Good morning. Please do take a seat, and look up 2 Corinthians 4 in your bible, on your device, and as you do that let me pray:
Father God, as we begin this new series today, please help us, by the power of your spirit, to understand your word and apply our lives to it. Amen.
2 Corinthians 4 then begins like this:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
It’s easy to lose heart! Life is tough. The Christian life especially so. It’s easy to lose heart not only when we feel down, or are in pain, or are overwhelmed, but also in the mundane and routine of life. Tough times come to us all, don’t they? And nearly always, in my experience, such times are accompanied by the temptation to just give up. I’ve felt that temptation keenly, only at the start of this week. “What’s the point, surely I’d just be better off if I didn’t…” you can fill in your own blanks!
And if you’re anything like me, quite often the last thing you want in such times, is some well-meaning friend or preacher saying to you “do not lose heart” because we hear that as “don’t feel like you’re already feeling” and so we feel even more like failures. But Paul doesn’t do that. Indeed, at the start of 2 Corinthians he reassures us that he knows all about how trouble and affliction feels. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1.8-9:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
But Paul knew! He understood what despair feels like. He understood the temptation of giving up and checking out. Nevertheless, he is able to say in 2 Corinthians 4.1:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
How? How can Paul do that? Because he keeps a gospel perspective. Which is my first heading today:
1. Keep A Gospel Perspective (2 Corinthians 4.1)
Paul is setting an example here. He says he’s not losing heart because he has ‘this ministry’. Now to understand that phrase, we need to briefly track back to 2 Corinthians 3.4-6, which says:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God…our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…
What is the ministry of 2 Corinthians 4.1? It’s to minister the new covenant. Which, as 2 Corinthians 3 continues is:
• 2 Corinthians 3.6 of the Spirit.
• 2 Corinthians 3.6 gives life.
• 2 Corinthians 3.8-9 glorious
• 2 Corinthians 3.12 full of hope
• 2 Corinthians 3.17 brings freedom and
• 2 Corinthians 3.18 transformation
In other words, the new covenant is the gospel! Paul does not lose heart because he looks back to what Jesus has done for gospel perspective But he also looks forward for a gospel perspective – because the whole of chapter 4 is moving to the climax in 2 Corinthians 4.16-18. Just look on:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…
Wow! I’m not going to say anything more on that as that would be stealing Jonathan Pryke’s thunder next week! Suffice to say that keeping a gospel perspective both looks backwards, to Jesus life, death and resurrection, and looks forwards, to glory, in order to help us make sense of the present and not completely lose heart.
2. Faithful Gospel Proclamation (2 Corinthians 4.2-6)
“Okay,” you say, “that’s great theory, but what does that look like at street level?” Well, from 2 Corinthians 4.2 on, Paul shows us. Using the example of faithful gospel proclamation Paul responds to his critics with some great practicalities that can protect us from losing heart. And providentially it’s a helpful case study for us at this time of year, especially when we think of the term ahead and the opportunities of welcoming newcomers, our October mission events, the Christianity Explored sessions. How can we protect against losing heart in our evangelism? And not just in those more formal, organised settings, but in our everyday interactions with family, friends, people we bump into etc. What does faithful gospel proclamation actually look like?
Paul mention at least four things. Firstly, faithful gospel proclamation:
a. Tells The Plain Truth (2 Corinthians 4.2)
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.
Now it may seem an obvious point to make: ‘Tell the plain truth’ – but Paul here is directly addressing some accusations that have been levelled against him. So:
• He denies being underhanded (such as packaging up the truth as something different).
• He denies trying to deceive people though cunning (so that he, for example, benefits personally), and
• He denies tampering with God’s word (that’s adding to, subtracting from or just distorting).
Rather he openly states the truth.
Now we may think that we would never do any of these things, but:
• How often in gospel conversation with unbelievers do we focus on the blessings and then rush over or just ignore the costs of discipleship?
• How often are we tempted to cut out the bits of the gospel that we think are unpalatable or irrelevant – such as sin or judgement or hell?
• How often do we just say nothing at all?
Friends, if we do this, we are in danger of creating false disciples. A church where people think they are Christian, but aren’t. And when trouble comes, when commitment and depth is required those people may fall away, thinking Christianity doesn’t work – and they could rightly claim they’d been sold a lie We must tell the truth even when we think it’s not what people want to hear.
