Tamper with God’s Word (4:2)
In II Corinthians 3:5-6 Paul had already said, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul is now explaining what this competent ministry in God’s sufficiency looks like – faithful handling of God’s Word with a reliance upon God’s Person (God’s Spirit not our interpretation of the letter).
This is a hard balance to strike. On one side, many come to Scripture and ask, “What does this passage mean to me?” They tamper with God’s Word (often putting words in God’s mouth) that are not consistent with the words God inspired. On the other side, others explore Scripture exclusively in its historical context thinking an extensive understanding of the culture and setting in which the Bible was written is a “deep” understanding of Scripture. They tamper with God’s Word by ignoring or being silent about the modern relevance of God’s Word.
For what it’s worth, both groups often treat conversations with other people the same way. One group thinks what they feel is the same thing as what you meant. The other group thinks that if you only understood the context of their thinking you would agree with them. Here again we see that we tend to treat other people the same way we treat God (life reveals our hearts).
Application: If you have never read a book on interpreting and applying the Bible, I would recommend two. The first one does an excellent job of teaching you how to interpret each genre of Scripture (epistles, narrative, parables, prophetic literature, wisdom literature, and psalms). The second gives excellent examples and a model of how to make application of Scripture to the modern context and struggles of life.
- How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart
- CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael Emlet
Blinded the Minds of Unbelievers (4:4)
Evangelism is about more than convincing someone about the Truth of who Jesus is, why Jesus came, and how the Bible says we are to respond. Evangelism is a miracle in which God gives sight to the blind. Ezekiel described humanity in his prophecy, “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”
With this in mind we can see how evangelism is more spiritual warfare than it is education. The Gospel does have exclusive content, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” But it takes a supernatural intervention in the heart of an unbeliever for him/her to “see” this truth. When you share the Gospel you are conducting a “spiritual vision check (even believers need this; II Pet 1:9).”
Application: When you pray for a lost friend or family member, pray that God will open their eyes to His truth. When you meet resistance or confusion in sharing the Gospel recognize that you will not argue someone into sight. At that point, your first goal is to help them “see their blindness” (which oddly enough spiritually blind people are the only blind people who think they can see). The type of question (modify it to fit the conversation) I advise for this is, “What do you think makes life worth living?” Only when they see the inadequacy of their current hope will they “see” their need for an eternal hope.
Outer Self vs. Inner Self
In Ephesians 4:20-24 Paul discusses the old man and the new man in reference to our battle with sin. In II Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul contrasts the outer self and the inner self in reference to our struggle with suffering. We learn from this that we are conflicted people (without a derogatory connotation) whether our challenge is moral or endurance.
Unless we realize this we will often wonder “Am I going crazy?” when we feel so torn in the midst of every life challenge (sin or suffering). The points below are meant to help you find encouragement by rooting your identity in your “inner self” during episodes of suffering.
- The “inner self” lasts longer. The passage contrasts wasting away with being renewed and transient with eternal to make this point. We are called to treat suffering like a woman treats pregnancy. The condition is temporary and comes with a great reward.
- The “inner self” is more real. We would tend to think the outer self is “weightier” than the inner self. But we learn the opposite. The outer self is the shadow that will fade away when we come fully into God’s light (presence).
- The “inner self” belongs to the unseen reality. Just like there are more micro organisms (which we can’t see) than there are animals, there is more unseen reality than seen. Before we acknowledged germs we got sick for lack of washing our hands. Until we acknowledge the greater unseen reality we will be sick for lack of hope in suffering.
- God understands our attachment to the “outer self.” God gave us this passage to comfort us in our current level of awareness. God is not impatient with our finite limitations. He believes the benefits of the process are worth the effort in ways we probably cannot understand because of our limited awareness. We must trust that Father knows best.
- It is right to grieve the decay of the “outer self.” God does not expect us to be unmoved about the process of change. We should not grieve the dying of the “old man” (it is sin), but we should grieve the decay of the “outer man” (God said it was “very good” Gen 1:31). God has not told us we can only come out of our room when we stop crying. After all it has already been said He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (II Cor 1:3).”
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.