Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND AND THE SUCCESS SYNDROME

How do we measure success in ministry? If we compare our ministries to other ministries, we will evaluate our success by "nickels and noses." Buildings and budgets, attendance and programs become tangible markers for ministry success. A comparison of these visible markers of ministry breeds either pride or despair depending on our success or lack of success. Discouragement drags us down as we look at what we see instead of what we can't see. Paul tells us that we avoid discouragement as long as we are not looking at the things which are seen, but (we are looking at) the things which are not seen because the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

The expression "while we are not looking at" (μὴ σκοπούντων ἡμῶν) is a genitive absolute explaining why our "light affliction" (v.17) does not cause us to lose heart (v.16). The use of the negative μὴ instead of οὐ indicates that the verb carries a conditional force (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.92). We do not become discouraged in ministry provided that, or if, we are not looking at the things which are seen. Our eyes are fixed on the things which are not seen giving us the perspective necessary to avoid discouragement.

The two verbs for "looking" are significantly different. The verb translated as long as we are not looking at (σκοπέω) carries connotations that the more general verb for looking (βλέπω), used four times in this verse, does not have. The generic "looking" (βλέπω) refers to mere sight, that which we see with our eyes. The more specific "looking" (σκοπέω) means to examine critically, to inspect carefully, like a judge examines the facts. The noun form (σκοπός) refers to a scout or watcher on the wall of a city. It can mean a target or a goal (TDNT, 7:413-416). Paul uses the noun when he says, I press on toward the goal (σκοπός) for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

We aim our gaze at the things which are not seen to avoid discouragement because the things which are seen are temporary (πρόσκαιρα). The word is better translated temporary, not temporal (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.159, fn 14). The things which are seen are time limited not merely time described. The visible things of this world including the visible markers for ministry success have a shelf life. The end date is stamped on all buildings and budgets. Measuring ministry by nickels and noses measures our success by that which ends instead of that which lasts forever.

What controls the focus of our lives? Where do we concentrate our sight? The church at Corinth to whom Paul was writing this letter was consumed with conflict which had discouraged him in the ministry (2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-6). The false apostles who were leading the people astray were highly successful in matters that were visible. They boasted about their visible ministry success (Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, p.390). Paul will address those boastings extensively later in his letter (2 Corinthians 10-13). Christians driven by the status and power visible in society will be consumed by disagreements about ministry. Conflict in church rises from an earthly focus. We need a whole new way of thinking about life if we are to avoid the success syndrome that leads to the slough of despond (2 Cor. 4:1, 16).

Aim determines attitude! Aiming at temporary and visible ministry success breeds discouragement. Aiming at eternal and invisible ministry goals keeps us encouraged in His service.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

THE RELATIVITY OF LIGHT AND HEAVY


Sometimes life is the pits. Pressure mounts. Circumstances compress our options to slim and none. We have two choices in the pits. We can compare our situation to our personal expectations and be discouraged. Or we can compare our circumstances to the end result of God's process and be encouraged. When we compare our plight to others in this life, our burden feels heavy. When we compare our circumstances to His eternal plan, our load is light. Light and heavy are relative to the standard we use to measure the weight. Paul wrote: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul sets up a parallelism here.

momentary, light affliction
vs.
eternal, weight of glory

Momentary (παραυτίκα) is the opposite of eternal (αἰώνιον). Light (ἐλαφρὸν) is the opposite of weight (βάρος). Affliction (θλίψεως) is the opposite of glory (δόξης). The word translated "momentary" means "on the spot" or "for the present" (BAGD, p.623). The trials we face are temporary - until life ends or the Lord returns (R&R, Key, p.465). The word translated "light" means easy to bear or insignificant. It can even mean frivolous or fickle! (BAGD, p.248). The word translated "affliction" means pressure generally brought on by outside circumstances (BAGD, p.362). Distress or tribulation presses us down from circumstances beyond our control.

The insignificant, frivolous pressures we find ourselves experiencing in life are producing for us an eternal and glorious result. The verb translated "producing" (κατεργάζεται) is in the present tense indicating that the action is ongoing action taking place in our lives right now. The verb means to achieve or accomplish something (BAGD, p.421). The pressures we face now are - right now - achieving something of inestimable value for us.

