Tuesday, April 08, 2008
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 Authentic Christian Service
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not give up.
2 Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth.
We are called to Faithful Christian service. Stewardship
I am glad I don’t have the job of coming up with military recruitment posters.
Posters not representative of what it was about: Fighting!
A recruiting poster of a pastor? Serene study. A missionary in a beautiful locale.
No recruiting poster with pastor at bedside of man begging to be allowed to die because he was quadriplegic. No recruiting poster of AIDS hostel.
Sadly, we can get into trouble as we give ourselves to any form of Christian Service.
Job 5:7 Eliphaz’s reproof of Job is true : 7 Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
Paul’s advice to a young Timothy tells us the trouble that comes to us just because we are Christians.
2 Tim 3: 10 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 Evil people and imposters will become worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Paul is saying, get over the trouble. It will happen!
Last week I discovered this again very clearly. You do not have to do anything to bring trouble to yourself. Someone rang me up demanding money. He had seen my name on the front of the church, and felt I , or our church owed him the money to travel to Melbourne. He had been put into James Fletcher the previous week by the police for the same stunt. He rang three times on Tuesday night.
Faithful Christian service is not a picnic or carnival and is a task that requires determination, conviction and a reliance on God. This is no place for the fainthearted. This will take everything in you.
1. The Problem Of Despondency
Indifference. And the temptation To manipulate The Audience.
Mohler, Barna.. illustrations, joviality and entertainment.
And trying to break through the apathy of church members, especially when "their yawns are like crocodiles swallowing sheep whole is frustrating. You can't overcome that by any sense of personal charisma or competence. The almost debilitating sense of indifference falls on you like a wet blanket."
Insensitivity The spiritual blindness. And the temptation to entertain.
Another principle Paul gave was to avoid deception. "An easy-going, theologically vague, harmlessly accommodating theology is the product of the deceived and the deceiving," Begg said. "A failure to declare the gospel of God in all of its full-orbed authority and certainty is in itself a form of deception.
Hostility And the temptation To Placate.
Unfounded accusations and unrealistic expectations follow ministers constantly.
Paul also warned against distorting the word of God in an attempt to make the message more palatable.
We face a church that has lost its nerve. Instead of conveying God's truth and the power of the Holy Spirit, and challenging the cultural darkness, all too often what is heard in our apparent gospel presentations is a reflection of the darkness, so that we preach to people about wholeness rather than holiness. We describe sin in terms of dysfunction. Salvation is presented as a form of recovery. Therapeutic language replaces the moral and the theological. No .. an open display of the truth. To set forth the truth plainly and preach Jesus Christ as Lord. Undefined Christianity is popular. It is vaporized, Defined Christianity is unpopular. And although the ministry is often difficult and fraught with peril God will bless those who are faithful to him. God, who can speak out of Balaam's donkey, who can raise up children for Abraham out of stones, has somehow in the mystery of his providence, on account of his mercy, entrusted us with this ministry.
2. The Promotion Of Authenticity
In this passage, Paul leaves us with five specifics that form an inspired methodology. First: There is a rejection of deceit. Paul has renounced "things hidden," referring to that which is secretive and underhanded. Paul was open and unguarded. What you saw in him was what you got. And what others see in us should be what they get too.
Notice particularly what these ways consist of, because this speaks to our own time. First, he says, "I have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways," that is, the practice of deliberate deceit. Every now and then an article appears in the religious papers about some evangelist who hires converts to stand up in his meetings and confess Christ, or to come down front and give a testimony to being healed, to make the evangelist look like a success. That is sheer deceit.
You sometimes read of Sunday schools that bait and bribe people to come to church. Not long ago there was a report in the papers of a pastor who said that if he got a certain number of people out to Sunday school he would preach from his church belfry. He got the number he wanted so he went up in the belfry and preached his sermon. That is simply a form of bribery, getting people to come for some secondary, superficial reason.
I know of churches that give kids lolly if they will get aboard their buses and come to Sunday school. Some even offer prizes, bicycles, and so on, to get kids out. They gain an appearance of success by relying upon wrong methods, deceitful things, disgraceful, underhanded ways. I have met preachers who have phony degrees, obtained for $10 or so from some diploma mill somewhere. They put letters after their name to impress people. But that is deceit. I know of missionaries who send reports home to their supporting churches about events that have no basis whatever in fact. They tell of things that never occurred, reporting achievements in the preaching of the gospel that never really happened, thus deliberately lying in the name of Christ. I know of Christians who tell someone else's experience as though it happened to them, and thus they lie in the name of Jesus. But Paul says, "I don't need any of those things anymore." Anyone who relies on that may gain an appearance of success, but sooner or later the bottom will fall out and they will be left with intense feelings of depression and failure and folly.
