LESSON TWO: 2 CORINTHIANS 1:12-3:18
ENCOURAGEMENT REGARDING THE NEW COVENANT
Have you ever said something like this: “It would be nice to go to the beach on Saturday.” Then when Saturday came and either the weather or your schedule didn’t cooperate, your children said: “But Mom, you promised!” And then came their clincher (insert whiney voice): “You always say we can do things but we never get to do anything!” You probably tried to explain your reason hoping your children would understand. There was something more important than whether you went to the beach, and that was that your children knew they could trust you!
For Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, the issue of trustworthiness was critical! If the church couldn’t trust Paul, then how could they trust his message? This had to be fixed, because the message was God’s!
DAY ONE: IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRITY
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 1:12-2:4
A. PAUL’S INTEGRITY
Paul had planned to come to Corinth before this, but because of the ongoing divided nature of the Corinthians’ response to him, Paul had decided it would be wise to first resolve the issues over which they were conflicted “But Paul, you promised!” Paul corrects their assertion that he can’t be trusted. He also declares that God is even more trustworthy.
Paul’s original plans were not made lightly, and he did not change his planned itinerary arbitrarily. Paul’s own character of holiness and sincerity were the basis for his relationship with the Corinthians and the plans he made. (1:12) This change of plans was actually a gracious gift to them. Whereas Paul’s plans may have changed, his message didn’t. He didn’t “waffle” on the message of Christ! (1:18-20)
- For Paul to write the “severe letter” following the “painful visit” was a costly act of love. How do verses 1:23-2:4 show that Paul’s authority over this church was wrapped in love?
B. GOD’S INTEGRITY
As Paul is a person of integrity, God is even more so. As Paul’s message does not change, God’s is even more consistent. The message of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament are not in conflict nor do they represent a change in message from God. The promises of the Old Testament point forward, progressively revealing more about Christ, and the New Testament confirms and explains how Christ fulfills the Old.
Christ’s person and work was God’s “yes” as Christ fulfilled all of God’s promises throughout history. God’s apparent weakness at the cross in fact demonstrated God’s power and wisdom in accomplishing our salvation. (1:19-20; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18)
- What was God’s message which Paul was carrying and for which he was suffering? (Romans 3:21-26) What else is this message called? (2:12 and 3:6)
- It is when we say “yes” (“amen”) to this message of Good News that God says “yes” to us and we personally receive the gift of salvation – a firm standing in Christ. How do we know this message is true? (Romans 8:16; Ephesians 1:13-14)
Verses 21-22 confirm to us that having the seal of the Holy Spirit in our lives guarantees our relationship with God both in the present and the future. It says we now belong to God, and thus He enables us to “stand firm” and anoints and empowers us for service.
Are you trustworthy? Do others see you as a person of integrity?
DAY TWO: IMPORTANCE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 2:5-11
It is speculation as to whom this passage refers. Some think it was the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5. Analytical study leads other scholars to believe this was a man in the church who led a minority in revolt against Paul. If so, this caused the division in the church. It is possible that he continued to oppose Paul after the majority was reconciled to him. Regardless, it is encouraging that most of the church had finally obeyed Paul and disciplined this person. It is also encouraging that the church discipline was effective.
- Today we often overlook ongoing sin among church members in the name of “tolerance” or to avoid being accused of being “judgmental”. What should be our attitude toward a person in the church who is continuing to sin? (2:5)
- If the church had not been obedient on this point what might the results have been to the individual? (1 Corinthians 5:5)1
- Why was discipline of the rebellious individual important to the church body? (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; 2 Corinthians 2:5)
- What impact might overlooking this sin have had on the outside community?
- From Matthew 18:15-17, what are the steps that are to be taken in church discipline, which the Corinthian church had not previously taken. Notice two things: first, this discipline only applies to church members (1 Corinthians 5:12-13); and second, one progresses to the next step only if the preceding step does not produce repentance.
The church has been testing Paul’s character, but from 2 Corinthians 2:9, whether or not the church would exercise needed church discipline was actually a test of the church’s character.
- There is a time for stern discipline and there is a time for welcoming forgiveness. What is the goal of church discipline?
- Why is it so important that appropriate church discipline and appropriate forgiveness in the sight of Christ be carried out? (2 Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:11)
- When is it time to move from punishment to forgiveness?
- What does Colossians 3:12-14 say about forgiveness which applies here?
- Garland says, “True forgiveness neither excuses the sin nor ignores what happened. It means that you still relate to that person in spite of what happened but also in light of what happened. Forgiveness, however, does not require that the church reinstate the person into a position of authority again but does require his reinstatement into their fellowship.”2 What is your reaction to these statements?
