2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ~ 20180805 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
08/05_2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180805_2cor4_3-4.mp3
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is describing authentic Christian ministry. We have been entrusted with ministry by God's mercy, God's pity and compassion that moves him to action to help the desperate. We have this ministry by his mercy, so we do not lose heart. We renounce hidden things of shame. We refuse to use every means possible; we refuse to adulterate God's word (if we adulterate the one thing that has the power to transform, then what hope is there?) Instead, we plainly proclaim the truth. It is by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience. All this happens under the watchful eye of God.
So we do not lose heart, grow faint, get discouraged, burn out, give up, quit. We do not lose heart in the face of opposition. We do not lose heart in the face of criticism. We do not lose heart in the face of discouraging circumstances. We do not lose heart in the face of ministry failures.
How can this be? How can we not lose heart, how can we not give up persevering in ministry when we fail in that very ministry? When that ministry fails to produce the intended results? How do we explain ineffective ministry?
I've seen a lot of different types of ministry, and I have seen some very different responses to gospel ministry. In our very active student ministry in high school, we did everything from stranger evangelism on the streets to concert events where we invited people and the gospel was presented. I remember many fumbling conversations where I just couldn't seem to find the right words or know how to respond to questions, and the frustration of feeling like a failure. I remember one particular event where we had invited friends, and the speaker gave a captivating presentation, and explained the gospel more plainly and clearly than I had ever heard before. It was so clear, so compelling, you just had to trust Jesus! I couldn't imagine an unbeliever hearing that, who wouldn't be eager to respond with faith in Jesus. I looked over at the friend I had brought. Nothing. I was looking forward to the conversation on the way home. Nothing. So I asked, 'what'd you think?' 'It was ok.' 'What did you think of the speaker, what he said?' 'It was all right I guess. I'm not really that in to all that religious stuff.' I sat there in stunned disbelief. How could you possibly sit there and hear what we just heard and be totally unaffected? It was like we must have heard different speakers. What room were you in? Were you even listening? It was all right?! He told you you have sinned, and sin separates you from a holy God who made you and loves you. But Jesus came to pay the debt you owe so you could have a relationship with him. Religion? He didn't say anything about religion!
This was an eye-opener for me. How could you listen to that clear a proclamation of the gospel and not get it; totally miss it? It was like my friend was blind to what was said.
Listen to what our passage says:
The fault is not always in the messenger or the presentation. Sometimes it is. We can work to improve our communication skills. We can always grow in our ability to lay out the gospel plainly. But the fault is not always in the messenger. There is a supernatural battle going on. There is a spiritual dimension to evangelism.
We are not talking about math; two plus two is four – do you believe that? We are proclaiming that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave alive – do you believe? 'Wait, are you telling me that I am a sinner? I don't think it's right that God would kill somebody over some minor offense. Jesus, yeah, I believe he existed and was a great moral teacher. It's really unfortunate what they did to him. But this nonsense about rising from the dead – I'm not so sure.' When we say 'do you believe?' we are not asking if you agree that it is true or that it really happened; that is only a part of it. We are asking 'do you trust him? Are you relying on Jesus, depending on him completely?'
There is a spiritual battle going on in the minds of unbelievers. The god of this world; when we chose to listen to, to obey the word of the serpent over the word of God; we gave our allegiance to the devil; we made him our god. Jesus calls him 'the ruler of this world' in John 12:31. 1 John 5:19 says that:
Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the whole armor of God that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; against the rulers and authorities; the cosmic powers; this present darkness; the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Put on truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, with all-prayer. Paul ends this description of our spiritual battle with a very specific request:
Stand equipped in gospel truth, gospel righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, gospel dependence, gospel defense; speak the word of God with all prayer and petition at all times in the Spirit with all perseverance.
Confidence Even In Ministry Failure; God's Word Never Fails
Paul has been talking about veils that obstruct the real purpose from view, minds that were hardened, veils that lie over their hearts when God's word is read. He said 'only through Christ is it taken away' (3:14); 'if one turns to the Lord the veil is removed' (3:16). 'This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit' (3:18).