Second: There is an unwillingness to rely on cleverness. Paul was committed to "not walking in craftiness." He didn't rely on gimmicks to get results. He didn't play on people's emotions. He didn't use high-powered, promotional campaigns to get the job done. Paul says he refuses to practice cunning. Now what does that mean? Well, it means to rely on some psychological trick played on people to get them to respond-some intense pressure tactic in a meeting, perhaps beautiful seductive music to get them to give way, or telling stories that bring tears to people's eyes, playing upon their emotions, this kind of thing. Paul says, "We don't need to use any of this. We don't rely upon that." In our day many seem given over to Christian showmanship, seeing who can put on the biggest spectacle to attract people, hiring a special band or getting trapeze artists to come and put on a show, and so on. Paul says that in the new covenant we do not rely on those kinds of things anymore. It is only necessary to note the similar activities of our own day to know specifically what these disgraceful tactics were. Undoubtedly they consisted of psychological gimmicks, pressure tactics, emotional pleas, heavy-handed demands, just as we see all too frequently today. They would also include high-powered promotional campaigns, self-advertising posters and handouts, and the continual emphasis upon numbers as an indicator of success. There is, of course, a legitimate use of publicity for informational purposes, but promotion is something else again. It was Jesus who warned, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).
In straightforward fashion, Paul renounced all these psychological tricks to gain impressive results. Perhaps he had even practiced them himself in the days of his phariseeism, and even, for awhile, after he became a Christian. But no more. They were not needed for a qualified minister of the new covenant.
Gimmicks and tricks are also being used in our own day to get people's attention. For instance, a certain church that claims to be Christian, based in Salt Lake City in Utah in the USA ran an expensive advertisement in a national magazine giving their history, using the name of Jesus freely, and inviting all to join their church. They claimed the following: They have a low divorce rate; they don't drink, smoke, or use drugs; they are moral, upright, and clean-living; they love to sing, dance, and play games; they are good givers to worthy causes; they are high achievers in sports, politics and entertainment; they have low cancer and heart disease rates and they live longer; their membership has doubled in the last ten years; they are against drugs, homosexuality, abortion, and immorality; and finally, their goal is peace. Yet behind this slick advertisement lie several theological traps, two of the more serious being their refusal to recognize the deity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their insistence that salvation is accomplished by works.
Third: There is a refusal to mishandle Scripture. Paul dedicated himself to not "adulterating the word of God." He didn't tamper with its meaning, or read into the text something that wasn't there in order to prove his point, or use it for his own selfish purposes.
Can you imagine anyone in the name of Jesus tampering with God's Word? Yet it happens all the time. Peter speaks of those who "twist the Scriptures." In 2 Peter 3:16 there is a reference to Paul's letters where he says: There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
A final state of dishonesty was reached by those who descended to actually tampering with the Word of God to obtain the appearance of success they desired. This was not, as we might think today, an altering of the text of the Bible. There were very few copies of the Scriptures available in the first century. It meant, rather, a twisting of the meaning of Scripture or a misapplication of truth--a pressing of it to unwarranted extremes. A case in point is that of Hymeneas and Philetus who taught that the resurrection was already past (2 Timothy 2:17-18). While they didn't deny the resurrection, they tampered with the Word of God by relegating the resurrection to the past. It was probably a result of teaching partial truth instead of the entire scope of revelation. Many of the newer cults emerging today are employing this tactic to the confusion and hurt of many. True, this all sounds biblical, but it is actually tampering with the Word of God by subtle and devious means.
The most common way of twisting the Scriptures is to resort to what is called "proof-texting." This means to come to the Bible with a preconceived idea of something you want to teach. Then you go through the Bible, picking out a few isolated passages here and there that sound like what you wanted to say. Then you list these so that when people hear you they say, "Well, that is biblically supported; he's got the Bible for that."
Every "Christian" cult that ever existed has done this. But unfortunately there are a number of widely respected Christian spokesmen, for the most part earnest and godly men, who do this very thing. Perhaps they are unconscious of what they are doing. They are using part of the Scripture to support what they say, thus tampering with the Word of God, and many people are being misled today by that kind of approach. Paul says, "I don't need that anymore. I don't rely upon those kinds of things. I refuse to practice psychological cunning on people or to tamper with the Word of God."
Paul did not become discouraged in his ministry is that he did not distort the word of God; he did not water it down or change it to fit certain needs, as the false teachers apparently were doing. They taught that salvation was earned by works (see Acts 15:1), that marriage between believers and unbelievers was permissible (see 2 Corinthians 6), and that sex outside of marriage was acceptable to God (see 1 Corinthians 6).
Fourth: There is a reaching out to touch everyone's conscience. Paul stated that by setting forth the truth plainly they were commending themselves "to every man's conscience." That is all the Holy Spirit needs to do surgery-just the clean, sharp knife of the Word.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13)
Truth cuts through the hypocrisy in our lives and goes straight to the heart. Before God, that heart is like an open book. He can see every word of wickedness, every line of lust, every page of pride, every chapter of corruption. And that's when the knife starts its incisive, healing work.
