21 May, 2024

May 12 Study | Perseverance

by | 6 May, 2024 | 0 comments

Unit: 2 Corinthians
Theme: Character
Lesson Text: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; 11:23-31
Supplemental Texts: Colossians 3:1-3; 2 Peter 3:8-14
Aim: “Fix [your] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

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By Mark Scott

Perseverance (nicknamed Percy) was a car-sized rover designed to explore the Jezero crater as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. It was so named because it had to persevere to reach its destination. Believers are also called to persevere to reach their destination. Perseverance means to continue to work to achieve something despite difficulties or opposition. It means to be tenacious, determined, resolved. The apostle Paul knew much about perseverance, and he wrote more about this quality in 2 Corinthians than in any of his Epistles. 

The text selections for this lesson come from two profound (and larger) passages about the ministry of the apostles and the church (2 Corinthians 2:14—7:16; 10:1—12:21). In the first selection, Paul was quite straightforward about his take on the ministry—i.e., didactic and plainspoken. In the second section, he used sarcasm to make his point. 

We Have This Ministry 
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 

Paul’s commendation from the church came from the fruit of his ministry with the people. Their lives were like letters from Jesus read by everyone. These “living letters” were a testament to the reality of the new covenant which promised freedom and transformation (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The mercy associated with this new covenant caused Paul twice to say he would not lose heart in this ministry (4:1, 16). He was all-in. 

Paul was so all-in that he had no interest in secret and shameful ways. He did not use deception, nor did he distort the word of God. Instead, Paul’s life was an open book. He presented God’s truth plainly (openly). If there was a veil over what Paul preached, it was to unbelievers due to the deception of the devil. The enemy so blinded people that they could not see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  

If Paul said anything about himself, as opposed to preaching Christ and him crucified, it was only that he was a servant for Jesus’ sake. Paul’s outward ministry was a product of the light of the gospel that moved him from the inside. In a verse of prepositional overload (v. 6), Paul said that God made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  

We Have This Treasure 
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 

Paul’s capacity for perseverance was rooted in the gospel, not in personal strength (i.e., the container that is the human body). He referred to that “container” as a jar of clay (or, as The Message phrases it, “the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives”). This is why Paul could give four contrasts of being pressed . . . but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  

The empowerment in these jars of clay was in proportion to Paul staying connected to Jesus. Just as a jar was used to carry contents (water, for example), so Paul carried around the gospel. The contents of that jar (Paul) were the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus called his followers to deny themselves and take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23), Paul knew that being given over to death (perhaps physically) was part of sharing in the life of Jesus.  

Paul employed Psalm 116:10 to advance his argument about his gospel in general and the resurrection in particular. Paul knew that jars of clay wear out (waste away). But because of the power of the gospel, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Troubles in this world prepare us for the world to come. 

We Have This Résumé
2 Corinthians 11:23-31 

Paul said, “We have this ministry,” and “We have this treasure. He did not say, “We have this résumé.” But he might well have said it because so much of the content of chapters 10–12 was Paul’s résumé or calling card. Instead of letters behind Paul’s name (e.g., BA, MDiv, or PhD), Paul listed trials as his claim to genuine ministry. And the tone of that list was sarcasm. In his defense, Paul used familiar techniques employed by other rhetoricians of his day. In addition to sarcasm, he used interrogation, apostrophe, and catalogs.  

Paul’s list is long and impressive. Just reading through it makes one feel spiritually puny. Paul listed eight persecutions (hard work, prison, floggings, exposure, beatings [with lashes and rods], being stoned, shipwrecked, and left in the open sea. He then listed eight ways, situations, and places that he faced danger (constantly on the run, rivers, bandits, people, city, country, sea, and false believers). Finally, he listed five challenging conditions he had endured (labor/toil, sleeplessness, scarcity of food, cold and exposure, and anxiousness).  

Most churches would think twice before employing Paul on their ministry staff. He was not afraid to list his weaknesses because it allowed him the privilege of boasting about God. His above-board approach to ministry gave him the confidence to persevere.  

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