Considering Spiritual Blindness and Potent Ministry
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
What is required for potent ministry? What is needed if we are going to win the lost and build up and equip the saints for the work of ministry? We can be like Martha, anxious about many things. So often we are so anxious because we think the power for potent ministry resides in us.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 calls us away from ourselves and to God. If the lost will be won and the church built up, God must act.
You will recall that Paul began this chapter telling us that he does not lose heart in ministry as He proclaims Christ. And that Paul experienced incredible hardships in his life of ministry. But last time we saw that he refused to be underhanded, cunning, or to tamper with God’s Word. Instead he only sought to commend himself to everyone’s consciences in the sight of God by the open statement of the truth. Paul wasn’t going to compromise the truth of the gospel to gain people’s approval or win followers.
But Paul’s persistent resolve and commitment to the unashamed proclamation of the truth in the midst of enormous difficulty did not appear out of nowhere.
We saw two weeks ago that it was the nature of the New Covenant itself that encouraged Paul. We saw that it was the fact that he himself understood that his share in the ministry of Christ was owing to pure mercy. Last week we saw that it was his high reverence for the Word of his God that kept him from abandoning his God given task.
But this morning Paul shows us something else that strengthens his resolve and faithfulness. In these verses we are going to see how Paul understood what is required for conversion to Christ.
Very often we can get discouraged and become tempted to give up in ministry or tempted to shift and misuse God’s Word ever so slightly so as to make it less offensive and more acceptable to our audience. But that discouragement and that temptation may be because we do not yet understand what is required for someone to be converted to Christ or even to grow in Christ. This morning Paul is going to tell us what is required for someone to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
And this is actually an incredibly foundation for faithfulness in the midst of suffering.
Condition of the Lost: Spiritually Blind
So turn your attention to verses 3 and 4. Remember, as we listen to what Paul is saying here, that Paul is answering accusations from opponents in the church of Corinth.
Given Paul’s response here we can infer that one of the accusations was that Paul’s ministry was not as fruitful as one might expect from one who is truly a minister of God. Perhaps there was wide spread unbelief in the city of Corinth. Perhaps the church was not growing numerically as some had hoped and expected under the ministry of an Apostles of Christ.
And given this apparent lack of fruitfulness the accusations are leveled toward Paul: you can’t be from God. Your message is weak. Your methods are failing. Your gospel is ineffective. Your ministry isn’t fruitful.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
…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.
Consider what Paul is describing here. It is so easy to diminish the severity of the human condition. What is the human condition as Paul describes it here?
“In their [the perishing, unbelievers] case, the god of this world has blinded [their] minds… to keep them form seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” Not dull, blind.
Paul makes some remarkable statements here. Statements that would shock and offend almost every unbeliever in our society. Paul says his gospel is only veiled, that is, its glory is only not seen by those who are blinded by the god of this world, that is by Satan. The reason they can’t see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ is because Satan has blinded their minds. These are not the eyes in our heads. These are as Paul says in Ephesians 1, the eyes of our hearts. Those eyes that apprehend not just information, but value and beauty and worth. These eyes in the unbeliever are blind.
Now, does this mean that unbelievers are not then responsible for their unbelief? No, Paul makes it plain that they are perishing. Paul does not go into a lot of detail here about how Satan does this blinding work in the minds of unbelievers, but we know that it does not get unbelievers off the moral hook.
We might add to our understand here Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 2:14 where he says,
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
And Romans 8:7-8,
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So, it is not as if the natural human condition is one of neutrally toward God – they do not accept the things of the Spirit of God – they are folly to him. Why? The natural person is not able to understand the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned. Natural people do not have spiritual capacities – they are spiritually numb, spiritually dead.
In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul describes it this way,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
We add to this what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3 that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel and we have a portrait, not of spiritually sick people, but spiritual dead people, not people with slightly damaged vision, but blind people.
Add to this what Paul tell Timothy in his second letter to that young pastor,
See 2 Timothy 2:24-26
…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone able to teach, patiently enduring evil correcting his opponent with gentleness. [why? because…] God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.
Those who refuse to repent of sin (which Paul says here is key to leading them to a knowledge of the truth) are captured by the devil, ensnared by him, to do his will. Again we are not given a detailed explanation of the inner workings of the devils snare, but what is clear is this: unbelievers are not free or neutral, they are ensnared and captured. They are spiritually dead and they are blinded and ensnared by the devil.
There are two things that I think we need to emphasis here:
The activity of Satan in all of this does not get unbelievers of the moral hook in the least. Unbelief, spiritual discernment, and a lack of repentance, these are all things for which God will hold men accountable. As Ephesians 2 says these are what mark the ‘children of wrath.’ From this we can gather that whatever schemes and traps the devil employs he works them in a way that leaves men and women morally responsible for following him and serving him and doing his will in rebellion against God.
All this shouts to us loud and clear that the condition of humanity after the fall is one of devastating hopelessness.
People don’t need glasses – they need brand new spiritual eyes.
People don’t just need information, they need resurrected from the dead.
People don’t just need a choice, they need to be released from prison, the snare of the devil.
Natural people are not basically good or neutral. They are hopelessly lost, spiritually lifeless, blind, and captured – without hope in the world.
Adam and his race died.
So when you go to the perishing, the unbelieving, the dead, and you present them with the things of God, you might as well be talking to a corpse. You can teach and preach, yell and kick, pull and prod, lift and carry, love and serve a corpse as much as you like but it will not respond. That is the human condition.
You can be the apostle Paul, personally met and commissioned by the risen Lord to take the gospel to Corinth. And the result? Wide spread conversion and growth in the Lord? Apparently not in this case.
