Principles for Ministry
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18.
MEMORY TEXT: "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: When we minister on behalf of Christ, we sometimes expect recognition for the work we do. Instead, Paul reminds us that ministry often brings pain and hardship, plus a deeper reward than we ever could have imagined.
COULD THIS BECOME YOUR STORY? Jim and Carol saw a need. And they set about to fill it. Their creative, energetic leadership brought fresh life to an old idea-small-group Bible-study groups in neighborhoods. This ministry brought them much fulfillment until a fateful meeting when Jim and Carol felt that a few people did not appreciate their efforts. What happened next is all too familiar. They became discouraged and resigned from the outreach they had begun and became irregular in their church attendance. Within a few months they were gone.
This week's lesson provides safeguards against just such crises. If you dare to use your gifts to minister to others, you will want to reflect on these principles for ministry and put them to work for you. You will need to reflect on the difference between God's approval and others' approval.
List the principles of Christian ministry found in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.
Paul builds his discussion on an important concept: The opportunity to minister is not a privilege we earn. It is given "by the mercy of God" (verse 1, RSV). Like the blessings of the gospel itself, it is granted by God, not on the basis of our merit, but on the basis of His grace. We do not claim some privileged ministry. Instead, God claims us for ministry. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, hardly merited consideration for the position of leading Christian evangelist! True ministry, then, is not based on the declaration, "I can!" but on God's "You can!" For Paul, this truth is central to how we should conduct our ministry:
1. We should declare the truth openly. Since he was not commissioned for ministry based on merit, Paul did not "lose heart" when people questioned his reputation or capabilities. He was free to express the gospel truthfully and openly. God's graciousness is best reflected in our openness.
2. Our message should be Christ-centered. It would be ridiculous for a ministry granted in mercy to focus on the merits of the person ministering! "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake" (verse 5, NRSV).
The situation in Corinth demanded that Paul discuss and defend his own ministry. As he defended his reputation and reviewed his credentials, he was concerned that he not neglect this important principle (see 2 Cor. 11:16-18). We should model this concern of Paul's that his message be Christ-centered. How often self gets in the way in our attempt to proclaim God's saving message to others. Jesus Himself in His earthly ministry "emptied Himself, and in all that He did, self did not appear. He subordinated all things to the will of His Father." Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 14.
How does Paul define the work of "the god of this world"? 2 Cor. 4:3, 4, NIV.
|Whether we preach a sermon, teach a Sabbath School class, chair a committee, or lead an outreach ministry, our egos tend to get in the way. How can we separate our reputations and egos from the service we perform? How do we help others whose egos and service are often entangled?|
Paul and his companions are active in "ministry" (verse 1) and are "slaves" (verse 5, NRSV). What meanings do these words have today?
Paul borrows from two important word groups to describe his role and the role of his evangelistic team. First, Paul sees themselves involved in "ministry." The Greek word is related to the verb "serve" and the noun "servant" This word group originally referred to "table service," or what we might call "waiting on tables" (see Mark 1:31). These terms have " 'the special quality of indicating very personally the service rendered to another.' "Beyer quoted in Balz and Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 302.
Second, Paul says he and his companions "proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake" (verse 5, NRSV; italics supplied). The emphasis of the word slave is on the subordinate relationship of the slave to the master. In the Greek world, the word had a humiliating, scornful ring to it. In the Old Testament, with its understanding of God as Lord, to be His slave is both honorable and desirable. For Paul, Jesus is His "Lord' or "Master," who has assigned him and his co-workers to serve the Corinthian believers. Far from dictating to the Corinthians (as some likely charged), he served them on behalf of his Master. A true Christian leader is a servant of others. Far from showing a dictatorial spirit, she or he imitates the servant-leader model Jesus lived.
How did Paul, as "servant," reflect his Master's ministry? Mark 10:41-45; Phil. 2:5-8.
