How to Have a Life-giving Ministry
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Cor. 3:1-18.
MEMORY TEXT: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV).
KEY THOUGHT: Our relationships with others should mirror God's gracious, transforming covenant with His people.
WHO CARES? After the editor of a famous news magazine climbed a 23,000-foot peak in the Andes, he commented that the mountain could have cared less about his accomplishments in life. (James M. Wall, "A Graduation Speech: Failure and Forgiveness," The Christian Century, June 1, 1994, pp. 555, 556.) But some who stand before the mountain of the Lord love to brag about their achievements. And what is true of the Andes is true also of Sinai. It could care less.
Paul wishes his readers to know that his work involves a "new covenant" ministry of life in the Spirit. He does not come waving his credentials. His work is not a ministry of death and condemnation but of life and salvation. Paul invites us to contemplate the ministry God has entrusted to each one of us. As you study this week's lesson, ask yourself, How am I allowing God to minister His life in the Spirit through me? How am I allowing Him to help me lead others from a life of condemnation to a ministry of salvation?
Recall a time when you wrote a letter of recommendation or had one written on your behalf. What was its purpose? Was it honest? Did it accomplish its goal?
Letters of recommendation played an important part in early Christianity. Philemon and 3 John are two such letters. (You may wish to read one of them to get a feel for this type of letter.) Though today they may be sent by electronic mail or fax machine rather than written on papyrus, letters of recommendation continue to play an important role in our lives.
How does Paul use the custom of writing letters of recommendation to discuss his relationship to the Corinthians? 2 Cor. 3:1-3.
Demetrius, an ancient author who describes how to write letters, provides a model letter of recommendation: "So and so, who is conveying this letter to you, has been tested by us and is loved on account of his trustworthiness. You will do well if you deem him worthy of hospitality both for my sake and his, and indeed for your own. For you will not be sorry if you entrust to him, in any matter you wish, either words or deeds of a confidential nature. Indeed, you, too, will praise him to others when you see how useful he can be in everything. "As translated in Stanley K. Stowers, Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), p. 154.
In an age of traveling teachers, there was a need to carry letters to prove one's character. Paul, who established the church at Corinth and knows its members well, suggests, tongue -in- cheek, the idea that he bring them such letters of reference on his next visit. This idea gives Paul a chance to make his point-the Corinthian Christians are themselves all the letter of recommendation he needs. They are a "letter of Christ" that Paul and his companions have helped to compose.
"The world has need of more legible Christians. The language of a Christlike life is intended for all mankind. Only thus can men comprehend what Christianity means, understand its great truths, and learn to love and obey God's law."SDA Bible Commentary , vol. 6, pp. 843, 844.
|How well can others "read" Christ in you? Examine your own life to determine whether you are a "letter from Christ." In what specific ways can you invite Christ to write His letter on your heart?|
What are the characteristics of the "new" covenant? How old is it? 2 Cor. 3:4-18; Jer. 31:31-34; Eph. 1:3-6; Deut. 9:1-6.
God has always invited His people to accept a covenant based on grace. Such a covenant, prepared by the Godhead before Creation, was offered to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), to Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:8-17), to Abraham (Gen. 15:7, 18-21), and to the children of Israel at Sinai (Exod. 19, 20). The covenant at Sinai "is of just as much force today as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel."-Ellen G. White, The Southern Watchman, March 1, 1904, p. 142. From God's point of view, the covenant at Sinai was an expression of His eternal covenant of grace offered to humankind.
"From the perspective of the New Testament, the covenant that God initiates in the ministry of Jesus is "new" because: (1) Christ's death ratified it; (2) Israel so lost sight of God's everlasting covenant of grace that His work in Christ appears "new"; (3) God's revelation in Christ helps us to understand God better".Adapted from Edward Heppenstall, "The Covenants and the Law," in Our Firm Foundation, vol. 1, pp. 455-457.
List and define the characteristics of the "old" covenant. 2 Cor. 3:4-18.
From the human side, the Sinai covenant became marked by fruitless attempts at external obedience, a dependence on man's unaided "works of law" rather than the response of With. From this human side, then, the covenant at Sinai may be called the "old covenant."
