Lesson 5

July 26 - August 1

Ministry in Focus

READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Cor. 4:16-5:21.

MEMORY TEXT: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18, NKJV).

KEY THOUGHT: Accepting Christ's work on our behalf changes our outlook on everything. God's plan for us will guide the choices we make. And we will learn to value ourselves and others at the foot of an old, rugged cross.

Sabbath Afternoon July 25

TO MINISTER FOR CHRIST REQUIRES FOCUS. Have you ever watched a slide show that is slightly out of focus? The temptation is to shout, "Focus, please!" And when at last the blurred images clear-what a great relief.

Unlike a slide show, ministry is not a spectator activity. We must invest every fiber of our being to serve others on behalf of Jesus. But ministry does require focus. For each of us, the focus of our service for Christ, the "Why?" of our ministry, may slowly blur. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, Paul invites us to sharpen our focus on ministry. In view of God's reconciliation worked out in Christ's ministry on our behalf, we receive clearer vision of ourselves and others, plus the present and the future. We gain focus for reflecting God's own ministry in our lives.  

Sunday July 26

FOCUS ON OURSELVES (2 Cor. 4:16-5:5).

Paul's success in ministry does not depend on how others evaluate him but on how God views things. If one applies the usual measures of success, one may fault him for his physical appearance or his lack of confidence and eloquence (see 1 Cor. 2:3, 4; 2 Cor. 10:10). Also, one may think there must be something wrong with a person who experiences so many trials! But fortunately "The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7, RSV).

Paul viewed himself and his ministry from God's point of view.  How are you viewing yourself and your ministry?  2 Cor. 4:16-5:10.  What difference does it make to see things from God's perspective instead of our own?  

Paul seems to be saying, "If you wish to pass judgment on me and my ministry, you must not do so on the basis of this poor, battered frame. Instead, your judgment must be in agreement with that final and eternal opinion coming from the court of Christ" (verse 10). His judgment will not be based on the visible and temporary but on the invisible and eternal. "I have nothing to fear from such an investigation, for I have not based my life and ministry on short-lived values, but on eternal ones."

This passage is good news for all of us who gaze into the mirror and find fresh evidence of our mortality. Our true significance and worth is not reflected in deepening wrinkles and receding hairlines. Disease and disability may afflict our mortal bodies. But God has a far greater reality in store for us! What really matters ultimately is how God views us and the blessed hope awaiting us. These are the eternal realities that we need to focus on during our earthly pilgrimage.

To discover what that greater reality is, read 2 Corinthians 1:22; 4:16; 5:5; and Ephesians 1:14.  

What do the following verses mean to you? "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy." "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35:5, 6, 10, NRSV).   

Monday July 27

FOCUS ON THE FUTURE (2 Cor. 5:1-9).

Many believe that 2 Cor. 5:1-9 proves we will go immediately to heaven when we die. How would you explain the passage?  

In verses 1-5, Paul describes three human conditions. He does not focus on when the change will occur from one condition to the next. To discover Paul's description of these conditions, complete the following chart:

Earthly Life Death Heavenly Life
"the earthly tent" (verse 1, NIV) "When we have taken it [this tent] off (verse 3, NRSV)  
"this tent" (verses 2, 4, NIV)   "Our heavenly dwelling" (verse 2)
  "unclothed" (verse 4, NIV)   

Does Paul look forward to the "nakedness" of death as a time when he will be with the Lord?  When will believers be "at  home with the Lord"?  2 Cor. 5:2-9, NIV (compare John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:51-57).  

In 2 Cor. 5:6-9, Paul, employing the contrast of being at home or away from home, discusses the present and future conditions. While thinking that Paul is emphasizing what happens at death, we can continue the chart above as follows.

Earthly Life Death Heavenly Life
"at home in the body . . . away from the Lord" (verse 6) [verses 6-9 do not discuss death]  
"we walk by faith" (verse 7, KJV)   walking by "sight" (verse 7)
    "at home" (verse 9)

First Corinthians 15:51-57 is clear about when the dramatic change occurs. So Paul's readers already know that the blessed state of "at home with the Lord" begins at Christ's return.

As you read 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, meditate upon what this moment will mean to you, your friends, and your family. 

Tuesday July 28

FOCUS ON THE PRESENT (2 Cor. 4:16-18; 5:10).

How should we evaluate the afflictions and trials we experience?  2 Cor. 4:16-18.  

