August 30 - September 5
"Armed for Ministry"
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Cor. 10:1-18.
MEMORY TEXT: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: In the use of spiritual weapons to spread the gospel, Paul gives us an example to follow.
GOD OFFERS US HIS OWN RESOURCES IN OUR MINISTRY FOR HIM. In Paul's world, the Roman military controlled warfare with its well-trained soldiers and siegeworks. Machines called tormenta launched javelins, arrows, and rocks. In 1902, Kaiser Wilhelm II built working reproductions of some of these machines. An arrow shot from one hit the center of a target at 50 meters (160 ft.) and a second arrow split the first!
Faced with fresh opposition at Corinth, Paul responded strongly (2 Cor. 10-13). In doing so, he lays claim to the stockpile of God's own defense. However powerful the weapons of Rome, Paul knows of still mightier ones. Military strategists would mock this stockpile, which features "weapons" like truth, faith, and prayer. But Paul knows their real force. In an age of Stealth bombers, space-based lasers, and guided missiles, Paul's point is still true. God arms us for His ministry, not with the weak weapons of the world, but with His own powerful weapons. As you study this week's lesson, ask yourself, How well-armored am I?
Read 2 Corinthians 10-13 through quickly in one sitting. How does the tone of this section contrast with 2 Corinthians 1-9? How do you explain the difference?
These chapters have been called the saddest and the sorest chapters Paul ever wrote. Recently they have been referred to as "a passionate, almost brutal defense" of Paul's authority and "a masterpiece of savage irony. "Stephen L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student's Introduction, 2nd ed. (Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1995), p. 260.
Marking chapters 1-9 is a sense of reconciliation and rejoicing over the response of the Corinthian believers to Paul's efforts to correct their waywardness. But in chapters 10-13, Paul is sometimes on the defensive regarding his own reputation and sometimes on the offensive regarding his opponents. These chapters contain some of the strongest language in all of Paul's writings as he draws on a variety of devices to make his point.
Second Corinthians 10-13 may be outlined as follows:
|I.||Paul Appeals for Obedience (10:1-18)|
|A. Paul's divinely issued weapons
B. Paul's authority questioned (10:7-11)
C. Paul's jurisdiction threatened (10:12-18)
|II.||Paul's "Fool's Speech" (11:1-12:13)|
|A. The "fool's speech" introduced
B. A digression: the church at Corinth as engaged bride and the "super- apostles" (11:2-15)
C. Boasting as a "fool" (11:16-21 a)
D. Boasting of heritage and trials (11:2lb-33)
E. Boasting of visions and weaknesses (12:1-10)
F. Summary (12:11-13)
|III.||Paul Answers Further Charges and Issues More Warnings (12:14-13:10)|
|A. Paul is not practicing fraud
B. Paul does love the Corinthians (12:19-21)
C. Paul warns of his third visit (13:1-4)
D. Exhortation to practice self-examination and conclusion (13:5-14)
|Under what circumstances might it be appropriate to use strong rhetoric? How would you react to strong words spoken to you? How willing are you to use strong words when you need to?|
What is the setting of Paul's remarks on spiritual warfare? 2 Cor. 10:1-6.
In 2 Corinthians 10:1-6, Paul warns he may show "boldness" on his next visit and "punish every disobedience." In between such warnings (verses 1, 2, 6) is a description of the spiritual battle that he and his associates are fighting (verses 3-5). On the one hand, Paul's work reflects "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (verse 1, NIV). But on the other, he engages in spiritual warfare with weapons of "divine power." With such weapons, Paul declares victory-"We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ" (verses 4, 5, NRSV).
If what Paul says about the divine arsenal is true, why does it so often seem that "truth is forever on the scaffold and wrong forever on the throne"?
We may view 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 as following the progress of a victorious army. As the army tightens its siege of a city, it conquers the "strongholds" (verse 4, NIV). Then the invading army is free to overrun the walls. No "obstacle" can resist (verse 5, NRSV). After the army breaches the walls, they capture the citizens (verse 5). When the leaders of the rebellion are punished, victory is complete (verse 6).
Paul's converts in Corinth have personally experienced his use of spiritual weapons. Believing a variety of ideas, they found Paul besieging their own intellectual strongholds with the message of a risen and returning Lord Jesus. That experience should have made them think when Paul warned he would use God's weapons again!
