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Lesson 3: Connect and Impart for God’s Glory (2 Corinthians 2:14-4:6)

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You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Paul made plans to visit the Corinthians but held onto them loosely as he left them in the Lord’s hands. The Spirit drove Paul’s concern for the Corinthians so he changed plans to check on them. Because of God’s grace leading him, he chose to delay the visit. This caused disappointments and misunderstandings for those involved. But, Paul had to trust in Christ to overcome that as well.

Broken relationships due to misunderstandings and gossip from those who don’t know the facts can cause great pain. Paul asks the Corinthians to assume good will, listen to wisdom, and do what is right in God’s sight. Then, trust the Lord to heal the relationship as each party loves the other sincerely.

Questions To Consider This Week:

  • If the fragrance or aroma we spread to others is the knowledge of Christ, how do we do that?
  • How would you determine if someone is peddling the word of God for profit or not?
  • If you are a living letter of Christ, who is reading you? Are they reading a letter that brings glory to Christ or to something else?

Day One Study—Get The Big Picture

Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-4:6, including verses from the previous lesson. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

[To print, follow this link (or for the NIV, this one). Use your own method (colored pencils, lines, shapes) to mark: 1) anything that grabs your attention and 2) words you want to understand. Feel free to develop your own method of marking up a passage. Put a star  next to anything you think relates to dependent living.]

1. What grabbed your attention from these verses?

  • 2:14-17
  • 3:1-6
  • 3:7-4:6

2. What verses or specific words do you want to understand better?

3. What topics are repeated in this passage or continue an earlier discussion in this letter?

4. What verses illustrate or help you understand what dependent living on God looks like?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Two Study

Read 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

Historical Insight: Paul was an observer of his world and often included references to the culture as illustrations for his listeners. The imagery is that of a Roman triumph (victory parade) in which the victorious general would lead his soldiers and the captives they had taken in festive procession, while the people watched and applauded and the air was filled with the sweet smell released by burning of spices in the street. (NIV Study Bible, note on v. 14, p. 1765)

What Does The Bible Say?

5. Corinth was a Roman colony. Roman parades were special to them. Consider the “Historical Insight” information above as you answer the following questions.

  • Who is the victorious general (v. 14)?
  • Who are the ones following? [Note: “as captives” is not in the original Greek so is not in most translations.]
  • What does God do through us (v. 14)?
  • What are we to God (v. 15)?
  • To whom are we the aroma of death (vv. 15-16)?
  • To whom are we the fragrance that brings life (v. 16)?
  • As one who spreads the aroma of the knowledge of God, what does Paul not do (v. 17)?
  • Instead, what does Paul do?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Think About It: The sobering fact is that the fragrance of Christ is glorious to those who desire Him as Savior, but to those who reject Him, the scent is loathsome. (Kelly Minter, All Things New, page. 44)

What Does It Mean?

6. Paul says that the fragrance we spread is the knowledge of Christ, the aroma of Christ.

  • Describe an aroma that is especially enticing or inviting to you.
  • How can we be such an aroma to others? See Colossians 4:5-6 and other verses you know that illustrate this.

Scriptural Insight: Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Who is equal to such a task (v. 16)?” He knows that no one is. Our responsibility to represent Christ well and be that enticing aroma is weighty. But, God doesn’t ask us to do that He doesn’t enable us to do. God makes us competent to share Him with others. See 2 Corinthians 3:5.

7. Read Acts 18:1-7, 1 Corinthians 9:11-15; and 2 Corinthians 11:7-9. Traveling teachers in that culture usually expected to be paid for their services.

  • What was Paul’s practice with the Corinthians instead of “peddling the word of God for profit?”
  • From 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, what is the motive and drive of Paul and his team if not for money (profit)?

Scriptural Insight: How is Paul able confidently to attribute such negative motives to these men, while expecting his own claim “of sincerity” to be accepted? It appears that he is appealing to the known fact that these men have received some material benefit from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:20), whereas Paul deliberately refused payment from them (2 Corinthians 11:7-12; 12:13-16). (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 35)

8. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 2:14-17?

What Application Will You Make?

God uses our words and actions to bring out what people are already thinking about Him. Their responses to us are often an indicator of where they are spiritually—and that can be good or bad, positive or negative. If they are seeking to know more about Christ, they may be drawn to His fragrance in us. If someone is mad at God, we may experience that anger directed at us.

9. How do you respond when someone attacks your faith? How does it help to consider they may be reacting more to God than to you?