The value being accomplished is eternally weighty in glory. The expression "weight of glory" (βάρος δόξης) is likely a play on words from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word for "glory" can mean either to be heavy or to be honored. Job uses the word to refer to his grief being heavier than the sands of the sea (Job 6:3), but he also says that his sons might achieve honor or glory that he does not know about (Job 14:21). The same word is used for both heavy and glory (Nicoll, Expositor's, 3:64). Since value was often determined by weight, there was a natural correspondence between weighty and glorious. Even in English, we speak of something as weighty in importance.

Our burdens are not light by themselves. Our burdens are light by comparison. The Greek text places "far beyond all comparison" (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν)  between the two corresponding descriptions to emphasize the significance of the comparison. Paul has already used this same expression earlier in his letter to the Corinthians to stress that he was "burdened excessively" (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν) beyond his strength so that he despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8)! Burdens can certainly be excessive. We can feel overwhelmed by the pressures to the point that we become discouraged. Paul does not deny that reality. Paul says that by comparison, the burdens are light because they are producing in us something much greater. Here Paul uses a double expression of excessiveness which is difficult to translate literally. Literally, our pressures are transformative to the degree that they are beyond measure to and extraordinary extent. The glory produced is "out of all proportion" to the pressure experienced! R&R, Key, p.465).

As extreme pressure and high heat produce expensive diamonds, the same elements are producing great glory for us. Buried under mountains of affliction, God is creating over time His glorious masterpieces forever.

Friday, May 19, 2017

THE RIPTIDE OF DESPAIR


Spiritual growth is slow. People change incrementally. Ministry can feel like an exercise in futility at times. We preach our hearts out on Sunday only to face the "same old, same old" church problem on Tuesday. We pour our energy into ministry, but the church moves by centimeters to accomplish Christ's great commission. Squabbles erupt. Spiritual apathy rules. After the spiritual high on Sunday, discouragement can settle over us like a wet blanket on Monday. The same battle with discouragement happens not only for pastors but for every follower of Christ when the blows of life and the weariness of serving take their toll on our emotions.

Paul understood how easily the undertow of frustration can lead into the riptide of despair when he wrote: Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). The word translated "lose heart" (ἐγκακοῦμεν) means to become tired or succumb to despair. It is a present indicative expressing a statement of fact that is an ongoing reality of life. Paul used the same word earlier in this section (2 Cor. 4:1) to warn us about the soul weariness of life. The word was used of women in childbirth reaching a point where they are ready to give up and fear even for life (BAGD, p.215). Despair destroys the will to live, but we are not succumbing to despair as long as we look to the Lord.

Why? The "but ... but" (ἀλλ᾿ ... ἀλλ᾿) that follows in the sentence expresses the process of fighting despair. The first "but" introduces the condition we face and the second "but" explains the confidence we have. The first "but" is followed by the words "if also" (εί καὶ) translated "although." The phrase expresses a condition assumed to be true (R&R, Key, p.465) and is concessive in force (Hanna, Grammatical Aid, p.320). The "but" that follows a "but if" (ἀλλ᾿ εί) means yet or certainly (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.233). The first "but" explains the condition we feel and the second "but" introduces the solution already taking place in our lives. The despair will end one day. It will not last forever!

Our current condition is an "outer man" condition (ὁ ἔξω ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος). The outer man is a reference to our physiological bodies (BAGD, p.279) consumed by the interplay between our feelings and our tiredness. As our energy wears down our feelings rise up. Our outer man is constantly being destroyed (διαφθείρεται). The verb is a present tense indicating a continual process. It is passive indicating that other forces are at work to deplete the outer man. The word was used for the dying process of animals and for abortion (M&M, Vocabulary, p.157). It can refer to rusting away, spoiling or corrupting activity (BAGD, p.190). Our outer man is constantly decaying, rusting away and wearing down because of the forces at work on us in this world.

Yet the certainty is that our inner man (ὁ ἔσω ἡμῶν) is constantly being renewed (ἀνακαινοῦται). The phrase is used in Romans 7:22 to refer to our inner nature. It is a present tense indicative verb telling us that the process is happening even in our discouraging circumstances. Paul may have coined the word himself (M&M, Vocabulary, p.34) because it is a compound verb formed from the preposition ἀνά meaning "in the middle" (BAGD, p.49) and καινίζω meaning "to make new" (BAGD, p.394) or the cognate adjective καινός meaning new. The reality is that our inner nature is in the middle of constantly being made new. The passive voice tells us that our inner nature is being made new by an outside force, namely God. The renewal is day by day (ἡμέρα καὶ ἡμέρα), a Hebraism meaning "every day" (Blass/Debrunner, p.107). Our inner man has not yet arrived but is in process constantly.