So, than what is hope for fruitful ministry? If the human condition is that bad, what hope is there of seeing fruitful ministry in Windham and Salem and Hudson and Pelham and Atkinson and Derry and Londonderry and where you and I work and live?
There is only one hope.
God Who Creates Light
So let’s unpack verse 5 to get to the heart of this hope.
For [because] God, who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So let’s get this first: Paul knows how dead people are made alive because he himself has been made alive. So how did it happen?
First of all he says that it is God who raises the dead. Look at what Paul says is required: “God, who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God…” Paul’s obvious intention here is to remind us of God’s almighty creative word in Genesis 1:3. When there was darkness and void God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light. In the same way, Paul says it is only the almighty God the Creator who must speak into the darkness and void of the human heart and say, ‘let there be light!’ and there will be light!
And secondly, notice what this light is that God sovereignly shines into the void. God gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Notice that Paul’s singular focus in ministry is to proclaim not himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with himself as a servant for Jesus’ sake.
The perishing cannot not see with the eyes of their heart. They cannot apprehend the things of God until God shines in their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
And this is why Paul is so passionate about the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is in him, in his face that God reveals His glory in the heart. It is only in the setting forth of the truths of the gospel and the announcement regarding the Person and work of Christ that the knowledge of the glory of God will be revealed.
So let’s make sure we get what Paul is saying about the proclamation of the gospel. As Sam Storms says,
The glory of God is present in the proclamation of the gospel! This is why Paul is so offended by the peddlers of God’s word in Corinth and those who temper with the gospel…The proclamation of the truth of the gospel is not entertainment. It is not a platform for a preacher to enhance his reputation or pad his pocketbook or impress people with his eloquence. A preacher or teacher must never open the Scriptures flippantly or casually, as if setting forth the truths of the gospel were no different from any other form of communication. The same applies anytime anyone shares the gospel with the passing stranger in a restaurant or distributes a tract to a friend. Just think of it: when you speak or write or share the message of the cross, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus is shining forth. What an awesome calling we have! What an exquisite treasure we carry!
And so Paul knows that if darkened hearts are going to receive the light of the glory of God it will be in the face of Jesus Christ and so it will be by the proclamation of the Christ and not apart from Him.
But catch this point: You can proclaim the gospel faithfully and diligently, shining the glory of God everywhere you go, but unless God is pleased to enlighten the heart of a person the glory of God in Christ will be veiled to them. The glory is there, but they will not see it unless and until God grants them eyes to see. The light of the noon day sun shining brightly will not be seen by a blind man until his eyes are opened.
So it is with the perishing. They will not see our Lord and His work as beautiful. They will not feel the weight of His glory. They will not taste that the Lord is good unless God who raises the dead gives them spiritual taste buds.
It is not that they cannot understand the facts of the Gospel. The demons believe and tremble. It is not as if unbelievers lack the capacity to comprehend the truth, but there is a difference between understanding the facts about something and treasuring something as infinitely precious. We must have spiritual tastebuds.
Peter described it this way in 1 Peter 1:8,
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.
The Aim of Ministry
So as we think about successful ministry are we in an accord with Paul? Often, I think we can slip into think that we somehow have the power to raise dead people – that if we just faithfully minister Christ than the church will grow and the lost will be won. Or far worse we see that the proclamation of Christ is not resulting is wide spread conversion so we tamper with the Word and try new measures.
– Oh, we must be faithful to proclaim Christ, but only God can raise the dead. We have a role, a ministry, and it is to be servants of the King, heralds of His gospel, proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, but it is God who must shine in the hearts and give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants not he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
Let us be very humble brothers and sisters. We do not have the power to raise the dead. What we are to do is serve others for Jesus’ sake by faithfully making Christ known, spreading the fragrance of Him everywhere we go. But let us not think of ourselves too highly. Let us honor God as God and proclaim Christ as King.
There are so many implication here for life and ministry, but I want to just touch on a few.
- Do you have a spiritual taste buds and spiritual eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Have you come to see your desperate need as a sinner before a Holy God? And have you heard the good news that God has provided a perfect Savior? Jesus Christ is that perfect Savior. He is both Savior and King – Jesus Christ is your Lord and Lord of all. Every man, every creature. He is the Creator, your Maker, and the sustainer of everyone and everything. Every breath you take and beat of your heart comes from His hand. You cannot be neutral about Him. He is not just another teacher, or godly person. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth and one day you will give an account to Him BUT hear this now, in this, the hour of salvation: His death upon the cross of Calvary is the only means by which you can have peace with God. In Him there is forgiveness of sin and peace with God received by faith in Him. Though you have not seen him, do you love him? Though you do not now see him, do you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory?
- Believers, do you adore and trust and praise God who spoke sovereignly and mercifully into your rebellious heart and gave you eyes to see – raised you from spiritual death? Give God glory and praise! Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together. Our God is sovereign and powerful and gracious and full of self-sacrificing love. Let us not diminish His necessary work in our hearts and let us praise Him for it.
- Do you pray – We have not only been welcomed to proclaim, we have received the ministry of intercession. Are you asking God to do what only God can do? Do you pray for the perishing and for the saints to grow in their spiritual apprehensions as Paul did for all the churches (see Ephesians 1:15-23)?
- Are you going forth with confidence for potent ministry? Paul said he did not lose heart and neither should we. It is God who raises the dead. What He has asked us to do is go and serve, announce, speak the Word of Life, to make Christ known. Whether or not He grants increase in people’s hearts and it is a fragrance of life is up to Him. We simply need to be faithful to proclaim the news about our Lord Jesus Christ – that is faithful ministry. But we know that the Lord Jesus said, “the fields are white unto harvest – pray to the lord of the harvest to send forth laborers!” Let us be those faithful ministers in this place.