While Paul wants his readers to view clearly the future, he does not ask them to forget the present. To understand the present, they and we need to start looking through the wide-angle lens of the plan of redemption.

Paul refers to the present life as "the earthly tent" or "this tent" (2 Cor. 5:1, 2, 4, NIV). Our bodies are fragile and temporal. Paul agrees with the prayer "Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is" (Ps. 39:4, NRSV; compare Ps. 90:12). But God has in store for us a resurrection body—a "house." A tent is a temporary structure. But God's "house" is heavenly, permanent, and eternal.

What future event should guide our lives now?  2 Cor. 5:9, 10; Rom. 14:10.  Do we view such an event with anxiety and fear or with joyous anticipation? Why?  

Paul stresses the aim of the Christian life—to please the Lord. Later, he will urge, "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord" (Eph. 5:10, NRSV). To emphasize the importance of doing so, he points to our appointment before "the judgment seat of Christ." "Judgment seat" translates from a Greek term used for public seats of judgment and especially for the official seat higher-ranking Roman officials used when issuing their judgments. Paul had made an appearance before such a seat of the Roman proconsul Gallio in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). Towering far above all human courts is the judgment seat of Christ.

"He [Christ] is particularly fitted for this task. He is the world's Creator and its Redeemer. It is a most awesome thought that our Saviour is to be our judge. He took upon Him the nature of those who will come before His bar of justice (Phil. 2:6-8), those whose destiny He will decide. He suffered every temptation to which they have been subjected (Heb. 2:14-17; 4:15). He stood in man's place. In Christ divine wisdom is combined with human experience."—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 864.

In view of Paul's counsel, how might you evaluate (1) the daily challenges of seeking to be a good parent, spouse, or friend; (2) the priority of squeezing time for ministry into an already stretched schedule. 

Wednesday July 29

FOCUS ON PEOPLE (2 Cor. 5:11-17).

If we need to evaluate others, what attitudes should we have?  On what basis should a Christian evaluate others?  2 Cor. 5:11-17.  

All too often we characterize people by their weaknesses or the traumas they have experienced. We refer to someone as "the blind man" or "the crippled woman" or "the one who just got divorced." Our human eyes focus on a person's flaws. But God invites us to see people from His point of view.

The Corinthians were tempted to view Paul from a human point of view, to discredit lira because of his weaknesses and trials. Paul, however, learned a different outlook-not his own but his Lord's. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view" (verse 16, NRSV).

What was wrong with the way Paul once viewed Christ? 2 Cor. 5:16. 

Paul once viewed Christ from only a human viewpoint. Jesus was simply a misguided would-be messiah whose erring followers must be disciplined. But Paul learned to worship as Lord the One he had scorned. And with this transformation, he found that his view of all people changed drastically. He came to see Jesus as the Son of God. And he came to see all people as potential daughters and sons of God. Such vision motivates Paul's plea, "Be reconciled to God" (verse 20).

Francis Schaeffer once reflected upon the self-understanding of many Christians: "'It is wonderful to be a Christian, but I am such a small person, so limited in talents-or energy or psychological strength or knowledge-that what I do is not really important."' Schaeffer provided a corrective: "The Bible, however, has quite a different emphasis: With God there are no little people."—No Little People (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1974), p. 13. Paul invites us to measure both ourselves and others in the light of Calvary (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).

Often people need to evaluate other people.  For example, teachers grade pupils, and employers evaluate employees.  How could our evaluating procedures reflect the values of 2 Corinthians 5:11-17?  How could this passage affect our desire to "evaluate" (judge) people such as church officers, fellow members, a young member expelled from church school... ? 

Thursday July 30

FOCUS ON GOD IN CHRIST (2 Cor. 5:14-21).

As you read verses 14, 15, 18-21 out loud, try to recapture Paul's joy for God's work of reconciliation.   

These verses include at least three summaries of God's work for us. Each summary is an attempt to describe the indescribable-God's grace. With each is an explanation of the change God's work brings to our lives. Fill in the missing sections of the chart.

God's Work for Us Our Response to God's Work
1. Christ died for all (verses 14, 15). 1. We no longer live for ourselves but for Christ (verse 15).
2. God, in Christ, reconciled us to himself (verse 18). 2.
3. 3. In Christ we become the righteousness of God (verse 21).

Of all the descriptions of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, which do you find the most inspiring?  Why?   

