Back

LESSON 4 - PRINCIPLES FOR MINISTRY (2 CORINTHIANS 4:1-18)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: Glad to be back with you after the summer break!  You
recall that during the first quarter of this year we studied Paul's
first letter to the Corinthians.  Our study this quarter moves to
Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth.  This week we find
out about how we can be "jars of clay" happily filled with
treasures. Let's dig in!

I. SHINING FACES

     A. Have you ever felt discouraged?  Ever considered your life
     and thought that you or your work was not very important?

     B. If you have had feelings of discouragement, turn with me to
     2 Corinthians 4:1. Read. Paul tells us he has a reason for us
     to keep up our courage, i.e., not "lose heart."

          1. What reason does this text say we have for a positive
          attitude, what reason to keep up our courage? (Paul says
          we have "this ministry.")

          2.  What ministry is he talking about? Does this text
          make it clear? (No.)

          3. Imagine that you just walked into a room where a
          man is giving an exciting lecture on how you can throw
          away despair and start feeling good about your life. Your
          timing is bad because you enter the room just as the
          lecture is ending. Tell me what you are feeling at this
          moment? What is your reaction? (You want to hear the
          whole message.)

               a. Is that is what is happening to us -- did we
               enter at the "end of the lecture" when we started
               with verse 1? (Yes. Paul starts out verse 1 with
               "therefore."  We have jumped in at the end of his
               argument.)

     C. Paul tells us that he has this formula for courage, for a
     positive attitude. The formula involves us performing a
     ministry. We need to find out about what ministry he is
     talking about. To do that we will need to review a few verses
     from last week's study. Read 2 Corinthians 3:13-18.

          1. Does Paul compare us to Moses? (Yes.)

               a. Does he suggest that we are:

                    (1) better than Moses?

                    (2) different than Moses?
 
                    (3) like Moses?

                    (4) all of the above? (All of the above! We are
                    like Moses in that we can reflect God's glory.
                    But we are "better" and different because
                    God's Spirit allows us to reflect God's glory
                    in a way that other people can better see.  We
                    do not have to have our faces veiled like
                    Moses.)

          2. So what is our ministry? (To reflect God. To become
          more like Him. 2 Cor.3:18)

     D. How do we normally measure success? (Money, education,
     job.)

     E. Do you need money, education or an important job to reflect
     God in your life? (No.)

          1. What do you need? (2 Cor. 3:18: The Spirit of the
          Lord.)

     F. Notice that 2 Cor. 3:17 refers to "freedom." Do you think
     Paul means freedom from the struggle for money, education or
     position? How about the struggle to have people respect or
     admire you?

     G. If you or someone you know is feeling discouraged about
     life, do you agree with Paul's suggestion that cooperating
     with the Spirit to reflect God in your life will give you
     courage?

          1. Why? How do you think this works?

II. ON TASK? ON TARGET?

     A. If you know that the most important part of your life work
     is to reveal God in your life, are you worried that maybe your
     life does not reveal God?  If so, let's read on.

     B. Read 2 Corinthians 4:2. How does Paul suggest that we can
     reveal God's glory? (List on the blackboard: renounce secret
     and shameful ways; not use deception or distortion; and,
     plainly explain the truth.)

          1. What do you think Paul means by "secret and shameful
          ways?" (A critical part of reflecting God's glory is to
          get our life "in order." We need to work with God's
          Spirit to put behind us those things we do in secret
          because they are shameful.)

          2. Can you think of examples where the gospel was
          "promoted" through deception or distortion?

          3. After Paul tells us what we should not do, he tells us
          what we should do.  We should be "plainly" setting forth
          the truth. How much thought have you given to being
          "plain" in revealing the gospel?

               a. How do you think you can be more plain? (I
               visited a church where the pastor was preaching on
               Matthew 7:3.  In his sermon he referred to a "speck
               of sawdust" getting in the eye.  We all knew what
               he was talking about.  Earlier, however, someone
               else had read this text from the KJV as "beholdest
               thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye...." How
               many people (especially the unbelievers you are
               trying to reach) have any idea about it means to
               have a "mote" in the eye?  If you have any doubt
               about this go to your doctor or pharmacist and ask
               for something to treat the mote in your eye.  See
               what you get!)

III. JARS OF CLAY

     A. Let's read on. Read 4:3-7. Paul suggests in verses 3-4 that
     in addition to our failure to properly and plainly present the
     gospel, unbelievers have another very good reason for having
     a hard time understanding the gospel. What is this reason?
     (Verse 4: "The god of this age has blinded [their minds].")