10. How would you recognize someone peddling the word of God for profit? What questions would you ask to determine if someone is peddling the word of God for profit or sincerely serving the Lord Jesus in ministry?

11. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Dependent Living: Our God leads us and uses us to draw others to Christ and His victory parade. We let Him lead us and use us according to His will.

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Three Study

Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-6. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

Historical Insight: In Acts 18:27 and Romans 16:1, we see examples of letters of recommendation. The appearance of vagrant impostors, who claimed to be teachers of apostolic truth, led to the need for letters of recommendation. Paul needed no such confirmation; but others, including the Corinthian intruders, did need authentication and, being themselves, false, often resorted to unscrupulous methods for obtaining or forging letters of recommendation. (NIV Study Bible, note on 3:1, p. 1765)

12. Have you needed a letter of recommendation for something? Paul’s credentials have been questioned. Paul answers the charge that he needs a letter of recommendation (v. 1).

  • The Corinthians are what for Paul (v. 2)?
  • They show what (v. 3)?
  • Paul gets this confidence how (v. 4)?
  • Paul says, “Our competence is not (v. 5) _______________, but our competence comes _________________.”
  • God has made Paul and his companions competent as what (v. 6)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Scriptural Insight: Notice that v. 3 includes references to God [the Father], Christ and the Spirit. This is a “Trinity” verse supporting the doctrine of one God in three persons.

What Does It Mean?

13. Read vv. 2-3 in several Bible translations. Summarize what Paul is saying.

14. Read 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 and Acts 9:15-16; 18:9-10 for background to what Paul says here. What are Paul’s credentials?

15. How do his credentials give him both confidence (trust, reliance) and competence / sufficiency in the work that Jesus gave him to do (2 Corinthians 1:1; 2:17; 3:5-6)?

From the Greek: The Greek word hikonas (“to have enough”) is translated in vv. 5-6 as competent (NIV), adequate (NAS), qualified (NLT), and sufficient (ESV). God is the one who makes anyone “have enough” for the work He has called her to do.

16. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 3:1-6?

What Application Will You Make?

17. In the gospels, we see that Jesus would connect with people and impart truth to them. You are His letter for others to read. And, He’s used His servants to reach you and model for you how to follow Him.

  • Who has modeled for you how to follow Christ? Who has written on your life?
  • What do you hope people read in your letter? Is there anything in your letter that says you rely more on yourself than on Christ?
  • Who are your letters, those in whom you are consciously investing right now?

Think About It: In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” That’s the kind of statement that gets the apostle Paul slapped with labels like “arrogant” and “egotistical.” Maybe that bothers you, too. Why didn’t Paul just take himself out of the equation and tell people to follow Christ? The answer is that Paul knew we all need a role model, a picture of Christ that makes the heart, mind and ways of Christ visible and tangible. To step into a role of leadership is essentially to state, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” If people are going to follow us, our primary task is to lead ourselves well … The first step toward leading yourself well is following well … And if you are a Christ follower, the practice of following well is fundamental to your identity and may be one of the greatest tests of your character. (Heather Zempel, Community Is Messy, pages 67-68)

18. God is the one who makes you competent / sufficient / adequate for the work that Jesus gives you to do. Is there something right now that’s in front of you—a need, a challenge, an opportunity—but you feel spiritually incompetent to do it? How do these verses today speak to your situation?

19. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Four Study

Read 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:6. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

20. Paul contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, revealing how life with the Spirit of God is so much better.

  • Count the number of times “glory,” “glorious,” “radiance,” “light” and “shine” are used. ______
  • Count the number of times “veil” or “covering” is used. ______
  • What is the condition of the Jews who have not trusted in Christ (3:14-15)?
  • Where the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is, there is freedom from what (3:14,16)?
  • As we contemplate or behold the Lord’s glory, what is the Spirit doing to us (3:18)?
  • Knowing God gave Paul his ministry through His mercy, how does he respond (4:1)?
  • What has Paul renounced and chosen not to do (4:2)?
  • On the contrary, what does he do (4:2)?
  • The god of this age (Satan) does what (4:4)?
  • Paul doesn’t preach himself but preaches what (4:5)?
  • For God did what (4:6)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Focus on the Meaning: Freedom is being out in the open; it is the boldness of having nothing to hide. The woman who is free has no reputation to defend, no image to hide behind, nothing to preserve about herself. She can be herself. (Ray Stedman, adapted from Authentic Christianity)

What Does It Mean?

