September 6 - 12
Engaged in Ministry
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Cor. 11:1-33.
MEMORY TEXT: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: We, the church, are engaged to the divine Bridegroom. And we live in a time when our loyalty to Him is being tested. Inspired by the thought of the wedding yet to come, we must remain true.
WEDDINGS ARE MARVELOUS OCCASIONS, causing deep emotions. It was no different in ancient times. And Paul draws on the setting of engagement and marriage to present a sensitive subject to the believers in Corinth. Their loyalty to Christ is at risk because of their fascination with the "super-apostles" opposing Paul.
Paul, the friend of the Groom, is "jealous" for Christ, the absentee bridegroom. He worries that other suitors are wooing the Corinthians. At their conversion, Paul had arranged the engagement between the Corinthian believers and Christ. Paul anticipates the wedding, the second coming of Christ, as the time when he will have the honor of presenting the bride, the Corinthian church, to the Bridegroom, the returning Lord.
How are you preparing for your own wedding to Jesus, your Bridegroom?
What worries does Paul express regarding the Corinthian believers? 2 Cor. 11:1-6.
At the opening of 2 Corinthians 11 , Paul starts his "fool's speech" (see verse 1). But he begins to stray from this speech (verses 2-15) when he identifies the Corinthian church as the bride-to-be of Christ, the Bridegroom.
If we read the passage with modern weddings in mind, we may miss the full force of Paul's imagery. In ancient times, both Jews and Gentiles took a marriage engagement far more seriously than people do today in the Western world. Now when two engaged persons decide to end their relationship, they face no legal complications. But in the ancient setting, engagement carried with it a legal status that must be settled in court. Unfaithfulness to an engaged partner was considered adultery. Thus, Paul's use of the engagement theme in 2 Corinthians 11 "stresses the seriousness and permanency of the Corinthians' past encounter with God's elective love."Richard Batey, New Testament Nuptial Imagery (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971), p. 13.
With the help of the introduction to this week's lesson, identify each
of the following elements of Paul's imagery. What does he mean by:
the period of betrothal;
"another Jesus" (verse 4, NRSV);
picturing himself as involved in the marriage arrangements;
the future "presentation" of the bride?
Paul had participated in arranging the betrothal and looked forward to "presenting the bride." In the context of ancient wedding customs, it may be best to see Paul as identifying himself as the groom's "best man." (See John 3:29, 30 where John the Baptist describes himself as the "friend of the bridegroom," Jesus.) Such a one played a role in the betrothal and presentation and also had a measure of responsibility in guarding the bridegroom's interests during the period of betrothal. A friend of the Groom, Paul is "jealous" that the affections of the bride be reserved for the Groom to whom he promised her.
|In this period of engagement, how loyal are you to the divine Bridegroom? What have you done that could be disloyal? What should you do about this and when?|
Recall a wedding that you attended or in which you took part (perhaps as the bride or as the one who presented her). How did you feel at the moment of "presentation"?
The ancient wedding ceremony began with an evening torchlight procession when the bride left her father's house to go to the bridegroom's. The bride proceeded to the groom's residence on a litter, surrounded by friends, relatives, and musicians. The groom's procession, including the best man, relatives, friends, and more musicians met them on their way. Imagine when the two groups met!
The wedding blessings and ceremonies took place in the groom's home for seven days or longer. The end came with the presentation of the bride to the groom by the "best man."
In identifying the Corinthian church as bride and Christ as bridegroom, Paul refers to the Old Testament. See the following passages: the entire book of Hosea, especially 2:19, 20; Jer. 31:31, 32; Isa. 62:4, 5; and Ezekiel 16, 23. Compare and contrast the characteristics of the bridegroom with those of the bride.
The Corinthian believers are living in an important time-the time between their engagement to Christ (their conversion) and their "presentation" at the Bridegroom's return (the Second Coming). During this time, Paul's opponents in Corinth are trying to steal the affections of the Corinthian church members. The members' main concern (and our own) is to remain loyal to Him.
"Christ has made every provision that His church shall be a transformed body, illumined with the Light of the world, possessing the glory of Emmanuel. It is His purpose that every Christian shall be surrounded with a spiritual atmosphere of light and peace. He desires that we shall reveal His own joy in our lives."Christ's Object Lessons, p. 419.
|Meditate upon the following: "And I heard what sounded like a vast throng, like the sound of a mighty torrent or of great peals of thunder, and they cried: Hallelujah! The Lord our God, soverign over all, has entered on his reign! Let us rejoice and shout for joy and pay homage to him, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come! His bride has made herself ready, and she has been given fine linen, shining and clean, to wear.' " (Rev. 19:6-8, REB).|
What negative things are Paul's opponents saying about him? 2 Cor. 11:7-15.