How do we avoid being swept away by the riptide of despair that threatens to drown us with negativity? The undertow of discouragement is normal. We all experience it. The riptide of despair will drown us unless we stop swimming against the current and turn to the one who can rescue us from the riptide. The Lord is making us new in our inner man through the struggles of the outer man. God cares more about our inner man, and we must learn to look at what He is doing in our inner man to avoid the despair of the outer man. We are dying, but in our dying, we are being made new by His power.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

CHURCH GROWTH FOR GOD'S GLORY


Growing God's church God's way means dying so others can live. Death operates in us but life in you, Paul wrote (2 Cor. 4:12). Serving others is God's model for church growth. Sacrificial service for others produces greater glory for God. All things are for your sakes so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15).

We do all that we do as leaders on behalf of you, Paul asserts. The preposition (διά) with the accusative (ὑμᾶς) indicates the reason why something happens and can be translated "because of" or "for the sake of" someone (BAGD, p.181). Paul is saying that because of you or for your sakes we are serving - dying that you might live.

The purpose of the service is found in the clause introduced by "so that" (ἵνα). Paul serves so that grace might grow the gratitude of the believers. Grace is the subject of the clause. The main verb is "might grow" (περισσεύσει). The verb means to cause to abound or to make extremely rich (BAGD, p.651). The object of the verb is gratitude (τὴν εὐχαριστίαν). We get our English word "Eucharist" from this word. It means to give thanks or to praise someone. Our service to others causes thanksgiving to grow. Expressions of praise abound toward God because our sacrificial service exhibits His grace.

How?

The intervening clause explains how grace grows thanksgiving. Grace is described as increasing or multiplying. The nominative feminine participle modifies and explains the grace which is nominative feminine. The word means to have more than is necessary or even to have too much (BAGD, p.667). God's grace is multiplying by means of more and more people experiencing the grace. Here the preposition (διά) is used with the genitive translated "more and more" (τῶν πλειόνων) to indicate the means or the instrument by which something happens. How does grace grow thanksgiving? Grace grows thanksgiving by multiplying the number of people who experience God's grace.

The comparative translated "more and more" (τῶν πλειόνων) combined with the double verbs for increasing stresses quantity. It is a numerical term, so "more and more people" is a good translation, but it also could mean "majority" (Moule, Idiom Book, p.108). It is possible that Paul is alluding to the majority of the church as opposed to the minority who were against him in the conflict at Corinth. Not everybody in Corinth experienced the growing grace of God in their lives, so not everyone was abounding in thanksgiving. The same clause is used in 2 Cor. 2:6 to refer to the majority of the church that exercised church discipline. The church in Corinth was divided in conflict (Witherington, Conflict and Community, p.389). God's grace increased in most of them but not all of them. The majority, however, in Corinth were so zealous for the Lord that their zeal stirred up the majority (τοὺς πλείονας) of the church in Achaia (2 Cor. 9:2) to give themselves sacrificially!

Numbers matter but only as more people, truly changed by God's grace, are motivated to give more thanks to God. Numbers matter but only as the greater numbers produce greater glory to God. We do not serve for self. We serve for Him. All of our thanksgiving abounds to the glory of God (εὶς τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ). It all comes because of sacrifice. Dying is God's method of growing the church, so He gets the glory for the undeserved grace.

To the glory of God!
εὶς τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ

Friday, April 21, 2017

OUR GLORIOUS PRESENTATION

A day is coming when we will be presented before the throne of God, perfected by His grace and completed by His power. The God who raised Jesus will raise us to stand before Him in His royal court. Paul expresses our expectation when he writes, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you (2 Corinthians 4:14). Raised with Jesus we are presented together as His perfect re-creation, fully sanctified at last we stand as one in Christ for all eternity.

