This short text, 2:12-17, provides an introduction to a larger section in 2:14-3:18.
This section is controlled by the concept of being, according to Woodroof, Aroma of Christ. Notice it in 2:15,17; 3:2,3,5. The verb "to be" is implied in 2:17b, 3:5,3:6; and appears in the passive form in 3:18. We want to look at these, especially the last one, so encourage you to return next Sunday for study of the wonderful text at end of chapter 3.
What is the theme of 2 Corinthians? What is the purpose of this letter? Our text surfaces many concepts--perhaps above all, as F. F. Bruce has noted, it is an expression of the missionary heart of Paul. But even more, it is a practical explanation of God's plan for the spread of gospel. It is, then, to some extent, a history of the first century experience. Evangelism begins with who we are. What is the church? Who is a Christian? What does it mean to be a living letter, living stone, example. And when one investigates further, one is reminded that being is at heart of gospel. Even the most well-known of the OT descriptions of God is based in being.
Today, in this lesson, we think about choices. There is a connection between our choices and our identity. We make choices based on who we think we are. (Acts 27:9.) Illus: in my family, I often heard, "that is not who I am, that is not who we are." There were things I did not do for I knew it would break heart of mother if she ever found out. Why do you choose as you do? What do you understand about yourself? This is the realm of psychology, counseling, therapy. When I studied the integration of theology and psychology, I learned about various methods: transgenerational counseling, behavioral, structural--all helping us to understand our identity. If self-image is warped, life is warped. Identity is essential in understanding our choices--who we date or marry, our social behaviors, our goals, our ideas of fulfillment and fun. Illus: sitting in mall, tell me who you think is having fun and why. Because choices and identity are connected, perhaps nothing has greater potential for changing us than changing our self-understanding, our self-image, our self-identification..
We begin with OT backgrounds.What Bible stories do you remember that reflect choices? Choices:
Illustrations continue in NT. One of my favorite is Luke 15--the story of the prodigal son. Did Paul ever hear Luke tell this story? Had Luke heard this story directly from Jesus? It is uniquely Lucan, one of the reversal stories, touches hearts. Is interesting question because Paul's history was one of similar choices. Paul chose, and then reversed that initial choice and chose again on Damascus Road. He chose because before him Jesus had chosen. And in Gal. 1 he says it was in fact God who had chosen him. Jesus is our ultimate example in making a choice--choosing for us, on our behalf. And Paul always remembered the process of choosing. As evidenced in Acts 16:1-8, it is not easy, and often requires one to begin again. Life is filled with choices, and finally, after we watch life and its choices long enough, we understand God is at work.
It was Paul who wrote Phil. 1:9, choose what is best. Perhaps at no time is the real us more evident than in the choices we make. Choices do not define us, they develop us. Choices are not always final--as Paul demonstrates in his own life, you can rechoose, change your mind, what the Bible calls repentance.
Paul likely identified with the prodigal, life is not easy. So our text reflects three simple truths about choices, opportunities for us to briefly examine the way Paul made choices based on his understanding of himself. He explains these because they are a source of controversy to the Corinthian church. The foundation of the passage is in three identification statements in this larger section: we are aroma, we are servants in a new covenant, we are being transformed. These are reflected in three simple truths about choices.
I recently had opportunity to reevaluate the effectiveness of the content of the first survey course we teach to all freshman students at OVC. I wondered if our introduction to the Bible should perhaps be introduction to Christianity, maybe Christianity 101. What could I say that would influence the choices students make? What, if anything, could I do to help make better choices.
Perhaps I should not be judging the good or bad of choices made--after all, our God is able to work all things for good. But Paul does write, choose what is best. I close with a simple restatement of the identity challenges Paul set before the Corinthian church. These are not just for Paul or the apostles or preachers. These are essential in God's plan for the spread of the gospel.
One final illustration. I have been running much more consistently in the last couple of months. I have met a lot of interesting people. But one situation reminded me that I had, at least temporarily, forgotten who I am. A man told me his situation, the reason for his walking, his hopes to pass a fire-fighting test. I listening, asked questions, responded. But...I forgot to tell him enough about me that he could judge for himself aroma, minister, changed life.
What happens when we forget who we are?
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