2 Corinthians 4:1 ~ 20180722 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
07/22_2 Corinthians 4:1; How To Persevere In Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180722_2cor4_1.mp3
Do Not Lose Heart
We do not lose heart. He echoes this again down in verse 16
Paul had every reason to lose heart. He goes on to say 'though our outer self is wasting away...' In verses 8-11 he says 'we are afflicted in every way... perplexed... persecuted... struck down... always carrying in the body the death of Jesus... we... are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake...' Back in chapter 1:5-6 he said that 'we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings... we are afflicted... we suffer...'
In 1:8-10 he informed 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.' He describes it as 'a deadly peril.' Paul had multiplied reasons to lose heart.
This word 'lose heart' means literally 'to be weak or to fail' in the discharge of a duty. It shows up in Luke 18, where Jesus:
Jesus is teaching persistence or perseverance in prayer. Don't quit. Don't give up. Don't wear out. Don't be discouraged when you don't get an answer right away. Don't fail to persevere in prayer.
It shows up in Galatians 6:9
There it is parallel to another word meaning to faint or relax; to give up. Don't grow weary; don't quit, don't lose heart; what you sow by persevering in doing good, you will reap in due time. He says something very similar in 2 Thessalonians 3:13
Don't quit, don't become discouraged in serving others in need; persevere in doing good.
Paul, writes Ephesians 3:13 from prison and says:
There it points more to the subjective emotional discouragement which comes from hearing bad news of a suffering friend. Don't lose heart, don't become discouraged, don't lose hope. Don't lose your grip on the bold confidence you have in Jesus. Even here in Ephesians it may contain the idea of 'don't fail to persevere in doing good, even if your persistence means increased suffering for the apostle.'
How To Persevere in Ministry
Here in 2 Corinthians Paul is talking about persevering in ministry. How do we not grow weary, wear out, faint, fail, lose heart? How do we persistently persevere in ministry? How do you stick with it, even in the face of suffering, affliction, failure? How do you battle discouragement and even depression? How do you not give up? How do you not quit?
You might be saying 'this sounds like a great message for a pastor's conference, or for ministry leaders, but how does it apply to me? I'm not in ministry. Although none of you are apostles, you all are ministers. Apostles were the prototype for ministry. Paul says 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ' (1Cor.11:1). One author says that the life of an apostle not essentially different from that of other Christians; in them Christian existence is written large (Seifrid, p.189).
Ministry means service. We all are called to minister, to serve others with the gifts God has given us. And we all need encouragement to not lose heart.
Perseverance and the Nature of Gospel Ministry
Paul begins his instruction on how to persevere in ministry with the word 'therefore, on account of this or because of this.' Because of what? In chapter 3 Paul has laid out what authentic gospel ministry consists of. I believe one major reason why many lose heart, burn out, or grow weary in ministry is that they misunderstand what ministry is.
Authentic gospel ministry, according to 2 Corinthians 3 is New Covenant ministry; ministry that depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit. All sufficiency for authentic ministry comes from God; we are not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from ourselves. God by the Spirit is writing Christ on the tablets of hearts of flesh. The Spirit is the one who makes alive. The ministry of the Spirit is a permanent, lasting ministry; not one that fades away. It is a ministry that escapes condemnation and brings about righteousness; the righteousness of Christ credited to the believer. It is a ministry of hope. It is ministry a that removes veils, a ministry of freedom, ministry that brings transformation; it is a surpassingly glorious ministry. God the Holy Spirit brings about life and righteousness and transformation in dead sinners through the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Authentic ministry spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. Authentic ministry brings people into direct contact with the glory of our Lord Jesus. Paul does not lose heart or become discouraged or give up because he has been entrusted with this kind of ministry.
If we understand what New Covenant ministry is; that New Covenant ministry is a sovereign work of the Spirit of the living God in the hearts and lives of people, using us as his instruments, we will not lose heart!
Authentic Christian ministry is ministry that we have by mercy. Mercy is divine compassion and pity. Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who owed his master an insurmountable debt. Since he was unable to pay, the master ordered for him and all that he had to be sold and payment to be made. The servant fell to his knees and begged his master for more time to repay the debt. This servant understood what he deserved.
The master was moved with compassion. He did not treat the servant as he deserved. Instead he released him and forgave the debt. Later in the story, this action of the master is called mercy
Mercy is release from a debt we owe; it is an emotional response of being moved with compassion or pity toward one who is in trouble and is powerless to escape his desperate situation. Blind men cried out to Jesus for mercy. Those caring for one tormented by demons cried out to Jesus for mercy. The good Samaritan in Luke 10 was moved with compassion and showed mercy to the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. Mercy is action to help springing from pity or compassion toward one who is powerless to remedy his own situation.
We read of God's mercy in Titus 3
Mercy is God's rescue in response to our need. It is not reward for righteousness; it is the opposite of merit. It is gift. Peter says:
God was moved with compassion by our helplessness, and made dead sinners alive.
Ministry By The Mercy of God
Let's apply this definition of mercy to Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 4
We have been given this ministry by the mercy of God. God, moved with compassion by our helplessness, acted to rescue us. We are saved by his mercy. We have this ministry by mercy. Ministry is not something we are worthy of. It is not something we deserve to have. Mercy is divine compassion that meets us in our helplessness to rescue us. 'We are not sufficient' Paul says 'to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant' (3:5-6). We have this ministry by mercy.
Paul was acutely aware that he was called to minister by the mercy of God. In 1 Timothy he says:
Paul did nothing to deserve his appointment to ministry. He was ignorant, so he needed mercy. He was an unbeliever, so he needed mercy. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent opponent, and still he received mercy. He was in a position of helplessness; he didn't even think he needed to be rescued. He thought he was doing well. But the grace of the Lord Jesus overflowed toward him. God had compassion on him, and he extended mercy to him and saved him and appointed him to his service. Saul who became Paul was the poster child for mercy. God put his mercy on display in Paul, so that no one could ever think he was beyond the reach of God's mercy. Mercy has everything to do with God and nothing to do with my deserving or my worth.
Paul begins this letter by acknowledging God as the Father of mercies.
Mercy Powers Perseverance
So how does knowing that we have been entrusted with ministry according to mercy affect our perseverance and keep us from losing heart? How does a recognition that ministry is according to mercy help me not to despair?
I lose heart when I think it is my performance that matters. I am discouraged and begin to lose heart when I feel that I have not done well enough or have not met expectations. I get discouraged when I don't see the results that I hope for. But ministry is according to mercy. Ministry is not about my performance. Ministry is not about expectations or results. Ministry is according to mercy; divine help in response to my helplessness and need. I am not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from me. My sufficiency is from God, who has made me competent. Competent to minister. I am helpless to minister effectively. God who is rich in mercy, from the depth of his compassion, is eager to meet me in my helplessness and accomplish his purposes in and through me. I do not quit, give up, get discouraged, lose heart, because just as my salvation is God's mercy meeting me in my helplessness, so the ministry he has equipped me for and entrusted me with is all God's mercy meeting me in my helplessness and supplying my lack.
Most fundamentally Paul, and each of us, is one upon whom God has had pity and come to our rescue. I am a mere recipient of mercy, together with all who belong to God through Christ.
Authentic Christian ministry depends completely on the mercy of God. One who is called to minister must first receive the mercy of God in the gospel, and we must live and minister ever in the mercy of God, as God meets us in our need and supplies our lack.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org