The former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was invited, in his old age, to speak at Harrow School for their Speech Day. He was introduced, he got slowly to his feet, shuffled to the lectern and said:
'Never, never, never, never, never, give up.'
And he sat down again. That's all he said. And I take it Churchill said that because he knew from experience that giving up is a constant temptation. Well, 2 Corinthians 4 is about the temptation to give up trying to tell people about the Lord Jesus. Ie, to give up on 'evangelism' - that jargon word which simply means communicating the Christian message. 4.1:
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Ie, 'we do not give up'. And I take it the apostle Paul said that because he knew that giving up trying to tell people about the Lord is a constant temptation. And if you're a Christian, you'll know something of that temptation yourself. We've invited people to Mission events or The Tavern or Food for Thought or Carol Services or CYFA or our school or university CU's. And they've said 'No'. Or they've said 'Yes' and then not come. Or they've come and didn't like what they heard and don't want to come again. It doesn't take long in evangelism before you get a negative response. And because we don't enjoy negative responses we're tempted to give up. And the hardest situations are the long term ones. Husbands or wives, children or parents, or life-long friends who aren't believers. We pray, we talk, we invite, we lend books, we do what we can to help them hear about the Lord. But one year, 5 years, 10 years later they still don't believe. And we're tempted to give up. Well, 2 Corinthians 4 addresses people feeling like that. First, WHY WE DON'T LOSE HEART IN EVANGELISM (v1) The reason we lose heart in evangelism is that we either see negative responses or apparently no response at all. And we begin to wonder whether we'll see any positive responses. And Paul says: yes, we will, because God is at work. Verse 1:
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
And the New Testament [NT] tells us that every Christian is to be involved in some way in this ministry of trying to tell others about the Lord Jesus. So why did Paul not lose heart and give up? Well, verse 1 begins with a 'therefore'. So if we want to understand his reason, we've got to back up a bit. Look at chapter 2, verse 14:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.
Notice who Paul thinks is ultimately responsible for how evangelism goes. 'God leads us', 'and through us [God] spreads the knowledge of Jesus.' Which is why Paul trusts that he will see some positive results - it's a 'triumphal procession', not a flop. But having said that, he doesn't suffer from the illusion that he'll see only positive results. Chapter 2, verse 15:
For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one, we are the smell of death [ie, they don't like what we're saying]; to the other, the fragrance of life.
Everywhere Paul went, he got a mixed response. Negative and positive. And there's no doubt, reading the NT, that the negative far outweighed the positive. So no wonder he says, end of verse 16:
And who is equal to such a task?
Who's up to convincing people that the Christian message is true? Who can possibly make people change their minds? And the answer is a great relief once you've seen it. The answer is: no-one. No human being can convince another person that the gospel is true. No human being can change someone's mind, or 'heart' as the Bible also calls it. The point is: only God can turn a person's heart from being against him (which we all are by nature) to being for him. Look at Chapter 3, verse 3:
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.
Paul was writing to the people in Corinth who'd come to faith through his evangelism. And he says, 'You are the result of our ministry.' But then he reminds them who's responsible for results, or responses: 'the Spirit of the living God.' Which is why, in chapter 3, verse 8, he talks about evangelism as 'the ministry of the Spirit'. So, back to 2 Corinthians 4.1:
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Ie, since we're not in it on our own, since God is mercifully at work, since the Spirit of the living God is convincing people of the truth and able to change their minds we do not lose heart. Now it should be an encouragement to be told that we cannot change people, and we shouldn't try. (Attempting the impossible is bound to be discouraging.) We can only tell others about the Lord or invite them to services or The Tavern, or lend books or tapes, whatever. All we can do is get the message as far as their eardrum or their eyes. Communication is our part. And that's all we can do. We can't do anything for their minds or hearts. Responses is God's part. Notice Paul's not saying we've got nothing to do. Verse 1: 'we have this ministry'. Communication is our part. But Paul is reminding us that ultimately God is the one at work in evangelism. God works, through our work: 'through God's mercy we have this ministry'. And that means there cannot fail to be some results. That doesn't mean the particular people you're praying for and speaking to and the particular people I'm praying for and speaking to will become Christians. They may never. My parents may never. Your child may never. Your friend may never. Nowhere does the Bible promise that if I pray for person X and speak to person X, that person X will come to faith. All it says is this. As we all pray and all speak for Christ, God will turn some people to himself. And God chooses who. And God chooses when. Responses is God's part. Communication - with prayer and friendship and love - is our part. Secondly, HOW WE GO ABOUT EVANGELISM (v2) One temptation, when we're faced with negative responses, is to give up. Another temptation is to try to influence responses ourselves. Just think about Proctor and Gamble for a moment. One member of our congregation used to be brand manager for Ariel washing powder. He came up with that great slogan 'Why be nearly clean when you can be really clean?' I imagine he got a rise and a new company car for that. Anyway, his job was to influence responses. And he had a great army of researchers scouring Tyneside, ringing doorbells and quizzing people about new improved this and new superduper that. And if new improved this doesn't sell, Proctor and Gamble are very quick to change things. The packaging. The presentation. Or even the product itself. One of the dangers for the western church, especially churches like ours, is thinking about God's work as if it was a business. As if the gospel was a product. And if you think like that, what do you do when apparently few people, 'buy it'? You'll change the packaging or presentation. Or even the product itself. And Paul says, no we don't. Because the church is not a business. And the gospel is not a product. Verse 2:
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 every man's conscience in the sight of God.