Both churches and para-church organizations have times when discipline needs to be exercised. Sadly this is often ignored until the problem becomes so big that the church or organization is damaged. As good loving parents discipline their children in appropriate ways, wise leaders will exercise firm yet compassionate discipline on their members for the safety of the group as well as for the redemption of the individual.
- Have you observed the benefits of wise scripturally applied discipline? What were the results?
- Have you experienced or observed the harm done by the choice to not discipline?
DAY THREE: THE REALITY OF CHRISTIANS’ INFLUENCE
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 2:12-3:6
When you haven’t heard from a dearly loved family member overseas for a period of time, especially if they are going through a transition time or a struggle, it is hard to concentrate on your assigned role! Imagine how hard it was in the days before airplanes and Skype! We get a sense of how deeply Paul loved the Corinthian church when we read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. Even though he had begun an effective ministry in the strategic port city of Troas, Paul could not rest until he heard from Titus about the results of the letter he had sent. Was he right to leave Troas? He certainly was very human!
Paul now interrupts this account and will pick it up again in chapter 7. He uses this interlude to defend his apostleship. Some were offended by Paul’s weakness and suffering. Didn’t God reward His favorites with health and wealth, and therefore wasn’t a religious leader to teach and model the way to that “good life?” Thinking no true apostle would undergo so much suffering, they wondered if Paul’s hardships were evidence that God was not pleased with him.
A. AROMA OF CHRIST
In Roman times, when a general won a decisive victory over a foreign enemy, a “triumph” was held in his honor. On the appointed day he would parade through the city with his captives and spoils of war behind him as incense was burned. The parade would end at the temple of Jupiter where sacrifices would be offered and a public feast held. The “Arch of Titus” in Rome illustrates this with its portrayal of Titus in his chariot leading captive Jews into Rome.
While Roman conquerors received glory, their captives were humiliated. Not only did they lose their freedom, for most it also meant death. By contrast, Christ’s “captives” are thankful for Christ their conqueror! Our conqueror rescues us from death and gives us life! Paul pictures himself as a former enemy of Christ who has been conquered by Him and is now on display to the watching world. (Romans 5:8-11)
- How do the following verses differentiate between those who are headed toward death and those toward life? (John 3:18, 36; Romans 6:23)
- Give two reasons why we are thankful. (2:14)
- Explain how God’s messengers become an aroma of life to one person and an aroma of death to another. (2:15-16; 1 Corinthians 1:18)
- How does this image of Christ’s servants being captives illustrate that it is the power of the message, not the power of the messenger, which is most important?
B. COMPETENCE OF SERVANTS
In Paul’s day, like ours, many religious leaders promoted the idea that it was faith PLUS works/good deeds/religious rituals that were necessary for salvation. This unbiblical doctrine appeals to our egos. We want to think we can do something to at least help earn God’s favor. Some of these false leaders in Paul’s day would come to town with letters of recommendation from others, likely people in Jerusalem. Some of them, called “Judaizers,” taught that to please God, faith in Christ MUST be combined with obedience to the Mosaic Law and Jewish traditions. Their message could change behavior but not hearts.
- Our translations make it sound like Paul is boasting about himself. What he is actually doing is presenting his credentials. What proof does Paul offer that he was carrying out God’s commission effectively? (3:2-3)
- Who wrote this “letter?”
- Unlike some, what was Paul’s motivation for ministry? (2:17)
- Was Paul, or are you and I, even with our education, personal gifting and other resources, able to be effective on our own? If not, where does our competency come from? (3:4-6)
- What does the New Covenant (the Good News) give which the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Law) was unable to give? (3:6)
If you enjoy wearing perfume, people can tell when you are near or even where you have been by the fragrance that follows you. This is an apt metaphor showing how we spread our message by both our lives and words whether consciously or unconsciously. Is the aroma of your life and conversation pleasing to God regardless of how others respond to that aroma?
DAY FOUR: COMPARISON OF OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 3:7-11
The Old Covenant was a glorious gift from God with a specific role in human history. The Mosaic Law stated what God’s standard of righteousness must look like in everyday life and what the consequences would be if the Law was disobeyed. There was nothing wrong with the Law, but no one was able to obey it perfectly. The Law gave the expectations or demands of God but not the power to obey them.
A. OLD COVENANT
- List terms or descriptions of the Old Covenant from chapter 3 or from your own knowledge.
- Exodus 34:29-35 is key to understanding this passage. Where did Moses receive the Old Covenant and from Whom?
- What caused Moses’ face to glow? Why did he cover his face with a veil?
- For a Jew to state that the Mosaic Law led to death was shocking! What was the purpose of the Law/Old Covenant? (John 5:39; Galatians 3:24)
B. NEW COVENANT
Because the New Covenant was glorious didn’t mean than the Old Covenant was not. We might illustrate the difference by comparing the glory of a candle inside a house to the glory of the sun outside.