21. Contrast the Old Covenant (the Law) with the New Covenant of the Spirit (3:7-11).

Focus on the Meaning: You may be a Christian, appreciating God’s grace for salvation and heaven, but thinking that you need to be “under the law” in your Christian life. Why would you sense that? Perhaps you feel your relationship with God is based upon your performance, that His love for you is conditional, that you’re never “good enough” for Him to really accept you. That’s Old Covenant thinking. Read this passage again and realize that God wants to set you free from that inner turmoil. The New Covenant is His gift to you. (Steve Hixon)

22. Paul says in v. 18 that we are being transformed by the Spirit. The original Greek word means “to change from one form to another.” For us, we are being transformed into the image of Christ … not in our faces but in our characters.

  • What were we like before trusting in Christ? Read 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 2:1-3.
  • How are we transformed into the image of Christ by the Spirit? Read Romans 12:2 and Colossians 3:12-17. Recognize that how the Spirit works is part mystery. We can know with confidence that He works in us. We are to respond to His Word and leading as He does.

Scriptural Insight: The “image” of God, that we see in the Word, accurately reflects God, though we do not yet see God Himself. What we see in the “mirror” of God’s Word is the Lord [Jesus], not ourselves. We experience gradual transformation … not in our faces but in our characters (cf. 2 Peter 3:18). (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 43)

The concept of glory can be hard to understand. But, Paul uses it repeatedly in this passage so let’s at least try.

From the Greek: “Glory” comes from the Greek word, doxa, meaning “good opinion resulting in praise and honor; splendor, brightness, majesty.”

23. Why will being transformed into the Lord’s image bring “ever-increasing glory” to us rather than fading glory?

Scriptural Insight: We are made holy in God’s sight at the moment of salvation. Holy ones are called saints (2 Corinthians 1:1). During our life on earth, we are also “being made holy” in our thoughts, words, and actions by the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is ongoing from the moment of salvation until the Lord comes or the believer dies, when our “being made holy” is complete (Philippians 1:6). The goal of the Spirit’s work is to transform us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18) so that we become in thought and behavior what we are in status—holy as God is holy.

24. Although Moses wore a physical “veil” to cover the fading glory from his face, Paul uses “veil” in a figurative sense to represent the stubborn refusal of the Jews to believe the gospel message. He says that Satan (“the god of this age”) veils the gospel by blinding the minds of unbelievers (as in 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 for the Jews).

  • The underlying Greek word means “to blunt the mental discernment, to darken the mind.” Why does Satan do that?
  • How do you think he does that? In other words, what would it look like to blind someone’s mind?
  • Who removes the veil / blindness? How? Give verses from this passage. See also Acts 26:17-18 and Colossians 1:12-13.

Scriptural Insight: In the Bible, there always seems to be a period of darkness before there comes a light. According to the Hebrew calendar—the one Jesus used—a day starts at sunset and not at midnight or sunrise. So even the Hebrew day begins with night. Isn’t that interesting? During dark times, dawn will always come. All around us it is easy to see the darkness present in this world. Wickedness, greed, selfishness, cold-blooded violence… the darkness can quickly overwhelm a soul. But there is hope! Isaiah 9:2 predicted that those living in darkness would see a great light. Jesus was that light. And when you look at His life in the Gospel books you can see that He broke the darkness that was present in His land. He healed sick people, taught the curious how to live a life of purpose, and forgave the sins of those who were longing to be free from their guilt. He still does the same today. Our world is not completely dark. There is light that always dawns. (John Newton, Advent for Restless Hearts, p. 12)

25. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:6?

What Application Will You Make?

26. As living letters of Christ, we reflect the glory of Christ. What has the Spirit changed in you since you trusted in Christ so that you reflect His glory more than your own?

27. When given the opportunity, are you prepared to share the gospel message to someone who has been living in blindness? Write out the basic gospel message in the space below. [In the “Resources” section at the end of this study guide, you can see several ways to word it.] Get to know it well and ask the Lord Jesus to give you an opportunity to share this good news with someone who needs to hear it.

28. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

29. Review the passage for this lesson in “Day One Study.” Add reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves to the chart below. I’ve given a few prompts.

Verse(s)

Reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves

2:14

He uses us to spread the knowledge of Him.

2:17

He sends us to speak for Him.

3:3

He writes a letter of recommendation for Himself in our lives.

3:4

He gives us confidence to trust Him.

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

As His child, God transforms your life by teaching you to live dependently on Him in weakness and in strength.

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