We know there are plenty of negative responses to the gospel (ie the message about Jesus). So we're tempted to try to influence responses. Deceitful packaging and presentation is one way. I spoke at an evangelistic dinner a while ago and afterwards, a guy who wasn't a Christian came up and spoke to me. He said he was really interested to find our more about Jesus. I said 'Well, thanks very much for giving the time to come and think a bit about Christian things.' To which he said, 'Yeah, well. I didn't actually know there was going to be a talk. I was just told 'dinner'.' You see, the friend who'd invited him wanted him to come and therefore tried to influence his response to the invitation by not telling him there was going to be a talk. Because he didn't trust that response is God's part. And Paul says: we don't do that. Verse 2: 'Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception.' So if you're inviting someone to the invitation service in a few Sunday morning's time, or to a Mission event next November, be totally truthful. Communication is our part. ('Would you like to come with me to this dinner our church is laying on - there's going to be a talk about what Christianity's really about?') And responses is God's part. If he wants them there on that occasion, he doesn't need us to try help him on the response front by being devious. In fact, far from helping him, our being devious dishonours him. Deceitful packaging and presentation. The other temptation is to change the message. It doesn't take long in evangelism before you realise that the gospel is not what people want to hear.
People by nature (and we're all included in this) want to believe they're basically good. The gospel says we're basically evil. We like to think if there is something wrong between us and God it can all be put right by us trying a bit harder. The gospel says it's so serious it could only be put right by God's Son dying on a cross and us throwing himself on his mercy. People like to think it'll all be all right for everyone in the end. The gospel says some people will be in heaven. Some people will be in hell. People like to think that all religions lead to God. Jesus says, 'I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father except through me.' (John 14.6) People say no-one is allowed to claim they've got the truth. Jesus claimed to be the truth.
Those things go down like a lead balloon in our culture, just like they did in Paul's. But, mid-way through verse 2:
we do not distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
We don't distort the word of God. We don't tell people they're basically OK, or that all they need is a bit of self-improvement or that the Muslims and Jews and Buddhists will be OK in the end, even though that's what they want to hear. Because it's not the truth. Psychologically, I want to tell people what they want to hear. I want them to like me. I want them to agree with me. But if I give in to those wants I'll never tell them the truth. I'll tell them something distorted, which is worse than saying nothing. In conversations or in public speaking I have to keep reminding myself, end of verse 2, that I'm speaking 'in the sight of God', because that enables me to say what will please him, not what will please them. And I need to remind myself, verse 2, that 'every person' has a 'conscience'. Even if someone's mind is keeping the truth at arm's length, their consciences deep down register the truth. And you may be in that situation this evening: keeping the Lord Jesus at arm's length with your mind, while your conscience is saying, 'This is true. This is true. This is true.' Thirdly, HOW WE INTERPRET NEGATIVE RESPONSES IN EVANGELISM (vv3-4) We've looked at the temptation to give up. We've looked at the temptation to be underhand or to water down the gospel. That still leaves the nagging question: why are there so many negative responses? And the temptation is to think that the fault lies in the message. And Paul says, no it doesn't. The fault lies in the human heart. Verse 3:
And even if our gospel is veiled [ie, even if people don't 'see it' and respond], it is veiled to those who are perishing.
