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2 Corinthians 4:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice 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. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled 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. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
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, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4 ESV)
This letter was written by the quintessential pastor. Murray Harris: it’s a “profound autobiographical letter.”
In chapter 4 there is the temptation to lose heart when serving in pastoral ministry. Paul was familiar with this temptation. Ch. 11 concludes with Paul’s daily pressure of the anxiety of all the churches—and undoubtedly with the Corinthian church in particular. Here we encounter Paul’s resolve not to lose heart, which frames this chapter (see vv. 1 and 16).
These are remarkable statements. What informed his resolve? How can our resolve be similarly informed and inspired in light of this common, predictable temptation? No pastor is exempt from this temptation. Sometimes it happens gradually and imperceptibly.
Here are heart-protecting and heart-strengthening realities against this temptation to lose heart:
1. The Call of Christian Ministry (vv. 1-6)
“This ministry” is a call to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and him crucified, where the glory of God is uniquely revealed and proclaimed. This vision sustained Paul in ministry. Pastoral ministry is a sacrificial ministry attended with unique challenges: proclaiming the light to blind eyes, and to those who see but whose hearts are prone to wonder. We do not lose heart because we have “this ministry.” We must not tamper with this message. We are not innovators but proclaimers. We proclaim not ourselves but him. Once we have been captured and captivated by the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—who would want to draw attention to himself (v. 5)? Paul never ceased to marvel at the mercy of his ministry calling. He never go over it. Have we gotten over it? Are we acclimated to it, or are we amazed by it? When we preach the gospel, sinners see the face of the Savior, they hear the cries of Calvary.
Keep this ministry in view, and you won’t lose heart. Also keep in view your congregation.
2. The Context and Conditions of Christian Ministry (vv. 7-15)
Paul was under no illusions that this ministry would be easy. It’s not only to proclaim, but also to suffer and to serve. It takes place in the context of personal weakness and the harsh realities of ministry in a fallen world (vv. 8-9). It involves trials and tribulation. Young, aspiring pastor: this is what you have to look forward to. You need to be prepared for vv. 7-12 prior to your experience of vv. 8-9 or you will be blindsided.
It is a comfort to know that Paul was perplexed and bewildered—that he had an “I don’t know” in his pastoral toolbox.
The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith?s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.
The surpassing power of God’s grace belongs to God, not to us. God is wonderfully at work, and so does our congregation. It’s about God’s sustaining grace, not our resolve. Left to myself, we would be forsaken and destroyed. BUT NOT!
Paul acknowledges the harsh realities, but the accent is on the phrase “but not” (vv. 8-9). This should be great strength to our souls. “But not” is a banner over our lives when the grace of God is active.
3. The Paradox of Ministry (vv. 10-12)
Murray Harris: “Always dying, never lifeless.” This ministry involves the sanctifying work of the gospel in our lives—the ministry of dying daily. Weak and dependent pastors, dying to themselves. Death is at work in us, but life in your congregation. Behind every biblically fruitful church you will find dying pastors.
4. The Hope of Christian Ministry (vv. 16-18)
The absence of eternal perspective will cause you to lose heart. We are all wasting away as we seek to advance the gospel, but there’s no comparing present suffering with future glory. If Paul’s extensive sufferings are “light and momentary,” what are ours? Paul learned how to look into the unseen and into the future. The older we get, the more we need to learn how to do this. When we do, there is inner renewal and our resolve is strengthened.