And we must do so openly. The meaning of that phrase is that it’s ‘plain’ or clear’ or ‘straightforward’. That doesn’t mean being boring or uninspiring or unimaginative or dispassionate It means that we must explain the gospel simply, clearly and in language that people can understand. It means thinking of ways we can talk initially without using Christian jargon that gets in the way and has no meaning to someone who has never set foot in a church. So, here’s a challenge for you, why not, after this morning’s service, get together with a Christian family member or friend and see if you can explain the gospel to each other without actually using that word – ‘gospel’ or any other Christian words like ‘sin’ or ‘Lord’. See if you can talk about the good news of Jesus in plain, accessible everyday language! So, tell the plain truth.
Secondly, faithful gospel proclamation:
b. Expects Blindness (2 Corinthians 4.3-4):
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Paul is encouraging us to have realistic expectations based on the spiritual reality. Even when we do tell the truth plainly, unless God ‘opens their eyes’ to it people still won’t believe it.
I remember one of the first evangelism courses I was involved in. Many of our friends came to our home week by week, patiently sat through the Alpha videos, asked loads of questions – it all looked so promising.
Then one day I had a phone call: “Hi Jon – we’ve been thinking. We’ve gone to far down the road to becoming Christians than we’re comfortable with. We’re not going to come back to the last session!” Spiritual blindness!
And whatever method of evangelism we use Paul wants us to know that the ‘god of this world’ – Satan – blinds the minds of some unbelievers so that, even if they hear words they understand - they cannot understand the spiritual meaning of those words. There is a veil in place. We need to realize that this is why so many don’t believe the gospel. It is the willful blindness of the human heart that is at fault – not the gospel. So, we tell the plain truth, but we also expect blindness.
“Well that’s all well and good,” some may say “so why bother at all? We may as well do nothing and let God remove the veil - as and where he sees fit!” But Paul doesn’t absolve us of responsibility completely, because thirdly, faithful gospel proclamation:
c. Proclaims Jesus Christ As Lord (2 Corinthians 4.5)
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
Our responsibility is to be the channel / the conduit for the message. Paul wrote to the church in Rome that ‘faith comes by hearing’ so someone has to proclaim the truth for it to be heard – that someone is us! You and me. Yes Ministers (capital M) and Evangelists (capital E) should be specifically gifted for this task – but every Christian is a disciple-making disciple charged with ministering the gospel to those around them. Every Christian.
Undoubtedly the focus of our proclamation has to be Jesus Christ as Lord. But, again, that needs unpacking for the person who has never heard the name Jesus (other than as a swear word) or the person who has no idea who Jesus is or what the word ‘Lord’ actually means! So, proclaiming Jesus as Lord means:
• carefully and patiently explaining how Jesus is not just a man, but is actually God!
• carefully and patiently explaining how Jesus has ultimate authority over everything
And if we are going to say “Jesus Is Lord” it means we commit ourselves to no longer living in rebellion or ignorance of him, but to live in obedience to him out of love and gratitude for who he is and what he’s done. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Finally, faithful gospel proclamation:
d. Leaves The Results Up To God (2 Corinthians 4.6)
That’s a great, liberating truth for us to hold on to:
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.
Can you imagine what would happen if the results of gospel transformation were down to us?
• Success would lead to pride – “I’m so good at this!”
• Failure would lead to despair – “I’m no good at this!” or even “I need to change the message to get better results!”
Friends – the call, as always, is to faithfulness, not success.No - the results of our evangelistic endeavors are entirely up to God – it’s he who gives the light of knowledge, not us. Just like God shone his light around the murderous, ultra-Pharisee Paul on the Damascus Road - and changed even him – we should never, ever second guess who God may or may not choose to save through our efforts.
We have no idea where God will allow his mercy to reach, well actually, we do because he’s rescued even us! And as undeserved recipients of his grace, we know just how great God’s mercy is. And friend, knowing that, if we don’t want to pass such good news of rescue on - , it probably means that … actually …we’ve not fully understood the depth of that mercy.
So let me leave you with a second challenge, don’t just practice how to proclaim Jesus is Lord with a friend or family member. Pray for an opportunity to do it for real. This week!
- Think of someone you’re already talking to about Jesus,
- or someone you’ve been trying to talk to about Jesus,
- or someone you’ve been praying for but so far haven’t had the courage or opportunity.
Just one person. Write their name down. Now or you’ll forget!
Write their name down and pray every day this week that the Lord would provide an opportunity for faithful gospel proclamation with them! You got the name? Written down? Then let’s pray:
Father, in this long and troublesome life, help us not to lose heart but to keep a gospel perspective.
Father we pray now for those we have named - in all our witnessing for you may we always tell the plain truth, expect spiritual blindness (not deterred), proclaim your son, Jesus as Lord (with them this week) and then leave the results up to you!
And we ask this Father, not for our glory, but for yours alone.