Think about it: "In the gospel the lordship of Christ is proclaimed and people are called to give their allegiance to him, but the one to whom they are thus called to submit is also the crucified one, the one who died for them. These two basic elements of the gospel need to be held together, for if they are not the gospel itself is distorted. "Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp.104,105.
|Consider the above two basic elements of the gospel, and then reflect on the following two questions: In what specific ways can you uphold the gospel when these elements are held together? In what specific ways can you distort the gospel when you separate them from each other?|
What divine act motivates Paul's ministry? 2 Cor. 4:6. (Compare John 1:14,18.)
Ellen White begins The Desire of Ages this way: "'His name shall be called Immanuel....God with us"' (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14) and "'The light of the knowledge of the glory of God' is seen 'in the face of Jesus Christ,"'page 19; 2 Cor. 4:6. This last verse is a major point of Christian faith: The clearest representation of God comes to us in the incarnation Jesus Christ.
What does the New Testament mean when it calls Jesus the "image" of God? 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3.
To describe Jesus as "the image of God," or God's "express image" means that lie is the true and perfect representation of the very nature of God in every sense of the word. They are one in outward likeness, as well as inward character, nature, and purpose. That is why Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9, NIV). The One through whom the light was created in the beginning became the Redeemer revealing in His face "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Cor. 4:6).
"Our little world is the lesson book of the universe. God's wonderful purpose of grace, the mystery of redeeming love, is the theme into which 'angels desire to look,' and it will be their study throughout endless ages. Both the redeemed and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self- sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which 'seeketh not her own' has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto....
"But turning from all lesser representations, we behold God in Jesus. Looking unto Jesus we see that it is the glory of our God to give."The Desire of Ages, pp. 19-21.
|Paul declares that the new covenant reflects a permanent glory (2 Cor. 3:7-18). Indeed, the glory of God's revelation in Christ is both for time and for eternity. Meditate upon your favorite New Testament story involving Jesus. What does it teach you a bout God and His desire to save you?|
How does Paul continue to show the relationship between his evangelistic team and the message they preach? 2 Cor. 4:7-12. List the striking contrasts he employs that give hope and confidence in God's power at work in our lives.
Imagine going to a fine department store and buying an expensive vase. The clerk wraps the article carefully, places it in at bag, and sends you on your way. When you arrive home, you throw away the wrapping and bag, then find the perfect place for your new treasure.
Paul is suggesting that he and his partners are disposable, like the packaging around a treasure. Their purpose is not to draw attention to themselves but to help others appreciate the treasure they bear"the glory of God in the face of Jesus" (verse 6, NRSV). If they are always being thrown aside, it is so Jesus' life may be displayed (verse 10).
True ministry is often exhausting. Those who participate in it (as we all should) often will feel rejected. However grand its moments, it is bound to have times of emotional and physical stress. Ministry costs something. Sometimes it costs everything.
Such knowledge should not surprise those who know the story of Jesus. In fact, those who are ministering on behalf of Jesus will discover they are reflecting His story. "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (verse 10, NIV).
In spite of his difficult situation, what hope does Paul express for the future? 2 Cor. 4:13-15.
Because God has a splendid future for those who display His glory, it does not matter how often Paul and his friends are "thrown away." They serve One who has been resurrected. That One has a common destiny for His servants and the people they serve. One day, they will be led "into his presence" (verse 14, NRSV).
|What gives you hope during stressful times? What difference does such hope make in your life? In what ways can you impart hope to those facing trying circumstances?|
Compare the summary of Paul's afflictions in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 with lists he provides elsewhere:
1 Cor. 4:9-13 ___________________________________________________
2 Cor. 6:4, 5 ___________________________________________________
2 Cor. 11:23-29 _________________________________________________
2 Cor. 12:10 ____________________________________________________
Think of two or three of your friends who minister on behalf of Jesus. What types of affliction do they experience as a result of their efforts? How have you suffered as a result of your witness?