The accusations include the following. Paul:
1. is bold at a distance, but meek "face to face" (10:1, 10,11; 13:10);
2. lives "by the standards of this world" (10:2, NIV);
3. boasts too much of his own authority (10:8);
4. comes off badly when compared to the "super-apostles" (10:12-18; 11:5, 12-33; 12:11);
5. has overstepped his limits in his ministry at Corinth (10:14);
6. has failed to accept appropriate support from Corinth (11:7; 12:13);
7. is deficient as a public speaker (10:10, 14);
8. does not love the Corinthians (11:11);
9. attempts to take financial advantage of the Corinthian believers (12:14-18).
It seems strange that they accuse Paul of not accepting support from the Corinthians. But perhaps two social expectations may help us understand this. First, manual labor was frowned upon. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) wrote: "Unbecoming to a gentleman ... and vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill . . ."On Duties, 1:150, 151. So perhaps they attacked Paul for being a "tentmaker."
Second, the wealthy expressed power by becoming patrons. And refusing such patronage was tactless. "The Corinthians want their apostle to have honor in society and want to share in that honor by supporting him. So they ask whether or not Paul deserves to be honored as a true apostle if he refuses to accept true apostolic support."J. M. Everts in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 295.
Does Paul change his practice and begin to accept support from Corinth? Why or why not? 2 Cor. 11:7-12.
Unlike Paul, the "super-apostles" did accept financial support from the Corinthians. But Paul will not allow himself to be like them by adopting their ways. In spite of social customs, he believes his practice of "the gospel for free" is the wisest and most effective. What can we learn from this that will help us in our ministry?
|How do you react when accusations are leveled against you in your ministry? What lessons can you learn from Paul?|
What negative view does Paul give of his opponents' work? 2 Cor. 11:12-15.
Paul argues from the greater, Satan, to the lesser, Satan's workers. If Satan's method is to appear as an angel of light, it should not surprise us that his helpers appear in costume, as well. Paul provides us with a timely reminder that not all things and all people are as they seem. "Deceitful workers" still come packaged as "apostles of Christ" and Satan's assistants as "ministers of righteousness." We must "prove all things" and "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21, KJV).
Based on your study of 2 Corinthians 10-13 so far, contrast the view of apostleship and Christian ministry held by Paul with the view held by his opponents.
Paul and his opponents clearly disagree on the basis for judging who is a real apostle. The opponents believed a candidate should have excellent qualifications. Such a person should look good, speak well, carry impressive letters of recommendation, be authoritative in dealing with others, have a pure Hebrew heritage, experience many visions and revelations (12:1), and perform signs and wonders (12:11-13).
Paul uses a "fool's speech" because, while he is willing to match qualifactions with the "super-apostles," he believes their way of evaluating Christian apostleship is poor. For Paul, an apostle should be judged by a fruitful ministry (3:2, 3) and will glorify the power of Christ even in his weakness and suffering.
"We have here, then, two quite different ways of evaluating authentic ministry. The one is triumphalist and stresses only the manifestations of power and authority without any place for weakness and suffering. The other, while also affirming the importance of power and authority, insists that these do not belong to the apostle himself but depend wholly upon the activity of God who chooses to let his power rest upon his servants in their weakness and to manifest his power through the folly of gospel preaching."Colin Kruse, New Bible Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), P. 1191.
|Compare Christ's ministry to Paul's criteria, then his opponents' criteria. Which of the two sets of criteria would you really rather believe in and follow?|
When Paul met Christ on the Damascus road, what warning did he receive regarding his ministry? Acts 9:15, 16. How completely did the warning come true? 2 Cor. 11:21-29.
Paul shares a list of his hardships so people will know he is a better "minister of Christ" (verse 23, NRSV) than the "super-apostles." For him, his difficulties are a badge of honor. And he often discusses suffering as it relates to ministry. He also lists his traumas elsewhere in the Corinthian letters: 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 6:4, 5; 12:1. Paul did not believe his afflictions disproved his calling. Rather, they helped to prove it. "For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do" (2 Tim. 1:11, 12, NRSV).
Paul developed a deep spiritual understanding of his suffering. Through his suffering, God was showing the reality of Christ's death and resurrection. "For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11, NRSV).
"In all ages Satan has persecuted the people of God. He has tortured them and put them to death, but in dying they became conquerors. They bore witness to the power of One mightier than Satan. Wicked men may torture and kill the body, but they cannot touch the life that is hid with Christ in God. They can incarcerate men and women in prison walls, but they cannot bind the spirit."The Acts of the Apostles, p. 576.
