August 23 - 29
"The Ministry the Saints"
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Cor. 8:16-9:15.
MEMORY TEXT: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: We are called to contribute our resources to the cause of God, not to make ourselves poor, but so we might experience God's blessings.
HAVE YOU EVER GIVEN A GIFT FROM MIXED MOTIVES? "Dear Jim," the letter began. "Last week I knelt at the prayer altar to pray for every member in the prayer book, and I wanted to pray for you. But your name was not there:' The letter continued, its message implying, "All manner of good things can happen to you if you will only put your name back in the book. A few dollars in the envelope is little enough to pay for that!" All too many "Christian" ministries use such doubtful motivations coupled with the hype of television programming and the so-called personalization of mass trading.
If Paul were to direct a fund-raising campaign, how would he organize it? What would motivate him? What efforts would he invest to make sure the event was above criticism? Second Corinthians 8:16-9:15 gives us the chance to watch Paul the fund-raiser at work and to grow in our understanding of what it means to use our money in "the ministry to the saints" (2 Cor. 9:1, NRSV).
No sooner have the Corinthian Christians renewed their loyalty to Paul than he asks them to give generously to the "collection for the saints." The project is obviously important to Paul, because we see him doing all he can to persuade the Corinthians. Among the strategies Paul uses is to send a delegation of three people to gather the funds.
For what is the first "brother" who is mentioned known? 2 Cor. 8:18, 19.
For what is the second "brother" who is mentioned known? 2 Cor. 8:22.
Healthy church organization and finances are based on the hints found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul is interested that, in a joint project, local congregations be represented. So he lays the groundwork for representative church organization.
Also, the integrity of church finances must be carefully guarded. Between the introduction of the two "brothers," Paul states his motivation in assembling the delegation: "We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of others" (verses 20, 21, NRSV). Each of the three delegates was a capable person of noble character. Paul did not send three because each was a questionable individual or because the safety of the gift needed to be assured. Any one of the three would have carried out the duties honestly and efficiently. Any one of the three would have done what was right "in the Lord's sight." However, this project was so important, its success so closely tied to the advancement of the church itself, it was deserving of every safeguard. It must not only be right before God; others must see it to be so.
"Strict honesty may not always be sufficient in money matters, where the least carelessness may become the occasion for criticism. The Christian minister, especially, must exercise scrupulous care in handling money matters."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 893.
|How can the following quote help to change any part of your behavior? "Everything God's people do should be as transparent as sunlight. Escaping detection does not justify crime, and make it honesty and righteousness."Review and Herald, Nov. 18, 1890. What does it mean to be "as transparent as sunlight" in your relationship with God and others around you?|
Describe the mission of Titus to the Corinthians. What was its goal? Did he accomplish it? 2 Cor. 7:2-16.
What role was Titus to play in conjunction with "The collection"? 2 Cor. 8:6, 16-24. What high words of praise does Paul write of Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:16, 23?
The book of Acts and Paul's letters mention some one hundred individuals as associated with him in ministry. Some assisted with his preaching, teaching, or writing. Others provided housing or helped to pay for Paul's mission. That so many were involved with Paul's work shows his commitment to teamwork and the ministry of all believers. Within this large group of co-workers, Titus held an important place.
What role had Titus played as one of Paul's companions on an earlier trip to Jerusalem? Gal. 2:1-3.
On what later travels did Paul send Titus? What ministry did he perform? Titus 1:1-5; 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:9, 10.
Titus was with Paul from an early point in the apostle's ministry (Galatians 2) to the end of it (2 Tim. 4:10). Paul called Titus his "brother" (2 Cor. 2:13, NIV), "partner" and "co-worker" (2 Cor. 8:23, NRSV). He addressed a letter "To Titus, my true son in our common faith" (Titus 1:4, NIV). Paul placed great confidence in Titus and felt certain of his love for Christ and loyalty to himself and the gospel he proclaimed.
