Sunday school lesson for the week of August 17, 2014
By Beth Barnwell
Lesson Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:2-15
Key Verses: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Purpose: To find assurance that, despite suffering, as Christians we share in the power that raised Christ from the dead, through which God sustains us.
Damage control. We’ve all heard those two words when something has happened and needs to be contained. That’s what this particular letter from Paul is all about. It’s often referred to as Paul’s “letter of reconciliation.” Evidently, there was a certain individual who did not take very kindly to the tone of Paul’s previous letter to the Corinthians and led a rebellion against Paul’s presentation of the gospel. The matter had been somewhat resolved, but there was still the underlying feeling of resentment. Many people remained who felt Paul and his team were portraying the gospel in such a way as to make themselves look better than their fellow Christians. They also questioned whose message Paul was delivering. Was it Paul’s message or God’s message? Paul’s words in this lesson are geared toward building up his team so that they did not fall into despair at the rejection by fellow Corinthian Christians of their good works. He reminds his team that, as God’s messengers, they must continue preaching the Word of Jesus Christ and not fall into the pit of self-pity or make the situation all about them. God and salvation through Jesus Christ are the only topics of the day.
Have you ever felt disheartened when you tried to help someone only to have them misinterpret your intentions and appear ungrateful and unappreciative? How did God help you understand that it’s “not about you?”
Paul uses the term “clay jars” to distinguish between his team of messengers and the actual message from God Himself (NOT Paul), which Paul refers to as a “treasure” for humankind. The “treasure” is God’s promise to sustain us even though we will experience suffering. He uses the tangible symbol of clay jars intentionally because they are very fragile and imperfect. They are man-made containers that break easily. They crack even more easily. As Paul tries to convey, we are like the clay jars that carry the treasure - God’s promise. WE, as Christians, carry God’s promise inside us. We are imperfect, frail and break easily, but God promises to stay with us and see us through any and all storm. Though we, like the clay jars, may break, God does not. His promise to be with us always remains constant and intact. This terminology was intentional. Paul understood that the imperfection of his team of message carriers demonstrates that “the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us” (verse 7).
Do you feel “clay jars” is an accurate metaphor for human beings? Would you consider yourself a vessel for God’s promise?
This week two friends experienced suffering of different kinds. One friend experienced the sudden death of a loved one. It was tragic and very unexpected. Though devastated, my friend was able to see beyond the sadness. She was able to thank God that there was no suffering involved and that an angel, in the form of a first responder, was present during the entire ordeal who was able to administer first aid and call for the ambulance. The other situation involves the son of a very good friend. As he was walking to his car, he was attacked and beaten. Again, an angel in the form of a policeman heard the scuffle and was able to step in and apprehend the attacker. Both my friend and her son have no doubt at all that God was right there.
There are many people who would say the presence of these two men was a coincidence. My faith says that it’s the awesome power of God. There are also many people who would focus their attention on the heroism of these two men. Their faith says it was a “God thing” and that they were simply the vessels to carry out His promise. God knows what we need and when we need it. My friends needed angels and they were there. They also needed to know that God did not overlook their current circumstances. They “experienced trouble, but weren’t crushed. They were harassed, but not abandoned. They were knocked down, but not knocked out.” Through their pain, they have grown closer to God and continue to share their belief in His promise.
Has your experience of suffering brought you any closer to God?
Beth Barnwell is a staff member of the North Georgia Conference, serving as administrative assistant to the director of Congregational Development. She is a long-time Sunday school teacher. Contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.