Paul adds to our understanding of the role of suffering in Christian life and ministry. He sees God at work in the trials he experiences. The fact that Paul is "afflicted in every way" (2 Cor. 4:8, NRSV) allows us to understand that he is the bearer of a divine treasure. And while Paul experiences "death," it brings "life" to others (verse 12). Also, Paul sees God's hand at work in limiting his suffering. He and his friends are "hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair ; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (verses 8, 9, NIV; compare 1 Cor. 10:13). Most inspiring of all, Paul comas to understand that suffering hardships to bring life to others is a reflection of his Lord's work (2 Cor. 4:10-12).
If the treasure in our earthen vessels is what is so precious, why do we concern ourselves so much with the vessels? 2 Cor. 2:7.
"Our weakness is no barrier to the purposes of God. Self-reliance is the barrier. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of focusing on the container, either in awe or in criticism. Look to the treasure. As someone put it years ago, 'It is impossible to impress people with your own cleverness and at the same time to impress them with the wonder of Jesus Christ. "'Louis Venden in the Richards Lectureship Series, October 22 and 23, 1995, Andrews University.
|What can you do today to develop the endurance and loyalty to the gospel in the face of hardship that Paul consistently showed?|
FURTHER STUDY: In Romans 5:1-5, what attitude toward suffering does Paul view as a result of justification by faith? Review Paul's understanding of the benefits of suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.
"Let us then put away all self-exaltation. As long as the cross of Calvary stands as a monument of' the cost of our salvation, as a reminder of the amazing love and humiliation of the King of glory, let us walk in its shadow, and seek to reflect the character of our Redeemer. Go to him as a perfect Saviour, for He has said, 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.' There is no reason why we should seek to exalt ourselves, for we are full of weakness. As you realize this, trust in Him whose grace is sufficient for you, for 'we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.' "The Signs of the Times, March 9, 1888.
SUMMARY: In His mercy, God commissions Christians to share "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." In fulfilling this commission, we may experience all types of trouble. But no trouble can dim the privilege of bearing the treasure of the gospel to a destitute world.
Simon Vieira Morase Neto
After studying the Bible with me for two months, Sidraque decided to be baptized. He was concerned about what his family's response would be, so I agreed to pray with him that God would soften their hearts.
He contacted them and told them that he had found the Seventh day Adventist church in Sao Luis and had been studying the Bible with an Adventist. Then he told them of his decision to be baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist. His mother had heard that some religious sects were kidnapping and brainwashing young people. She feared that Sidraque had fallen into the hands of one of these groups, and reacted strongly. "If you join this church, forget that I am your mother!"
However, Sidraque's father, who was quite ill at the time, told his son, "If it is your desire, and if it is for your good, you may be baptized."
Sidraque wanted me to visit his father. He told me, "I don't want my father to die without knowing what I have learned. And if he should die before I am 18, my mother won't let me get baptized."
But Sidraque's family lived a long distance from Sao Luis, and I would not be able to go for several months. Because Sidraque wanted his parents' blessing on his baptism, he decided to wait. However, just after Sidraque turned 18, his father died. A few weeks later Sidraque and his three cousins, who had been studying with him, set the date for their baptism. I urged him to invite his family. His mother and brothers, who had objected to his baptism, agreed to come.
As he had promised, Sidraque completed his classes and prepared for his exams. When he did not pass, he accepted this as an answer to prayer. Now he attends the theological seminary in Brazil to prepare for the ministry. During his vacations he colporteurs to earn his school tuition. His brothers, who had initially objected to his joining the church, are helping him with his tuition.
"I always wanted to become a soldier in Brazil's army," Sidraque says. "But now I am training to be a soldier in God's army, not to win W. wars for a country, but to win souls for God's kingdom; not to A receive medals as a hero, but to receive trophies from the King of Kings; not to kill, but to bring life through Jesus Christ."
Simon Vieira Morase Neto is assistant accountant in the Maranhao Mission.
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