- Briefly describe in your own words what the New Covenant is.
- Read Romans 8:1-4 for a summary of the reason the New Covenant was needed.
- If you have time, use the following verses to expand on this chart comparing the Old and New Covenants as described in verses 3-11: Exodus 31:18; 32:33; Deuteronomy 27:26; 30:17-18a; Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 3:19-20; 3:21-24; 5:20-21; 7:7-13; 10:4
Glory of the Old Covenant Glory of the New Covenant
Written on stone tablets Written on human hearts
Letter of the Law kills Spirit gives life
Came with glory Is even more glorious
Brings condemnation Brings righteousness
Was transitory Is eternal
The church could be considered a “New Covenant Community.” Even though we come into a relationship with God through the glorious New Covenant, sometimes we revert to the Old Covenant for our daily living. This is called legalism. Does it make sense to do this? (Galatians 3:1-6)
DAY FIVE: GLORIOUS GOOD NEWS VEILED
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 3:12-18
A. VEIL APPLIED
This passage is confusing to us, and is interpreted differently by various scholars. It helps to go back to the original account of this event in Exodus 34:29-35. Sinful man cannot stand in the presence of holy God. (Exodus 33:20) Not only were sinful people terrified by God’s glory, even the reflected glory of God as seen on Moses’ face when he left God’s presence was frightening.
Paul was writing during a time when the New Covenant had been inaugurated but the Old Covenant had not yet completely faded. The Temple was not destroyed for several more years. Many felt more comfortable combining the two covenants of law and of grace. It felt safer to follow a checklist of rules than to throw oneself on the grace of God alone.
Paul is not diminishing the importance of Moses but is explaining why he himself has the right to be bold in proclaiming the Good News. God chose Moses to communicate the Old Covenant. Now God has chosen Paul and others, including you and me, to communicate the New Covenant.
- Why did Moses put a veil over his face? (3:13)
- The “good news” of the New Covenant is so good that contrary to Moses who put a veil over his face, Paul is very bold in sharing it. Read the following references related to this boldness for sharing the message. (Acts 4:29, 31; Philippians 1:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:2)
- Verse 14 says the people’s minds were made dull, but a better translation would be “hardened”. They didn’t have a lack of understanding as much as a lack of obedience: that is, because they chose not to obey they became unable to understand. So in practical terms the veil was not over the Covenant but over the people. (Deut 29:3-4, 19 describes this.) Why does John say that veil is still covering the Old Covenant? (John 5:39-40, 45-47)
B. VEIL REMOVED
- When and how is the veil removed? What is another word to describe this “turning”? (3:16)
- By not choosing to come to Christ under the New Covenant, a person remains under the terms of the Old Covenant and that person’s heart continues to be veiled. What do you think keeps people from turning to God?
- Paul then tells us something amazing. We Christians who have had the veil removed from our hearts can approach God much like Moses did! Similar to the way this transformed Moses, we are also transformed by this experience. Until we receive our glorified bodies when Christ returns, we see God through His Word and His Son. The Christian is to be growing and maturing, not just outwardly but holistically. How faithful are you to take advantage of this awesome privilege? (2 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:22-25)
- Salvation is not the end of our spiritual journey. It is followed by sanctification – the process described in 3:18. Is this your current experience? Do you regularly take time to gaze upon God? When? Where? With what result?
- When we consider the superiority of the New Covenant and its critical message, it is no wonder Paul asked, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2:16) Paul answered that question in 3:5-6. Unless that answer is also yours and mine, we are deceiving ourselves. On whom are you relying? Where does your power come from?
All of Christ’s followers are to be His messengers. God’s messengers must be trustworthy people of absolute integrity as they carry His message, the Good News of the New Covenant, on His behalf. Does your “walk” match your “talk” from the perspective of your children? Your teammates? Your community?
Whether we are aware of it or not, Christians have a “life or death influence” in the world as we live our daily lives and as we carry the New Covenant to people who need to hear. Thus it is imperative that we live lives of integrity both as individuals and as churches. Our sins need to be dealt with, and repentant people need to be forgiven and restored. God then takes those of us who have been saved through faith in Christ alone and makes us competent as ministers of His New Covenant.
1. “Handing a person over to Satan” does not mean “excommunication from salvation,” because the church is not the one that saves. More likely it means removing him from fellowship in the church where he enjoyed God’s protection, leaving him in the world where he would be “fair game” for Satan and could suffer the consequences of his choice. This is a last resort, done only if following the Scriptural pattern for discipline in Matthew 18 is ineffective. The goal would be redemptive; not for Satan to destroy him, but so that his sinful nature, that part of him which was oriented away from or apart from God, would be destroyed and his spirit saved.
2. Garland, David E., The New American Commentary, Volume 29, 2 Corinthians. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), P. 127.
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