"When men and women can more fully comprehend the magnitude of the great sacrifice which was made by the Majesty of heaven in dying in man's stead, then will the plan of salvation be magnified, and reflections of Calvary will awaken tender, sacred, and lively emotions in the Christians's heart.... This world will appear of but little value to those who appreciate the great price of man's redemption, the precious blood of God's dear Son. All the riches of the world are not of sufficient value to redeem one perishing soul. Who can measure the love Christ felt for a lost world as He hung upon the cross, suffering for the sins of guilty men? . . . "

"Upon this theme it is a sin to be calm and unimpassioned." Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, pp. 212, 213.

How have I allowed the gospel to transform me?  Am I living for Christ?  In what specific ways am I a minister of reconciliation? 

Friday July 31

FURTHER STUDY: Two additional points may prove helpful in sharing your views of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. (1) In 2 Corinthians 4:13, 14, Paul states his belief in the resurrection and indicates that being brought into "his [Christ's] presence" follows rather than comes before that event. (2) Second Timothy 4:6-8 indicates that Paul expected to receive his "crown" at Christ's return.

Philippians 1:18-26 is another of Paul's passages about death that many people misunderstand. Take time to reflect on it in light of our study on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Do some of the same insights apply? Note that Paul reflects elsewhere in Philippians his belief in the resurrection (or transformation) at Christ's return (Phil. 3:10, 11, 20, 21).

Read Ellen White's vision of "The Judgment" in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, pp. 384-387. What should be our attitude toward the judgment?

"Today, in the spirit and power of Elias and of John the Baptist, messengers of God's appointment are calling the attention of a judgment-bound world to the solemn events soon to take place in connection with the closing hours of probation and the appearance of Christ Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. Soon every man is to be judged for the deeds done in the body. The hour of God's judgment has come, and upon the members of His church on earth rests the solemn responsibility of giving warning to those who are standing as it were on the very brink of eternal ruin."—Prophets and Kings, p. 716.

1. Paul wrote whole letters dedicated to the theme that salvation is available to all on the basis of faith in Christ (Romans; Galatians).  How, then, can he describe a judgment based on works "done in the body, whether good or evil"? (2 Cor. 5:10, NRSV).  
2. How can we help people who have heard the story of Calvary again and again recapture the wonder of God's work in Christ? 

SUMMARY:  Just as Paul's perspectives were drastically transformed on the road to Damascus, our views will likewise be altered by a clear vision of Christ's work for us. Then we will learn to evaluate everything from the eternal perspective of God's plan of salvation. 

Treasure in a Trunk

J. H. Zachary

"If you speak any more about this Jesus or the Bible, you will be fired!" Rosa's boss threatened.

Rosa Faracova grew up in a Muslim home in the Russian Federation. In the face of Communist oppression, many people either set aside their religious practices or gave up their faith completely.

But in 1995, while sorting through her mother's things, Rosa discovered an old book hidden in a trunk. She thought it was a prayer book, but as she began reading, she discovered that it was an aging Bible that her mother had read in secret during the years of spiritual drought. As she read, she found stories of men and women who faced problems in life that were similar to her own. She thrilled to learn how God helped them. She began reading the Bible daily.

A year later Rosa saw an advertisement for a Bible class. She joined the class, and as she studied, she found new peace and hope. Six months later she and seven others were baptized and became the first Sabbath keepers in her city.

Rosa was eager to share her discoveries with her friends and fellow workers, all nominal Muslims. She wanted them to experience the joy she had found. But witnessing was hard. Some called her a traitor to her religion; others coldly refused to listen to her; then her boss told her not to speak of religion on the job.

Rosa, a single mother with a 7-year-old son, could not afford to risk losing her job. But she had to tell others what Jesus has done for her. "I long for my friends to come to know my Jesus as their Friend," she told me at a seminar where she was learning how to share her faith with her Muslim friends and relatives.

A new set of Bible study guides is being written and translated for believers like Rosa. Using the Muslim Quran and the Bible, these lessons highlight the points common to Adventism and Islam: faith in Jesus, the Sabbath, the Second Advent, healthful lifestyle, and the judgment, as well as others.

Pray for Rosa and hundreds like her as they share Jesus with others in the Russian Federation.

James H. Zachary is director of evangelism for The Quiet Hour in Redlands, California.

Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group.  You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-Day Adventist congregation.

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