Paul is defending his ministry; he doesn't adulterate the word; he doesn't use tricks to manipulate or deceive. He plainly and simply proclaims the truth of the gospel. And even with the right message and the right methods, that open statement of the truth sometimes seems to fail.
I say 'seems to fail' because it never really fails. God's word always accomplishes its purpose, always.
God's word always accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. But we tend to think that the only goal of ministry is conversion. When God sent Isaiah back in chapter 6,
God told Jeremiah:
This is not the kind of promise we are looking for in ministry. We would love it if everyone responded positively to the gospel. But Paul recognized two categories of people, two responses to the gospel.
Back in 1 Corinthians he said
Paul divided humanity into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The gospel, and the messenger of the gospel comes as a fragrance to both. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom.1:16). And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men ...so they are without excuse (Rom.1:18-20).
God always accomplishes his purposes. He sends us to warn some in their rebellion, to heighten their accountability; to others he uses us as his instrument to give life and set them free. To one a fragrance of death into death; to the other a fragrance of life into life. Although our desire, as God's is that none should perish and all should come to repentance, we should not gauge success in ministry by the number of professions of faith. We talk about successful ministry; instead we should pursue faithful ministry. We would not consider Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel successful ministries; but we would call them faithful ministers.
2 Timothy 2 puts it this way:
Jesus compared it to a sower sowing seed. He scattered his seed all over.
Notice who takes away the word from their hearts; who blinds the minds of unbelievers? The devil, the evil one immediately snatches away what has been sown in his heart (Mt.13:19; Mk.4:15). Faithful sowing gets the seed out to everyone. Sometimes the word does not even have a chance to germinate in the mind before even the thought is snatched away. The fault is not in the seed. Neither is the fault in the sower. The fault is in the differing soils.
We have been looking at authentic gospel ministry. Faithful ministry can be defined as scattering seed. The open statement of the truth. Don't tamper with, don't adulterate the seed. Don't attempt to genetically modify the seed, thinking you will get enhanced results. The pure word, the simple gospel, is what God uses to produce life.
Don't get overly critical of methods of scattering seed. Everyone is different, uniquely designed by our amazingly creative God. I have found that if you scatter the seed this way, it works best. Are you an overhand seed scatterer or an underhand seed scatterer. Just don't be underhanded in your seed scattering. Do you use one of those things with the crank that scatters the seed, or do you push one of those two wheeled seed scatterers? People write books on how to scatter seed. Don't waste a lot of time evaluating techniques. It doesn't really matter. Just get it out there!
Do you hear that? God gave the growth. Only God gives the growth. Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything. Anything!
We are not sufficient to claim anything, anything as coming from ourselves. God has made us competent. Take great courage in the fact that your competency does not come from your technique or even your success rate. Our sufficiency for gospel ministry is from God.
The Glory of the Gospel
Before we leave this passage today, we've got to get to the good stuff! Even in the negative, it's beautiful. In chapter 3, Paul has been talking about glory, the glory of Moses' ministry, and the surpassingly greater glory of the New Covenant ministry. He's been talking about glory that is veiled, glory that is concealed. And he's talked about beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. What is it that the god of this world wants to keep us from seeing? What is the glory of the gospel?
O do not be blind to this today! Do not let Satan blind you to the glory of the good news! He wants to harden your mind and veil your heart and keep you from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! Jesus said:
The light of the gospel is a person. It is only the blind who cannot see the light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. Satan would blind you to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus is 'the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb.1:3). Jesus is the word made flesh; God with us.
O ask for eyes to see more of the glory of Christ! Do not be choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (Mk.4:19), and miss the glory of Christ! O press in to see more of Jesus. Turn to the Lord.
Turn to the Lord with unveiled face. Gaze on the beauty of the Lord. Look to Jesus! See the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org