What insight does 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 provide into Paul's life? What specific event does Paul mention at the end of the section and why? (Compare Acts 9:19-25.)
Paul's list reminds us of our limited knowledge of his life. We know of only one imprisonment before the writing of 2 Corinthians (at Philippi, Acts 16:19-40). Yet Paul recalls "far more imprisonments." Likewise, Acts describes only one shipwreck, which took place after this point in his life. But he mentions three.
|How do you look upon a fellow church member who suffers? Have you really adopted Paul's view of suffering in Christian life and ministry? If not, why not? How can you let the Lord help you in this area?|
FURTHER STUDY: We find wedding symbolism used elsewhere in the New Testament to compare the relationship between Christ and His people. Study the following passages: Matthew 22:1-14 (the parable of the wedding banquet; compare Luke 14:15-24); Matt. 25:1-13 (the parable of the ten bridesmaids); Mark 2:18-20 (compare Matt. 9:14, 15; Luke 5:33-35); Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 19:6-10; 21:2, 9-21.
Read The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 33, "Laboring Under Difficulties," pp. 346-358.
"The eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians contains much instruction. It reveals to us that men who are liable to view matters after human eyesight may make very grave mistakes if they engage in a work that God has not appointed, but condemned. That work is to criticize, to climb upon the judgment seat, and pronounce sentence. How much better would it be for the spiritual advancement of such to look well to their own shortcomings and defects of character through watchful examination of their own hearts, to try to remove from them the beam of faultfinding, of evil surmising, of evil speaking, of bearing false witness, of hatred, and accusing of the brethren."Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1105.
Regarding Paul's work in Ephesus, Ellen White writes the following: "Amidst the constant storm of opposition, the clamor of enemies, and the desertion of friends, the intrepid apostle almost lost heart. But he looked back to Calvary, and with new ardor pressed on to spread the knowledge of the Crucified. He was but treading the bloodstained path that Christ had trodden before him. He sought no discharge from the warfare till he should lay off his armor at the feet of his Redeemer."The Acts of the Apostles, p. 297.
SUMMARY: If we are genuine in our ministry, we will reflect the life of the One for whom we minister. And we will show the same concern as Paul, who called for Christians to focus their affections on Christ.
With Charcoal and Prayer
Sparks shot skyward as four men, brandishing blazing branches, ran between the fire and the hut. Inside the grass-roofed hut, villagers punched machete knives through cracks in the hut's floor and walls to drive out the evil spirits. In the corner of the hut, an old man waved burning ginger root over the stomach of a woman curled up on a sleeping mat. A rumble of chants filled the night.
Punsoray, lying on her mat, groaned, and the villagers redoubled their efforts to chase away the evil spirits that tormented her. The rising noise awoke student missionary Marisa Miller, sleeping in the far end of the village. She made her way to the hut and examined Punsoray. Then she hurried to our home.
"A woman in Tanoy's house has severe stomach pain," Marisa spoke into the darkness. Dawn Holbrook dressed, grabbed her bag, and followed the narrow path to Tanoy's house. She found Punsoray curled up in a ball, moaning softly. Dawn looked at Tanoy.
"Is it OK to treat her?" Dawn asked, shouting above the noise. Tanoy nodded reluctantly. Dawn mixed some charcoal into a glass of water, then helped Punsoray sit up and drink it. Punsoray made a weak protest at the taste of charcoal, then she lay down again.
"May I pray?" Dawn shouted toward Tanoy. Again he nodded. The spirits had not left; it was time to try something else. Dawn prayed a simple prayer, asking God to heal Punsoray. Then she left the hut, promising to check on her in the morning.
The next morning Dawn walked to Tanoy's house to check on Punsoray. But Punsoray was not there. Fear gripped Dawn. Had the woman died? Had the family taken her somewhere? She began asking, "Where is Punsoray? Have you seen her today?"
"Yes, she is working in her kiengan (mountain garden)."
"When did she begin to feel better?" Dawn asked, amazed. The woman shrugged her shoulders and turned to enter her house.
Several weeks later a villager asked Dawn, "Do you remember when Punsoray was sick, and the evil spirits would not leave her? You came and prayed for her." Dawn nodded. "The next day the news was all over the village. Tanoy had been practicing his medicine for two hours without results. But after your medicine and prayer, the pain left her within 15 minutes!"
We serve an awesome God, and we praise Him for answered prayer and the testimony of His healing power.
Dawn and Tim Holbrook are Adventist Frontier Missionaries. working among the Alangon people in the Philippines.
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