"When the gospel endeavours to penetrate the human heart it meets with earthworks of prejudice, which men have cast up to screen their minds from the force of the truth.... Let but the gospel come with power, and all these citadels are laid low. Away they go, like Jericho's old bulwarks, rocking and reeling, till in a cloud of dust they thunder to their fall."Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Bible, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, n.d.), pp. 267-269.
|How have your prejudices and opinions fallen before the power of the gospel? Which ones may still need to fall?|
Paul uses military imagery as a way of explaining Christian life and ministry. Reflect on the following passages. Then respond to the questions that follow: 1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Cor. 6:3-7; 10:1-6; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 6:10-20.
How can we know we are divinely equipped for the battle?
How can we fight a spiritual battle and still express "the meekness and gentleness of Christ"? (2 Cor. 10:1, NRSV).
"Spiritual warfare" is presently a popular phrase in Christian circles. According to Paul, what exactly is it? What are some misunderstandings about this subject, and how can we deal with them?
How should we respond when the battle appears lost and someone turns away from God?
The context of Paul's remarks have to do with his response to his opponents at Corinth. However, Paul's description of his spiritual combat can guide our own struggle against evil. His words invite us to arm for spiritual combat and to reflect on the nature of the battle.
First, there is a sense in which this battle knows no human foe. Paul does confront his opponents. But the targets of the divine weapons are not so much people as "strongholds," "arguments," "proud obstacles," and "thoughts." If we target the people who support harmful concepts instead of the concepts themselves, we risk fighting "according to human standards" (verse 3, NRSV).
Second, Paul's victorious tone is worth some reflection. As we engage in ministry on behalf of Christ, we too often become discouraged about the outcome. We would do well to focus less upon what we march against and more on the weapons God provides.
|How can you begin doing so today? What are some of the "strongholds" you have been confronting? In what ways have you experienced God's mighty weapons pull down such strongholds"?|
What new charges do Paul's opponents make? 2 Cor. 10:7-11.
Paul is careful to make a distinction between his opponents at Corinth, who are visiting from elsewhere, and the Corinthian believers themselves. For his opponents, Paul seems to have little hope (2 Cor. 11:13-15). For the Corinthian believers, he hopes there will come a time when their "obedience is complete" (2 Cor. 10:6, NIV).
This distinction is clear when he writes, "For they [his opponents] say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible ' " (verse 10, NRSV; compare 10:1; 13:10). That the first point (Paul's letters are "weighty and strong") is a backhanded compliment is evident from the second point, that Paul's "'bodily presence is weak.'" That he is strong at a safe distance away from them, but weak when he is with them. The word for "weak" may be translated "sickly" and likely has Paul's infirmities in mind, as well as a retiring approach to opposition. One element of his weak personal presence is his lack of style. They rebuke Paul's speech as "'contemptible,'" a criticism that is reflected in Paul's later admission that he is "untrained in speech" (2 Cor. 11:6, NRSV; compare 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
What is the source and purpose of Paul's "authority"? 2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10 (compare 1 Cor. 3:10-17).
Paul makes two important claims. First, he claims an authority of divine origin. Second, he argues he has exercised that authority in a way that builds up the church. Anyone can claim to minister on the basis of divine authority. Isn't it appropriate to judge the source of someone's ministry by the results it brings in the church? That is, if a person, claiming God's gifts of ministry, actually "tears down" rather than "builds up," isn't it appropriate to question the divine origin of that person's calling?
"He [Satan] excites criticism, or insinuates doubts and unbelief. The speaker's [preacher's] choice of language or his manner may not please the hearers, and they dwell upon these defects. Thus the truth they need, and which God has graciously sent them, makes no lasting impressions. "Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 44, 45.
|How can we distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism? What kind of criticism do you tend to give?|
On what basis should we evaluate ourselves and others? 2 Cor. 10:12-18, especially verses 12, 18.
Many of us spend a lot of time and energy either evaluating others or being evaluated. From our first day in school, the teacher compares our performance with that of others. Employers are constantly assessing employees. Loan officers spend their days evaluating the financial soundness of would-be borrowers. However necessary such evaluations may be in business and education, Paul argues that when we assess the spirituality of others and ourselves, we must be extremely careful. On what basis do we measure ourselves and others? If we try to boost our spiritual standing by comparing ourselves with others, we are foolish indeed! There is only one source for true commendation "For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends" (2 Cor. 10:18, NRSV).