"Seventh-day Adventists have held that the law of God has been at the heart of the controversy from the very beginning; that the Christian Era is pre-eminently the age when the law of God ... is to be kept as never before, not as the means of salvation, but as the fruit of a life that is hid with Christ in God. We further believe that there never was a time when men were saved by law; that the covenant of grace was established from before the foundation of the world; that all men are saved by grace alone. "Heppenstall, p. 438.
|What kind of covenant relationship are you experiencing with God? What difference does it make in your life? What specific things do you plan to do, by His grace, to strengthen this covenant relationship?|
In 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, Paul compares the "new covenant" ministry, which he and his companions exercise, to "old covenant" ministry. The chart below illustrates this contrast. Fill in the missing sections.
Old Covenant Ministry
New Covenant Ministry
Apparently, Paul had in mind some people whose "old covenant" ministry contrasted with his "new covenant" approach. Later, Paul will refer to these opponents as "false apostles" who are actually Satan's partners (2 Cor. 11:5, 13-15). They boasted of their Jewish credentials (11:22) and compared their possession of letters of recommendation (perhaps from the church in Jerusalem) to Paul's lack of such credentials (3:1-3).
We must keep in mind that when Paul refers to the "old covenant," he is considering its misapplication by the Jewish nation and the Judaizers of his day. There is nothing wrong with the letter of the law, for God Himself wrote it on tablets of stone. However, it must not only remain in stone but it must also be inscribed in the human heart. Otherwise it becomes a set of lifeless rules and regulations to secure external conformity. God intended that the ministry of the letter of the law and its spirit go band in hand. He did not intend one to exclude the other. The law contains the record of His revealed will, which must be realized in the life of believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus what is recorded in Jeremiah becomes a living reality: "I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts" (31:33). Even Jesus' teaching can become lifeless unless we allow the Holy Spirit to make it a transforming experience. Our spiritual life must always be anchored in "thus says the Lord" and "it is written."
|How has your ministry brought life and glory to those in your care? What might you be doing that stifles others' spiritual life and wilts their courage?|
Why did Moses put a veil over his face? Exod. 34:29-35. How does Paul interpret this event? 2 Cor. 3:7-16.
Paul sees this same veil as still dimming the sight of most of his fellow Jews. They neither find Christ in the Old Testament nor accept the message that fie is the Messiah. Paul may well be suggesting that the veil has not fully slipped from the minds of some Jewish Christians, especially from the minds of those who oppose him at Corinth.
How did the Old Testament become a "new" book for some early converts to Christianity? Luke 24:27, 32, 44-49; Acts 9:17-22.
Paul's statement that "when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (2 Cor. 3:16, NRSV) refers to Exodus 34:34: "But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off." Paul sees the experience of Moses in the life of the Christian convert. In turning to "the Lord" Jesus Christ, the veil is lifted, and the very words once read as excluding Christian claims become testimony to them.
This truth had been active in Paul's own conversion: "During the long hours when Saul was shut in with God alone, he recalled many of the passages of Scripture referring to the first advent of Christ. Carefully he traced down the prophecies, with a memory sharpened by the conviction that had taken possession of his mind. As he reflected on the meaning of these prophecies, he was astonished at his former blindness of understanding and at the blindness of the Jews in general, which had led to the rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. To his enlightened vision, all now seemed plain. He knew that his former prejudice and unbelief had clouded his spiritual perception and had prevented him from discerning in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah of prophecy.
"As Saul yielded himself fully to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, he saw the mistakes of his life and recognized the far-reaching claims of the law of God. He who had been a proud Pharisee, . . . now bowed before God with the humility and simplicity of a little child." The Acts of the Apostles, p. 119.
|List friends or acquaintances whose minds seem darkened beyond hope of enlightenment. Write a prayer that the miracle described in this passage will be true for them.|
Read Paul's hopeful conclusion to this paragraph, verse 18, in different translations. What does it say to you?
Second Corinthians 3:18 says that Christians are transformed into the "image" of Christ. How does Paul express similar thoughts in Colossians 3:9, 10 and Romans 8:29, 30?
