Series: 2 Corinthians
This weekend is the anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its few pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.
Yet my concern this morning is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time—the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.
I. The glory of the new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2).
A. A gospel minister must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers.
1. Meaning of “lose heart” and examples of how this can happen. The word used can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.
2. There are sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry of glory. And God’s mercy is on us (cf. Ps 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right,” as a contemporary Christian songs says.
B. A gospel minister must serve according to gospel principles. This influences the mode of ministry in three ways.
1. We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
2. We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s true ministers will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell you what the Lord has said.
3. We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person on the basis of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.
II. The glory of the gospel is hidden to minds blinded by Satan (4:3-4).
Although the glory of God is clearly revealed in this new covenant age, many do not see this glory. Why?
Comment: At this point in our time, many are very eager to blame the church. “If the church were ______________, then people would come.” And so they run off on a wild hunt to find something to attract the young, the hip, the influential, the wealthy, or the whatever. Paul avoids such traps and points his readers to the real reason. The problem is not in the message, but it is in the people apart from Christ.
A. Those who fail to see this glory are perishing. This fact should gain our attention!
1. They are in the process of perishing right now. Ruin has seized them and they are in danger of eternal destruction.
2. We ought to understand the nature of their problem. It seems the longer that you walk with the Lord; it can be easy to forget how you used to think. What do the perishing see when they hear the gospel? They hear a message that is contrary to their world and life view. As Paul earlier wrote, to the Greeks the gospel is foolishness and to the Jews it is a stumbling-block (1 Cor 1:22-23). The gospel offends everyone who wants a message that says “you are not that bad, you can help solve your problems, and you only need to know and follow such and such a procedure.”
B. Those who fail to see this glory have their minds blinded.
1. The agent of this blinding is Satan, who is here called “the god of this age” (cf. Jn 12:31). The term “this age” in the NTS refers to the present course of evil, so “god” in this context does not refer to the true God. The true God is the “King of the ages” (1 Tm 1:17). Though under the ultimate rule of the living God, Satan can cause all sorts of evil. The evil one can destroy the flesh (1 Cor 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), snatch away the gospel message (Mk 4:15), empower his servants to work miraculous signs (2 Th 2:9), give thorns in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7), tempt (1 Cor 7:5), scheme (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 6:11), trap (2 Tm 2:26), and oppose the spread of the gospel (1 Th 2:18).
2. The consequence of this blinding is that they cannot see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” As Rolfe Barnard, a preacher down south of another generation, said, “Satan puts all his eggs in one basket.” This is all he needs to do to keep people from turning to Christ. “Don’t let them see the glory of Christ.” You must understand that Satan does not care if we talk about people’s “needs”, such as having a better family or education or job or community. He is quite happy to let us exchange the gospel of Christ for a message of personal success or politics or morality or improving the family or social justice. But he does not want them to know that Christ is the image of God. Why? Once you see that Christ is the image of God, then you are confronted with the Mighty Creator who rules over all and to whom all people are responsible, yet amazingly this real living God did not use his Godhead for his own advantage but humbled himself, died on the cross to save sinners like you and me, and then rose again, victorious over death, and ascended to heaven to reign over all as Lord forever. [To Christ personal success is the cross, politics is the rule of God, morality is transformation into godliness, improving the family is joining God’s family, and social justice is each one denying oneself for the good of others. These things do not sell well to the proud.]
III. The glory of the gospel is known in Jesus Christ as Lord (4:5-6).
A. The message preached transforms the way a person looks at life. Too many assume that setting forth a moral code is the way to change people. “Make a law and enforce it.” Now if that were true, we would not have any of the destruction caused by drug and alcohol abuse in this country. No my friend, unless you preach the Lord Jesus Christ, you are left with an empty, powerless moralism.
1. An acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here is the essence of Christian belief (cf. 1 Cor 12:3; Rm 10:9-10; Ph 2:6-11). The crucified Christ has been exalted through his resurrection as Lord over all. God’s rule and salvation come through him. He is Lord; that is, Yahweh, and everyone is under his authority.
2. An acknowledgement that you are the slave of others, laboring for their good, because you are the slave of the Lord (Rm 6:16-22; 1 Cor 7:22b-23). Since you are in Christ, you model the character of the one who took the form of a slave. And you take this role on account of Jesus Christ. So Christ forms your interactions with others.
Point: This is very far removed from the self-serving spirit that is mainly interested in “what can we get out of this?” Instead, we ask, “What can I give for the good of others?”
B. The message preached is made effective by God.
1. God’s action in the old creation – He said, “Light will shine” (Gen 1:3-4). God commanded and light suddenly appeared throughout the universe he created. And he made the light before he made the sun and the other stars. This is awesome power; it is might that is able to change the basic circumstances of all that is!
2. God’s action in the new creation – The same all-powerful, living God is responsible for spiritual light (cf. Ac 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:12-13; 1 Th 5:4-5; 1 Pt 2:9). When God turns us to him, he floods our darkened hearts with light. Then we can see! What do we see? We see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ! Our conversion is Christ-focused.
Apply: Has this happened to you? Do you understand that God is known through the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are you still trying to light little candles for yourself by human philosophy, sociology, psychology, religion or spirituality? Your only hope is found outside of your resources and in the power of the true and living God. I have good news for you today. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.