The verb translated "will present" (παραστήσει) means to present in a formal, even legal, context BAGD, p. 627-628). For example, Jesus' parents presented the infant to the Lord in consecration at the temple in accordance with the Mosaic law following the days of purification (Luke 2:22). We, too, will be presented in consecration to the Lord at the resurrection of all believers. The predictive future can be either a simple assertion or a future promise (Burton, Moods and Tenses, p.34), but here Paul asserts the fact more than he promises the future. It will happen!

God will present "us with you," Paul writes. The "us" (ἡμᾶς) is carried over from the previous clause. God will raise us (ἡμᾶς) "with Jesus" (σὺν Ἰησοῦ) and will present us "with you" (σὺν ὑμῖν), Paul tells his readers. All believers, leading apostles, and normal Christians will be presented together as one glorious church raised with Jesus to eternal glory. Paul has absolute confidence that we will all experience the consummation together. No one runs ahead of anyone in the quest for glorification, and no one stands above anyone in the presence of God Almighty.

The New Testament commonly uses the verb with a strong sense of service (TDNT, 5:840). Who do we serve? Paul uses the same word to show us that we must not present our bodies to serve sin but we should present our bodies to serve righteousness resulting in sanctification (Rom. 6:13,19). In this life, we wrestle with that question, but there is coming a day when God will present us to perfectly serve Him forever finally freed from the presence of all sin. We will serve our King alone. The word was used to picture servants as standing in a position of honor before kings in the ancient world. We will stand before the King of Kings in His royal court as honored servants following the resurrection.

The verb can have a legal connotation meaning to stand before a judge (TDNT, 5:840). There is, perhaps, a hint of judicial review in the imagery of this verse since the context of the presentation following the resurrection leads to our standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) where we are finally and irrevocably glorified (Meyer, Commentary, 6:500). Christ saves us to present us (Colossians 1:22) blameless and beyond reproach. The Judgment Seat of Christ is ultimately a purifying process - the end of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). All the dross is burned off and what remains is perfect. We become perfect servants to the King of Kings on that painfully glorious day.

Our goal as leaders is, like Paul, to present others to Christ perfect and pure (Colossians 1:28). We, like Paul, are jealous with a godly jealousy for those we lead to Christ because we want to present them to Christ as a father presents his pure virgin daughter to her husband (2 Corinthians 11:2). On that glorious day, the church - the bride of Christ - will be presented spotless to Christ, our groom. We will all finally be the gloriously pure bride Jesus came to save!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

AN UNPOPULAR FAITH

Clever words can be used to produce superficially successful ministries. Modern sophists, like ancient sophists, framed their message to maximize popular appeal. They were successful. Paul was unimpressive, suffering, persecuted, and unpopular. After listing his afflictions, he writes: But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, therefore we also speak (2 Cor. 4:13).

The verse opens with the participle translated "having" (ἔχοντες). Although a bit awkward, it is best to take the participle as connected to the verb "we also believe" (πιστεύομεν) later in the verse (Robertson, Grammar, p.1134). Everything in between the participle and the main verb is a parenthesis explaining the participle - having all this, we believe! Both the participle and the main verb are in the present tense indicating the action of having and the action of believing are simultaneous actions (Burton, Moods and Tenses, p.54). They are actions in progress.

What do we have? We have "the same spirit of faith" (τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πίστεως). The pronoun αὐτός is an attributive pronoun meaning "same" (MHT, Grammar, 3:194). Is Paul's spirit of faith the same as the Corinthian Christians or the psalmist he is quoting? Paul is testifying that his faith is the same as the psalmist who experienced the same struggle and victory over suffering and death (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.89). The faith of the Corinthians was weak and success oriented while the faith of the psalmist was strong in the face of rejection.

Is the spirit the Holy Spirit or the human spirit - a big "S" or a little "s"? Grammatically it could go either way. Many take it as a small "s" referring to the human spirit or disposition of faith (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.147). The word "faith" (πίστεως) would be taken as a subjective genitive meaning faith stimulates the attitude or disposition we use to face adversity. It is probably better to take "Spirit" as a Big "S" referring to the Holy Spirit (Meyer, Commentary, 6:499). Faith would be understood as an objective genitive meaning the Spirit stimulates faith in God as we face adversity. We can have confidence in God just like Paul, and his Old Testament hero had confidence because the Holy Spirit produces in us a trust in the Lord that transcends our circumstances.