          1. Who is the "god of this age?" (Satan, see John 12:31)

          2. How can he "blind the minds" of unbelievers?  Isn't
          this contrary to the idea that everyone has free will?

          3. If you think that "free will" prevents Satan from
          physically preventing someone from understanding the
          gospel, how does he "blind the mind?"

               a. Look carefully at vv. 3-7.  What two opposing
               concepts does Paul present? (Self-glory v. Jesus'
               glory.)

               b. Does this help us to understand the "blinding"
               process used by Satan? (Yes! If we focus on
               ourselves, if unbelievers focus on us, they will
               miss the point that Jesus' glory, not our "glory,"
               is the true revelation of God.)

          4. Isn't Paul saying two conflicting things: we start out
          learning how to have a positive attitude in our life, and
          then he switches to say we should not be focused on
          ourselves?  Do you have any ideas on how those two themes
          can be made consistent?

               a. How can turning our attention away from ourselves
               help avoid despair? (Paul integrates a spiritual
               and practical theme in this line of argument. The
               people could not look at Moses because they could
               not stand to see even the reflected glory of God.
               It was too much for them because they did not
               clearly understand the gospel -- what Jesus was
               going to do for them to rescue them from the
               condemnation of the law. The same problem exists in
               another form today.  Looking at individuals can
               cause us to miss what Jesus has done for us. Our
               salvation is the result of Jesus' work and not the
               work of any individual.  Looking at Moses the glory
               was too bright, looking at us, the "glory" is too
               dim! That is the spiritual problem.  The practical
               problem is that we can become discouraged if we
               focus too much on our own lives or the lives of
               fellow Christians.)

               b. How does it help the problem for us to look at
               ourselves as (v.7) "jars of clay?" (We are just the
               messenger, not the message. We are just the
               packaging, not the treasure. Although our work is
               to reflect God's glory, we must constantly remind
               ourselves it is GOD'S GLORY and not ours!)

IV. UNDER ATTACK!

     A. Read 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, 16-18. Does this sound like Paul
     might have a reason to be discouraged? (Yes.)

     B. Verse 10 says we "carry around in our body the death of
     Jesus."  That certainly sounds unusual. What do you think Paul
     means by that?

          1. Verse 10 continues by saying, "so that the life of
          Jesus may be revealed in our body." How does carrying
          around the death of Jesus in our body reveal Jesus' life?
          (Jesus' death was the ultimate sacrifice. But that
          sacrifice resulted in the gift of eternal life. Carrying
          around "the death of Jesus" in our lives means that we
          have that same spirit of self-sacrifice.  The spirit of
          sacrificing ourselves to help others will impress them
          that there is something special going on in our lives. As
          they learn about our message, they are exposed to the
          gift of eternal life. That is what v.12 means when it
          says "death is at work in us, but life is at work in
          you.")

          2. I was in an Asian gift shop looking for a gift for my
          wife. I discovered a delicate little brown jar that had
          a carved top and carvings on the side.  It smelled
          wonderful, just like cinnamon.  When I purchased it, I
          was told that when we were done with the jar we could eat
          it!  Yes, it was actually made of edible cinnamon bark.
          (No, I had not been insulting to the clerk.) Our lives
          here are like that little cinnamon bark jar.  We are
          expendable clay jars carrying the real treasure of the
          gospel message.

     C. How do you react to the idea that you should be "killing"
     yourself here through self-sacrifice?  Not a very attractive
     picture, right? Does that sound like a way to have a more
     positive attitude?

          1. How can you justify wanting this for your life?

          2. How do you "sell" the gospel to unbelievers with this
          kind of pitch?

          3. Is it like an employer of a retail establishment
          saying, "Come work for us.  We will wear you out, and use
          you up, but our customers will be happy!"

          4. How do vv. 17-18 answer these questions? (The self-
          sacrifice part is temporary, i.e. "light and momentary,"
          while our reward is eternal and it "outweighs" the
          sacrifice.)

     D. Friends, God has given us a job -- to reflect His glory.
     You can do your job, and thus feel positive about your work,
     without obtaining any of the "things" the world looks at to
     measure success. You do not need money, position or a high
     education to be a success in this job. Not only is our job
     something everyone of us can do, our job has a higher reward
     than the compensation for any other job we might consider.
     Although we might be "pressed on every side," and face
     sacrifices, we have the satisfaction of knowing that this
     "non-success" (from the world's view) is exactly what we are
     supposed to be doing. More important, however, is the
     knowledge that our "compensation" is eternal life in the best
     "retreat" in the universe!

V. NEXT WEEK: "MINISTRY IN FOCUS." Study 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:21! action of knowing that this
     "non-success" (from the world's view) is exactly what we are
     supposed to be doing. More important, however, is the
     knowledge that our "compensation" is eternal life in the best
     "retreat" in the universe!

V. NEXT WEEK: "MINISTRY IN FOCUS." Study 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:21!