Paul's description of the Christian's privileges could strike us as bad news. Because the reality of our individual Christian experience sometimes differs noticeably from Paul's joyful account of the Christian walk, we might tend to reject his enthusiasm. We should note that his sketch of Christian privileges includes these thoughts:
1 . Paul clearly regards this to be good news. His conclusion is a positive, upbeat promise. "The power of the Spirit is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and will give us newness of life in the present as well as in the future. For Paul this is the most important reality of Christian experience, and he would not subscribe to the melancholy view that Spirit and flesh are two almost equal contestants within the believer's fife."David Wenham in Pauline Studies (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 89.
2. The Christian's reflection of Christ is to be a progressive experience. Paul's emphasis is on growth and continued discoverythe thrill of moving from one breathtaking scene of Christ's glory to the next.
3. This positive, progressive reflection of Christ is not something we create on our own. It has a divine source"the Lord, the Spirit."
|"Look to Christ,, behold the attractive character, and by beholding you will become changed Into His likeness. The mist that Intervenes between Christ, and the soul will be rolled back as we by faith look past the hellish shadow of Satan and see God"s glory in His law, and -the righteousness of Christ.'--Ellen White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol., 6, p. 1097.|
FURTHER STUDY: Read through Paul's letter to the Galatians. Though Paul does not use the specific language in the letter, how does he contrast the old and the new covenant?
"Professed Christians keep altogether too near the lowlands of earth. Their eyes are trained to see only commonplace things, and their minds dwell upon the things their eyes behold. Their religious experience is often shallow and unsatisfying, and their words are light and valueless. How can such reflect the image of Christ? How can they send forth the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness into all the dark places of the earth? To be a Christian is to be Christlike."
"Satan is seeking to veil Jesus from our sight, to eclipse His light; for when we get even a glimpse of His glory, we are attracted to Him. Sin hides from our view the matchless charms of Jesus; prejudice, selfishness, self-righteousness, and passion blind our eyes, so that we do not discern the Saviour. Oh, if we would by faith draw nigh to God, lie would reveal to us His glory, which is His character, and the praise of God would flow forth from human hearts and be sounded by human voices. Then we would forever cease to give glory to Satan by sinning against God and talking doubt and unbelief. We should no longer stumble along, grumbling and mourning, and covering the altar of God with our tears."Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1097.
SUMMARY: Like Paul, we are to practice a Spirit-filled, life-giving, new-covenant ministry that nurtures the work of Christ in human hearts. Such ministry finds its source and inspiration in ever clearer visions of our Lord.
Simon Vieira Morase Neto
I met Sidraque on the way home from town one afternoon. The earnest young man was looking for an Adventist church, so I invited him to evangelistic meetings that evening.
I arrived at the meeting hall early, and found Sidraque already waiting. We sat together during the meeting, and afterward I invited him to study the Bible with me and see for himself if the Adventist church taught the truth. He readily agreed. I gave him some Bible study guides and invited him to come again the next night.
The following evening he brought three cousins with him to the evangelistic meeting. After the meeting all four young men stayed to review the Bible lesson I had given Sidraque the night before. It took a long time to cover each lesson, for Sidraque had many questions. He wanted to understand everything!
When we studied the lessons on the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath, Sidraque hesitated. He was convinced that the Sabbath was God's holy day, but some of his classes at the military school met on Saturdays, and he could not let his family down. They expected him to do well, become a professional soldier, and bring honor to the family. And even though his father knew Sabbath was special, he did not know how to keep it. Sidraque was not sure what to do; he was not ready to give up his dream of becoming a soldier.
Not long after this he asked me if an Adventist could become a soldier. I told him, "I know Adventists who are soldiers in the army, but they have difficulties keeping the Sabbath."
After one Bible study Sidraque asked me how he could learn to tell others what he was learning from the Bible. He paused, then asked, "What do I do to become a preacher?" I explained that he would have to study theology for four years to become a minister.
Not long after that, Sidraque announced, "I have decided to quit my military studies. I want to be baptized and study to become minister:"
"Finish your classwork and take your exams," I advised him. "If you pass the exams, you can feel confident that the Lord wants you to continue your military training. And if you fail, then you will know that God wants you to become a minister. Then you will not regret your decision to quit the military."
Sidraque agreed to put the matter in God's hands.
(continued next week)
Simon Vieira Morase Neto is assistant accountant in the Maranhao Mission in North Brazil.
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