You remember we glanced back at 2.15 where Paul talks about 'those who are being saved' and 'those who are perishing'. There are two groups: those who reject, but also those who accept the message. And in verse 3 he's reminding us that not everyone rejects the gospel. Verse 3:
And even if our gospel is veiled [which it is to many people], it is veiled to those who are perishing.
But that's not everyone. Just look around you here tonight. There are plenty of people here who've accepted the message. Plenty of people who are not daft! Plenty of people who've found the message convincing and true. So if the problem's not with the message, what is the problem? Verse 4:
The god of this age [which I take to mean the devil, ie Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The problem is wilful blindness. Satan plays on human psychology by saying this: 'You can run your own life without God. You can decide for yourself what's right and wrong. And you can do that without any bad consequences.' (See Genesis 3.1-4) That's Satan's basic temptation, basic lie. And we humans fall for it because we love the idea of doing our own thing, being morally autonomous. I think I've told the story before of Nelson in the sea-battle of Copenhagen. He wasn't yet admiral of the fleet. The battle was going against the English and the admiral ran up the signal to withdraw. And Nelson's second officer spotted the signal and told Nelson. Nelson had other ideas. He was convinced he could turn the battle round and determined to do so. So he gave the order to carry on fighting. The second officer said, 'But sir, you cannot ignore a signal from the admiral.' And Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye, scanned the horizon and replied, 'Signal? What signal?' Verse 4:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
And as in Nelson's case, it's wilful blindness. It's the blindness that says, 'I'm determined to live my life my own way.' It's the blindness that ignores the signal God has sent in the gospel, because it doesn't want to admit it's in the wrong, ask for forgiveness and let Jesus be Lord. Because that would involve the humiliation of asking for mercy and the discomfort of change - change in every area of life - from sport to sex, from money to marriage. If you're not yet a believer, I have to tell you that your biggest problem with Jesus is not intellectual, but moral. And that was and is my biggest problem too. The biggest problem is not whether there's enough evidence for Jesus' resurrection, but whether you'll let him be Lord of your behaviour. And if you are a believer, I need to say: don't misinterpret negative responses to the gospel. It's not the gospel that's at fault, but peoples' hearts - just like ours were before the Holy Spirit turned us round. Fourthly, WHY WE GO ABOUT EVANGELISM (vv5-6) Plenty of people here week by week come because they're just at the finding out stage. And if that's you, it's great to have you. And you may have come today, or to things in the past, because of the invitation of a Christian friend or house mate or family member. And you may have wondered: why do they do it? Are they like the Jehovah's Witnesses, trying to notch up brownie points? Well, verses 5-6 say why:
For we do not preach [ie communicate - not necessarily from a pulpit; it could be conversation] ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
And it's interesting that he says, 'We do not preach ourselves.' If you read the rest of 2 Corinthians you discover that some other preachers had turned up in Corinth, who were very full of themselves. They wanted a personal following. They wanted big numbers. They wanted to control people. And Paul says, verse 5:
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
Ie, we're not out to gain a following or control anyone. We don't evangelise because we want people to join our church and make it look more successful. We don't evangelise because we want more people to agree with us so we feel more secure in our beliefs. So why do we evangelise? Verse 6:
For [ie because, this is why we preach Jesus Christ as Lord] God who said 'Let light shine out of darkness' [probably a reference to creation - Genesis 1.3] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
We evangelise because by God's help we've come to see who Jesus is. By God's help, we've realised that Jesus was God's Son come to earth as a human being. By God's help, we've realised he came to die on the cross to take on himself the judgement we deserve at the end of our lives. (That's what we're remembering at this communion service.) And by God's help, we've realised that the fact he rose from the dead means we're all going to meet him one day as our Judge, and we need to be forgiven and come back on the right side of him before it's too late. By God's help, we've realised that's true. And the reason we try to tell others is simply that it's true for everyone. Jesus came to earth for you, whoever you are. Jesus death is there for you, whoever you are. You will meet Jesus as your Judge, whoever you are. And you need forgiveness and a change of sides as much as I did, whoever you are. That's all we're saying. We're just passing on what we've realised is true - true for everyone and needed by everyone. Well, that's 2 Corinthians 4 on evangelism:
Why we don't lose heart: because God is at work (v1) How we go about it: we tell the truth (v2) How we interpret negative responses: it's not the gospel that's at fault (vv3-4). And why do we do it? Because God has helped us see who Jesus is, and now we know, we know everyone else needs to know as well (vv5-6)