The apostle "recognized in his trusted associate a forceful, diplomatic, yet winsome and tactful personality."Frank Holbrook, "To Titus, My Son," Adventist Review, Jan. 10, 1985, p. 9. The opposition to Paul at Corinth required the exercise of just such skill. And Titus proved equal to the challenge. His success may be due in large part to the personal interest he took in the Corinthians and the genuine love he showed toward them (2 Cor. 8:16, 17).
|Have you, as did Titus, dedicated your talents and capabilities to God? What is the mission God wishes to accomplish through you? How are you responding to such mission?|
How does Paul explain his reasons for sending the three men to Corinth? 2 Cor. 9:1-5.
Paul has just boasted to the Corinthians about the voluntary generosity of the Macedonians (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Now we learn that he has been boasting to the Macedonians about the charity of the Corinthian Christians. In fact, the Corinthians' eagerness helped to motivate the Macedonians (2 Cor. 9:2). Paul has become fearful that the reality may not live up to his praise. He worries about the embarrassment that would result if he were to arrive in Corinth with some Macedonians only to find that his boasts of them were empty ones.
Paul wants the gift of the Corinthians to be voluntary. Yet his own appeal is strong. How would you distinguish between appropriate Christian persuasion and inappropriate pressure?
Listed in the order in which they appear in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the motivations for giving could be summarized as follows:
1. That their generosity might be as "excellent" as their spiritual accomplishments in other areas (8:7);
2. As an appropriate response of thanksgiving for the gospel (8:9; 9:11-13, 15);
3. That their earlier eagerness might be matched by eagerly completing the gift (8:10, 11);
4. To advance a "fair balance" within the Christian family (8:13-15, NRSV);
5. To relieve the needs, of poor Christians in Jerusalem (9:1, 12);
6. To avoid embarrassment in the face of a visit by Paul and representatives from Macedonia (9:1-5);
7. To participate in the blessings of generosity (9:6-11);
8. To bring a new level of community to the church (9:14).
Using the above list, which motivations would you regard as the most significant? Which would you regard as the least important? Why? What motivates you to give?
|How does, the following text motivate you to give generously? "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things (Rom. 8:32 KJV).|
What spiritual principle is active in the lives of those who give cheerfully and generously? 2 Cor. 9:6-12.
Christian liberality is rooted in God's generosity. That God treasures the cheerful giver should not be a surprise-He Himself is the cheerful Giver (2 Cor. 9:15).
How can we determine whether we are being truly cheerful and generous in our giving?
A Christian journal recently published a list of questions for self-examination. The list, titled, "Am I Greedy?" included the following questions:
1. If I fantasize about winning a magazine sweepstakes, what most comes to mind is: (a) what I could do for others with all that money; (b) what I could buy, the vacations I could take, and the freedom to do what I want.
2. When I hear of someone with about the same talents and energy and education as I have who earns $20, 000 a year more than I do, I think: (a) how nice that he or she can earn that much money; (b) it's not fair....
3. When I give money to the church or other charitable organization, I typically: (a) think with pleasure about the good that may be done with my money; (b) think of the things I could have done with the money if I hadn't given it away.
4. If I lend $15 to someone I meet at a retreat: (a) I don't mind much if I never see the money again; (b) I get pretty upset if the person doesn't repay me.
5. When I give money to the church, I do so because: (a) I like to see the church doing well; (b) I feel it wouldn't be right to not give. Christianity Today, April 8, 1996, p. 33.
"It were better not to give at all than to give grudgingly; for if we impart of our means when we have not the spirit to give freely, we mock God. Let us bear in mind that we are dealing with One upon whom we depend for every blessing, One who reads every thought of the heart, every purpose of the mind."Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1105.
|Think about it: "As regularly as the -resources of the, cheerful giver are taxed by his generous giving, they are replenished by divine grace."Murray J. Harris, Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976), p. 376.|
What is God's attitude toward the poor? Ps. 146:5-9; Isa. 3:13-15.
In our study of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, it would be possible for us to focus on the need for contributing eagerly to God's cause and the importance of integrity in church finance yet still miss a major point. Paul's enthusiasm for his relief project invites us to consider our treatment of the poor.