Paul quotes from the Greek translation (LXX) of Psalm 116:10. The psalmist expresses praise to God for helping him through a time where he was brought low. You have rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling (Ps. 116:8). The psalmist proclaims his trust in God to see him through this trial, and then the psalmist says, I believed there for I spoke. Paul has this same Spirit induced faith which leads him to say - in the midst of his own sufferings - we also believe therefore we speak. The connective translated "therefore" (διὸ) combines the preposition διά with the neuter relative pronoun ὅ to form the strongest inferential connective in the New Testament (Dana & Mantey, Grammar, p.245).

Speaking comes from believing. Our confession with our mouths is closely connected to the faith in our hearts (Rom. 10:9). Faith produces boldness of speech. We say what we believe even if what we say results in suffering and death. The sophists of Paul's day were mesmerizing the Corinthians with their clever words. They hid behind a politically correct style of speaking to make the message palatable to people so they could be successful just as many sophists do today. Paul is no sophist. He says what he believes although his message might be unpopular and his ministry unsuccessful in human terms (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.389).

Real faith is unpopular. Say it anyway!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SACRIFICIAL SERVICE


Life springs from death. Like a rose blooms from earth scorched by fire, spiritual life blossoms in souls fertilized by sacrifice. Paul wrote, For we are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2 Cor. 4:11-12).

The verb translated "being delivered over" (παραδιδόμεθα) frequently occurs in the passion accounts (TDNT, 2:169). It means to hand over, deliver or give up someone. Judas handed over Jesus to the Chief Priests (Mark 14:10) and the Council handed over Jesus to Pilate (Mark 15:1). Pilate, in turn, handed over Jesus to the mob of people (Luke 23:25) by handing him over to the soldiers for crucifixion (Mark 15:15). Paul uses a passive voice to indicate that God hands over the living ones (οἱ ζῶντες) to death. The present tense of the verb tells us that this handing over to death is a constant and continual process, not a one-time event. The constancy of God delivering us to die throughout life is stressed by the opening particle "always" (ἀεὶ) placed first in the sentence for emphasis.

Serving Christ in our lives is a constant death struggle. Our death struggle has a God-ordained purpose (ἵνα καὶ). The particle translated "also" or "and" should be understood as intensive and better translated with words like "really" or "certainly." We are being delivered over to death so that the life of Jesus may really or certainly be demonstrated in our dying lives (Dana & Mantey, Grammar, p.251). The "life of Jesus" (ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ) is a partitive genitive meaning that the life we each have is part of all that Jesus is (MHT, Grammar, 3:217).

The life of a servant of Christ is a life of death. God constantly hands us over to die so that Christ's life can be revealed in our mortal flesh (θνητῇ σαρκὶ). Our flesh (σάρξ) is subject to death (θνητός). Here Paul uses the flesh in its literal sense of the material that covers our bones (BAGD, p.743). The phrase is parallel to "in the body" (ἐν τῷ σώματι) in verse 10. Our physical bodies are decaying as we live. God designs our dying process to reveal His living power, so our physical death demonstrates His spiritual life. Our willingness to die and the way we die is God's most powerful witness to the world of the power of the living Christ because the world has no answer to the dilemma of death.

Death "works" (ἐνεργεῖται) in us. We get our word energy from this Greek word. It comes from the root meaning to work and refers to action or activity. The word group was often used in the Greco-Roman world to refer to activity by cosmic or even demonic forces (TDNT, 2:652-653). In the New Testament, it is rarely used for human activity but often used of satanic miracles (2 Thess. 2:9) although even this activity functions under the authority of God (2 Thess. 2:11). The word is used elsewhere for the work of God in our lives.

Death operates in us within the parameters of God's purpose. God's purpose is to bring life to others through death operating in us. The same verb should be understood in the second half of the verse. The prepositional phrases are parallel to one another. Death works in us (ἐν ἡμῖν), but life works in you (ἐν ὑμῖν). Some think that Paul is ironic here implying that some Christians wanted a life without hardship, unlike Paul. However, Paul is emphasizing the life of Jesus here not life without hardship. Paul is telling them that the life of Jesus being lived in them came through Paul's willingness to die sacrificially to bring them the gospel. (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.145).

Sacrificial love drives our missional calling. The gospel brings life to others through our willingness to die to self. Servant leadership involves nothing less than sacrificial service.