who God was; that He is holy, merciful, and that He deserves my utmost devotion and that it is only out of His grace that I get to be a part of His ministry. I see how God is using this knowledge of Him to become that fragrance of Christ for those around me as I have opportunities through ministry to lead other broken sinners down that same sweet path of confession and repentance.

As I become older and experience more of ministry and am seeing how true God’s words are, I recognize that this gospel is the only worthy thing that I really have to offer anyone. To persuade someone that their greatest problem is their sin, and then guiding them through the steps of confession and repentance so that they can experience the reversals that the gospel brings, this is the greatest blessing of the gospel. And I see how this gospel has created this reversal in my life as before I was once subject to the punishment of sin, I am now leading others down that same triumphal procession of victory over sin because of Christ.

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