What does God expect from His people whom He has blessed with financial means? 2 Cor. 9:6-15; Ps. 112 (note that Paul quotes verse 9); 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
"God never meant that the widespread misery in the world should exist.... The means over and above the actual necessities of life are entrusted to man to do good, to bless humanity.
"The Lord says, 'Sell that ye have, and give alms.' Luke 12:33. Be 'ready to distribute, willing to communicate.' 1 Tim. 6:18. 'When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.' Luke 14:13. 'Loose the bands of wickedness,' 'undo the heavy burdens,' 'let the oppressed go free,' 'break every yoke.' 'Deal thy bread to the hungry,' 'bring the poor that awe cast out to thy house.' 'When thou seest the naked ... cover him.' 'Satisfy the afflicted soul.' Isa. 58:6, 7, 10. 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.' Mark 16:15. These are the Lord's commands. Are the great body of professed Christians doing this work? "Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 370, 371.
Who should be the special focus of our concern when sharing with the poor? Acts 4:32-35; 6:4; Gal. 6:10.
|Imagine a family in the church whose lack of skill and discipline in their personal finances is obvious. At this point, they are having difficulty putting food on the table. Which of the following strategies should the local congregation use? Can you think of others? (1) Provide emergency assistance until the family can apply for government aid; (2) Set up a mentoring relationship with a church family who exemplifies both dedication and success in managing personal finances; (3) Provide training in personal finances, counseling with a Christian finance counselor, etc.|
FURTHER STUDY: Using a concordance, look up the word poor to find more biblical counsel regarding that topic.
The collection, drawn from Ellen White's writings in Welfare Ministry, dials with our ministry to the poor. Note section VII of that volume, "The Poor," pp. 169-208.
"Money is a needed treasure. Do not lavish it upon those who need it not. Someone needs your willing gifts. There are those in the world who are hungry, starving. You may say, I cannot feed them all. But by practicing Christ's lessons of economy, you can feed one. 'Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost' [John 6:12]. These words were spoken by Him whose power wrought a miracle to supply the needs of a hungry multitude."Counsels on Stewardship, p.37.
SUMMARY: With joy in our hearts for "God's unspeakable gift," in Christ, Paul invites us to (1) reflect God's own generosity as we support the ministry of His church; (2) urge one another to meet highest standards of integrity in financial affairs; and (3) minister to those in need.
Blessing in Blindness, Part 2
Chen's blindness had left for sad and lonely. She sought comfort in God and attended several Three-Self churches in China. But she found the teachings shallow. Then Li, a friend of her mother, invited Chen to a Bible study group in her church. When Chen hesitated, Li challenged her to answer the questions on a Bible lesson. When Chen could not answer the questions, she agreed to go. She soon discovered that there was much she did not know about God.
Some of the questions on the Bible lessons puzzled Chen. "If God commanded that His followers worship Him on a special day, why do most Christians not worship on that day?" As Li and Chen studied together, Chen found answers to these questions and many others. She also found a closer walk with God.
Chen began attending Sabbath services at Li's church. Because she was blind, her husband, Hua, took her to the meetings and waited outside for her. But Chen shared what she was learning with Hua, and in time he began to join her in studying the lessons and attending worship services.
Hua became convicted of his sinfulness and accepted Jesus as his Saviour too. Chen and Hua studied the Bible with Li and the pastor, and were baptized together just a few months ago.
Now Chen feels truly happy and fulfilled. Her husband, Hua, feels peace in his heart that he never knew was possible. This young couple has pledged to make Jesus the Lord of their home. Chen no longer cries over her blindness. She can look back on her life and see that God turned a tragedy into a blessing.
"Had I not been blind," she said, "I might never have felt the need for God that led me to attend church. And perhaps Hua would not have taken me to the church, where he found God too."
Chen and Hua know that all things, even seemingly bad things, can work for good to bring people to Jesus. Chen is willing to wait until Jesus comes to see again. For now, she only wants to live in the center of God's will. And for that she does rot need physical sight.
Hua, Chen, and their daughter, Yi Yuen (left), live in Shanghai, China. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of the Mission quarterlies.
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