8th February 2015
2 Corinthians Chapter 4
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
For many of you I guess that 2014 will not go down in history as one of your better years. The church has undergone great change and all so suddenly. Pastor David is now somewhere else, which to many was a bitter pill to swallow leaving a void and sadness along with great concern as to how you will function as the church for the future.
I was recently in a Pastor's conference where this passage preached from. The emphasis made on that occasion was very different to what I believe the Lord would have us consider here today in the Mustard Seed. The emphasis at the conference was that we do not preach ourselves but Christ, today we consider how we might not “lose heart.”
If anybody had reason to lose heart Paul probably was top of the list. When we think of the things that he had endured since becoming a Christian it is great wonder that he stood at all. Let me remind you of what Paul went through as he has recorded in chapter 11 of this letter:
To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
How on earth does anybody withstand such difficulties? I would suggest all that we suffer today pales into insignificance next to what Paul went through. That being the case Paul declares that he does not lose heart!
Have you lost heart?
Are you in danger of losing heart?
Let us be encouraged by this passage of scripture.
Paul's previous letter to the Corinthian church was sent with great authority. It contained many rebukes for the church concerning their church practice and the things which they had allowed to happen. There was serious immorality to which they had more than turned a blind eye, a man was sleeping with his step mother. Therefore Paul demanded that they discipline the man and put him out of fellowship
2 Corinthians was written later on and it seems that the discipline had been carried out and so from chapter 2:5-11 we assume that the brother who had been disciplined had repented and had returned to Godly ways. Therefore Paul instructs the church to accept him back into fellowship. I believe that it is fair to assume that he is referring to the same brother and so this is a letter of encouragement to the church. The chapters leading up to our passage are a wonderful declaration of the life that we have as Christians and the privilege that it is to serve our wonderful Saviour. Paul is also highly complimentary to the church and encouraging to them by reminding them of the importance and privilege that we all have as ministers of the gospel.
With all of this in mind chapter 4 is written. Here we find that:
- Our ministry is by the mercy of God.
- Our ministry must not reflect the old ways.
- We are weak but the gospel is powerful.
Our ministry is by the mercy of God:
The New Testament teaches that all Christians have a gospel ministry. There is not one who is called by God that is not called to declare the glorious gospel of our God! Therefore we all need to fulfil the ministry that God has given to us. For some it is public and for others it is private and on a personal one to one level. It does not really matter what your personal ministry is because it is all yours by God's mercy alone.
What does Paul mean when he says this?
Look at verse 6-7
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
God by His mercy has done a marvelous work of salvation and regeneration in the hearts of believers, it is all of Him and none of us. Therefore He has equipped us to be heralds or ministers of His grace and mercy. Our ministry is a testimonial to Him, it is all about Him and is nothing of us. As such it should not really matter what pressures and difficulties that we go through; we should simply glorify Jesus.
I wonder if Paul when he wrote this section of the letter had Stephen in mind. There was an occasion when Saul (as Paul was known at the time) held the coats of a mob who stoned Stephen to death. Stephen did not focus on the stones coming at him he simply looked into heaven and saw the Saviour waiting there for him. At this sight he declared the glory of Jesus, immediately at Paul's command Stephen was promoted to heaven but not before he had prayed that this sin would not be held against his murderers; that prayer was answered one day when Saul was converted on the road to Damascus.
In verse 17 Paul says that our fleeting or momentary afflictions are preparation for Glory. That was certainly true for Stephen and not too long after this letter it would be true for Paul also.
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We are not yet experiencing anything near the difficulties that the saints of old have, or even many today are but we are having our own difficulties. Instead of buckling under the weight of them, let us be determined to see Jesus through them and glorify Him in the face of adversity! That is our personal and corporate ministry here today.
Let us not lose heart!
Our ministry must not reflect our old ways.
Look at verse 2; “we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word.”