Paul, on the contrary, drew on the power of the Spirit to function as a minister of the new covenant in the following three ways. The first was "by the manifestation of truth," or setting forth the truth plainly. He told people what God had to say about reality without using any gimmicks, games, or tricks. Rather than tickling their ears he gave them the good news: "You are saved by the grace of God through your faith in Jesus." The second way Paul says he functioned as a minister of the new covenant was by "commending ourselves to every man's conscience." Paul and his disciples taught and preached messages that made an appeal to the mind, not to the emotions, trusting God for the power to teach about Jesus, who said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." The third way Paul says he ministered was "in the sight of God." Once again, as in chapter 2 verse 17, Paul is referring to his awareness of the presence and power of God. The apostle's life, motives, and actions were transparent before the Lord. He sensed his daily accountability to God for his ministry. He and his disciples lived out the truth of God in the sight of God (and the Corinthians). And in the end they trusted God for the results of their teaching and preaching.
It was said of Disreali (a former British PM), that he had two faults that caused him never to be a great orator; people were never to sure that he was truly sincere, and he never had a dominating conviction that drove his speeches.
Though small in stature, by contrast, whenever William Wilberforce spoke in Parliament, the galleries would swell, and the members would hold their breath to catch upon his every word.
Sincerity and conviction were a mighty adjunct to oratorical power.
Much like the apostle Paul:
2 Corinthians 4:1 1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not give up. 2 Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth.
Fifth: There is a realization that some will not believe. In verses 3-4 of 2 Corinthians 4, there is a clear explanation of why the same truth is exciting to one person and boring to another, why some people get turned on and others get turned off. The average person would rather live in an illusion than have the veil lifted to reveal the reality of biblical truth.
3. The identification Of A Principality
3 But if, in fact, our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
4 Regarding them: the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
If you look up the biography of General John Sedgwick in an encyclopedia, it will tell you he is a Union officer who was killed in action at the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War. But it probably won't tell you how he died. Here is the story:
The general was walking along the wall of a fortification, inspecting his troops. He came to a notch in the protective parapet of the fort, where he paused for a moment to look out across the battlefield toward the enemy lines.
One of Sedgwick's officer's cleared his throat nervously. "General," he said, "I don't think it's safe to stand there. You are exposed to the enemy's muzzle."
"Nonsense," the general replied confidently. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist--"
And those were his last words. It doesn't pay to underestimate your enemy. In the spiritual realm, our enemy is Satan, and many Christians have made the fatal mistake of underestimating his deadly power. In this chapter, we take a closer look at our enemy so that we can better understand--and defend ourselves against--his strategy.
4. The Proclamation That overpowers The Principality
5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves because of Jesus. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”—He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
First: That person does not proclaim himself or herself "as Lord." It's easy in a job of such power and prestige to become filled with pride. How can you tell when that's happened? When the person makes frequent references to self. When the person expects special treatment and favours. When the lordship of Christ is personally resisted. When there is a desire to be seen, known, and promoted. When that person requires the blind and complete submission of others. And finally, when there is a refusal to be accountable and vulnerable.
Second: That person lifts up Christ as Lord. The model minister of God promotes Christ and has a deep, sincere love of His Word. This individual takes God seriously, fearing Him and holding Him in the highest esteem.
Third: That person is a servant. We can see this principle incarnated in the lives of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14. When the pagan people of Lystra saw Paul heal a lame man, they exalted him and Barnabas: "The gods have become like men and have come down to us" (v. 11). They called Barnabas, Zeus, and they called Paul, Hermes, wanting to offer sacrifices to them (vv. 12-13). But their response was that of servants, refusing the temptation to be exalted.
But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them. (vv. 14-15)
Fourth: That person gives God the glory and points others to Christ.
Only God can cause light to shine out of darkness, both in the creation of the world and in the creation of a believer's heart. Consequently, only He deserves the credit. We may carry the lamp that shows Christ to others, but the flame is from the Lord.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
Go back through the centuries and test the power of the life of Christ as it flows through the lives of Christians. Emperor Julian showed by his persecutions that he would if possible blot Christianity out of existence. And it looked very dark for Christianity. One of Julian's subjects taunted a quiet believer with a question. As he looked around he asked the believer this question, "What is Jesus your carpenter of Nazareth doing now?" The Christian believer with full assurance replied, "He is making a coffin for your emperor." Constantine, his father, had the vision of the fiery cross in the heavens with the words, "In this sign conquer," and the Roman Emperor surrendered to Christianity. Julian could not turn back the tide. This story has been repeated in a thousand forms through the Christian centuries. However dark the hour, however deep the pessimism of men, Christianity has had the power of rebirth. This was true in the time of Savonarola, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Wesley, Carey, and all the other great leaders. Always Christianity renews itself, always Christ arises from the dead when men have buried Him. Always after the agony and gloom of new cavalries comes the glory of the resurrection morning. Don't ask the days or years then, but the centuries, and the answer is clear. What Christ desires comes to pass--slowly it may be, but surely...
With acknowledgement to Chuck Swindoll's sermon on this passage. Chuck Swindoll has demonstrated that the Word of God is central in all his preaching. And no less in the material that I have gleaned for this message.