What missionary desire does Paul express? 2 Cor. 10:12-18 (see also Rom. 15:22-29). How cart you foster this missionary spirit?
In describing his own missionary activities, Paul reflects negatively on his opponents who have traveled to Corinth. When he came to Corinth he was a pioneer. He was not trespassing on anyone else's territory as they were on his. Rather than compare himself with other laborers in the same area, Paul wishes to push forward the frontier of Christian mission. Giving in to "righteousness by comparison" is no temptation for a pioneer.
Paul's missionary appetite cannot be satisfied. He seems always on the alert for the next field of service, ever thinking about some unreached shore. Paul's sense of world geography was incompletethere were entire continents to be won to Christ, of which he was unaware. How well has the dedication to mission expanded with our greater geographical insight?
With the help of a map, choose a country and follow the progress of the Adventist message there. What specific things will you do to help its advancement?
|Do you sometimes compare yourself and your accomplishments with others? What impact can God's acceptance and commendation have on this situation?|
FURTHER STUDY: Among the issues raised by 2 Corinthians 10-13 is how to employ God's gift of speech (including both speaking and writing). Study Paul's counsel in Ephesians 4:25-32. Is 2 Corinthians 10-13 an exception to his rule that speech should always build up? Explain your answer. How do you explain the strong speech in 2 Corinthians 10-13 in light of Ephesians 4:25-32?
"The religion of Christ never degrades the receiver; it never makes him coarse or rough, discourteous or self-important, passionate or hardhearted. On the contrary, it refines the taste, sanctifies the judgment, and purifies and ennobles the thoughts, bringing them into captivity to Christ. God's ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. He has given in His holy law a transcript of His character. "Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 63.
"When the heart is softened and subdued by the grace of Christ, there is peace and satisfaction in the soul; for the love of Christ rules in the heart, bringing into captivity the secret motives of action. Then the easily aroused temper is soothed by the oil of grace. The tumultuous heart at the word of Christ grows calm. When there is a sense of sins forgiven through the merit of the blood of Christ, and there is a consciousness of union with Christ, we are encouraged to strive more earnestly to correct every wrong habit, and our harsh manner will be refined and cease to work against the sanctifying influences of the truth, against the existence of the union which Christ prayed should be manifested among His disciples."Review and Herald, Jan. 2, 1894.
SUMMARY: God longs to arm us for ministry with His powerful weaponry. With Paul, we are always to be on the alert for some heart that Satan has barricaded against the truth. Seeking God's commendation on our service, we shall become true soldiers of the Cross.
Now I Have Hope
During the 70 years of Communism in Russia, many people stopped smiling. Even today, several years after the power of Communism was broken, one seldom sees a smile on the streets. A sense of gloom and hopelessness pervades the faces.
When Global Mission Pioneers began working in Neftekamsk, an oil-rich city in Russia, they visited people in their homes, schools, and nursing homes. In one nursing home, where elderly soldiers sat idly in wheelchairs or wasted away in dimly lit rooms, they met 17-year-old Anatoli. His mother had died; his alcoholic father had beaten him several times. To save him from further abuse, authorities sent Anatoli to live in this nursing home, because the city did not have an orphanage.
The Global Mission Pioneers invited Anatoli to evangelistic meetings they were holding. The quiet young man accepted the invitation. aFter the first meeting Anatoli was so excited that he invited several of his school friends to attend. These youth, who had been taught all their lives that there is no God, now heard the Word of God for the first time.
The Holy Spirit spoke to Anatoli's heart, and he responded to the invitation to follow Jesus. Having known so much pain and disappointment, Anatoli was thrilled to learn that God loves him and allowed Jesus to die for him. Anatoli drank in the truth that one day Jesus will come to take His faithful followers to a place called heaven, where there is no suffering or death. With joy he told us through the translator, "Thank you for telling me about Jesus and heaven. Now I have hope."
It was too cold to baptize the new believers in a nearby lake, so Anatoli and 17 others were baptized in the city's bathhouse. Clouds of steam filled the tiny room as the new believers shed an old way of thinking and living, and embraced a new life of hope and joy. The Global Mission Pioneers who introduced them to Christ will stay in the city for six months to nurture the new believers and introduce others to Jesus, who brings hope to sinners.
Anatoli (left); J. H. Zachary is the director of evangelism for The Quiet Hour, located in Redlands, California.
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