We are not what we were, Paul in chapter 5 tells us that “we are a new creation” and that the old way of life has gone and therefore we live differently now. Christians we are Christ's ambassadors and we have a message of reconciliation. We are to plead with unbelievers on behalf of God in order that they be reconciled to God. This means that there must be nothing about us that in any way puts people off the gospel. The gospel itself is difficult for sinners to comprehend and does not need us to add difficulties. The last thing that the Lord needs is complex Christians who for whatever purpose preach themselves rather than Christ. The more that we look at the glory of Christ the more His glory will shine through us. Do you wonder why the gospel seems to be so ineffective here in the UK today? Perhaps the answer is this. I have heard from many pulpits clever, theologically accurate monologues that thrill the brain and which speak more of the glory of the preacher than they do the glory of Jesus. Our glories will never change anybody but Jesus' glory does. That is all we ever want from this pulpit, you should be crying out and demanding from all who stand here:
“Sir we only want to see Jesus!”
Paul said in this that he was commendable, he only ever declared Jesus and faith in Him alone which justifies all who come to Him. (Verse 3) Beyond this the truth declared is either veiled by God or revealed by Him. Salvation is His business, all that is required of us is that we be perfectly open and honest with the truth. We must:
Preach Christ only and trust Christ only for the result; whatever that might be!
So much of what we do is contrary to the gospel but when we are faithful to it then God will surely bless His word. Remember that it will not return to Him without accomplishing the purpose for which it is sent. Do we believe that? I sometimes wonder whether we do when I see and hear the add-ons that we attach to the gospel. It is often bandied about that if you come to Christ then you will be healthy and wealthy; where is that in Paul's experience? Such theology suggests to us that Paul must have been the worst of all believers otherwise he would never have suffered in the way that he did. Paul elsewhere is accused of being strong in letter but a weedy weakling in person, but listen to him preach fearlessly. Possibly he was small and weak in stature but he was massive in faith and in the presence of God! He crucified himself in order to be an ambassador of Christ's therefore he spoke and portrayed only his King! The greatest need of the church today is Christ exalting preaching warmly delivered with an authoritative plea from God to unbelievers to come to Him for mercy.
Is our preaching self defacing and Christ exalting as was the apostles?
We are weak but the gospel is powerful.
We must never proclaim ourselves! God has enlightened our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. It is Him that we know and love and must therefore proclaim.
When we look at Jesus we see the glory of God!
In contrast to this remember the serpent's promise to Eve in the garden. “Eat the fruit and you will have the knowledge of good and evil.” He lied; all that he could deliver was the knowledge of evil and that has been the case ever since. We are all born dead to the truth and alive to the lie of Satan; we naturally live in the darkness of a lie! That is until we are converted and then God restores to us what was lost by Satan's evil deception. Christians we now have the knowledge of the glory of God. It is true to say that we still have a residual knowledge of evil and that will be the case until we are finally glorified and made eternally perfect.
This knowledge is the treasure that we have as Christians, it is glorious and it is entrusted to weak people like us. Paul likens it to great treasure being stored in jars of clay. Again a reference back to Genesis where God did not make man out of nothing but He created him man from the dust or clay of the earth! Weak and frail beings though we are we have great treasure stored up in our hearts.
What is the effect of this?
We are not made super-human when we are born again. Our bodies are just as weak as they always were but we have Christ within.
That is powerful, it is glorious, it is magnificent! It is totally amazing, God with us! Immanuel, my Jesus and me intrinsically bound.
That being the case we may be;
Afflicted in every way but we are not crushed.
Perplexed but we are not forsaken.
Struck down but we are not destroyed.
Carrying the death of Christ in the body (that is the church!!!) in order that the life of Christ might be seen in and through us.
Death is seen in us in order that life can be experienced by others. In other words because Jesus has died and now lives; His death has brought us spiritual life and by this life that we now live salvation is seen as an option for others!
He is our Life, our Saviour, our Witness, our Ministry!
Therefore we do not lose heart, our physical bodies are wasting away but our inner being, our spirit is renewed daily. The comparison of momentary affliction pales into insignificance in the face of Jesus and the glory of our God. This is our eternal treasure and so we must keep on declaring the mercy of God, and we must not lose heart because His glory is of far greater substance than all of the difficulties that this life can ever throw at us!