Saturday, May 17, 2008
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Enduring The Agonies Of Ministry
1 Working together with Him, we also appeal to you: “Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.”
2 For He says: In an acceptable time, I heard you, and in the day of salvation, I helped you. Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation.
3 We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.
4 But in everything, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by pressures,
5 by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labours, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger,
6 by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love,
7 by the message of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left,
8 through glory and dishonour, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true;
9 as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look—we live; as being chastened yet not killed;
10 as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken openly to you, Corinthians; our heart has been opened wide.
12 You are not limited by us, but you are limited by your own affections.
13 Now in like response—I speak as to children—you also should be open to us.
How do you become authentic in ministry? When you sacrificially lay aside the glories of leadership and adopt the towel of a servant. Ministry is servanthood. Paul know what it was to minister as a servant. It meant laying aside his rights, his luxuries, his enjoyments for the sake of others. It meant walking into hardship and pain for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for others’ sakes. Authenticity. Chuck Swindoll wrote of it when he talked about a children’s book about a rabbit toy, beaten and mashed.. and becoming real. Authentic, through the bruisings and misusings. You can escape pain if you do not love. You8 can't escape pain if you do love.
You can escape from this if you live a moderate religious life and sit under moderate ministry, but such a life is impossible to the true Christian. "This one thing I do." He claims, "For to me to live is Christ." All such must enter the kingdom of God through many hardships. Paul has been pleading with his hearers not to receive the grace of God in vain, and here he shows that he himself had not received it in vain. The way of life described here is the proof of that. Paul had a divinely authenticated and credible ministry. It gets tough. And there is a sense of fellowship with other brothers who are pastors who have borne the tough.
The task of the ministry Is a mighty task.
The dignity of the task.. we are workers together with God.
The Urgency of the task, now is the day of salvation.
The Gravity of our task. Giving no offence in anything.
The Agony of the Task Pain and pleasure agonia.. a contest for victory
Aspects of our task produce both pleasure and pain.
There are three sets of experiences that Paul speaks of here. He is speaking of agony of our tribulations, the agony of our obligations and the agony of our contradictions.
This is not rhetoric, but an unveiling of the heart of ministry.
The Agony of our tribulations Vs 4. In much patience, endurance. This is the key word in this autobiographical passage. Everything finds its root in this word.
“He begins with one triumphant word of the Christian life--endurance (hupomone). It is untranslatable. It does not describe the frame of mind which can sit down with folded hands and bowed head and let a torrent of troubles sweep over it in passive resignation. It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them. Chrysostom has a great panegyric on this hupomone . He calls it "the root of all goods, the mother of piety, the fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken, a harbour that knows no storms" and "the queen of virtues, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in tempest, security in plots." It is the courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking-point and not to break and always to greet the unseen with a cheer. It is the alchemy which transmutes tribulation into strength and glory. “ Barclay
Endurance is the title of the book that speaks of the heroic endurance of the men who, attempting to reach the South pole before the first world war, became shipwrecked on the coast of the South Pole. Earnest Shackleton’s ship was named the endurance, and his crew survived on Endurance from October 23rd 1914 until August 30 1915 in the worst of possible situations living on frozen ice flows, and a frozen beach. Endurance is a quality neglected tody.
J Hudson Taylor Keswick convention, talking top yp about mission field He was accustomed to say three qualities for the missionary task the first is patience the second is patience the third is patience.
Patience, endurance, Reliability dependability, Without that all falls to pieces. This is the cohesive element of ministry.
1. A MINISTRY KNOWN BY ITS MANNER The Agony Of Circumspection
God's servants put no stumbling blocks in anyone's path.
Paul is saying we must not cause anyone to stumble into sin by our actions or teaching. We think of how David abused his authority as king in his relationship with Bathsheba. He put a stumbling block in her path, in the path of her husband, and even in the path of his own servants when he told them to put Uriah in the thick of the battle and desert him. David was discredited by his action.
We think of the woman who was troubling the Thyatira church who was called 'Jezebel' and claimed to be a prophetess - people like that spent their lives putting stumbling blocks in the paths of Christians.
Remember the words of the Lord Christ: "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt. 17:18). He claims that his is a credible ministry because he had not tempted others to commit sin.
God's servants commended the ministry in every positive way, especially that a minister endures. "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance;" (v.4).
Now there are Christians who have been let down by a number of preachers, and that can result in the very ministry itself being discredited in their eyes. If you have read the 19th century novels of Jane Austin, or Trollop, or George Elliot you meet in their pages vicars and Methodists who are all effete amateur scholars, huntsmen, gourmets, poets, fanatics, ranters, bigots and hypocrites - anything but sensible biblical preachers and pastors. It is no wonder that as a result of the abundance of such men for an earnest evangelical vicar of the Victorian period like J.N.Darby the very concept of the ministry itself became discredited. Darby was one of the men who started the group which became known as 'Plymouth Brethren.' They claim that no man has a call from God to enter the preaching ministry.
The one outstanding mark of the ministry is this, "great endurance." You see that this has pride of place in this list; it is basically the heading for all that follows.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones you will be struck by such similar notes at the end of his life, a sense of wonder that he has endured to the end, he didn't lose his way, he never fell into great sin, he never got involved in stunts, he stuck to the message of the gospel to the very end. Dr Ernest Kevan spoke to us of the last words of his own father. He said to his son, "The great truths of the gospel I have believed all my life. I believe them yet." He had endured keeping the faith until his deathbed. Every trial Christians pass through is also a testing of our faith. God is saying to the minister, "Do you still believe that I am your loving Father, and working everything together for your good, and that I will supply all your need, and that I have brought you at this stage of your ministry into this testing time?"
"The picture of a very grave person ... and this was the fashion of it: it had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of glory did hang over its head" (John Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress).
2. A MINISTRY KNOWN BY ITS MARKS The Agony of Tribulations
"in troubles, hardships and distresses" (v.4)
Troubles are inner pressures, that sense of internal oppression of spirit that conflict creates. Paul talks elsewhere of 'fears within', that spirit of heaviness and tension that a Christian knows. There were days when Paul was pressed down beyond measure. It almost brought him to despair.
'hardships' "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." There are hardships that come crashing into our lives which we would never have experienced if we had not set out following Christ.
'distresses', and this word means 'constraints' - There were times in Paul's life when he was caught up by forces over which he had no control - the great whirling wheel of the Roman Empire crushed him. They arrested him, and kept him in chains in prison, and locked him up in a jail in Rome where he languished for years. Think of John Bunyan twelve years in jail with his wife having to look after their young family including a blind daughter.
"in beatings, imprisonments and riots;" (v.5).
beatings' and Paul later in this letter tells us that on five occasions he received the thirty-nine lashes, and the Roman beating with rods three times. The executioner would work his way up and down Paul's body, one stroke after another, like a line of fire on his back, from his neck to his knees so that the pain was excruciating. The after-effects would have lasted months if not for the rest of his life.
'imprisonments' think of the brutality and disease and the unsanitary conditions and the rotten meat and decaying vegetables that the convicts would have been given to eat there. Shame. I think that is the worst of it. That people regard you as shameful. Even though you may be in prion for a right cause, the very fact that you are in prison, and that most see you as a criminal, brings its own incredible burden of shame.
'riots.' We see on TV news pictures of riots, crowds of angry stone throwers whose venom would tear a man up limb from limb with their bare hands if they could get to him, and a thin line of soldiers or police protecting those men. From reading the Acts of the Apostles it seems that almost everywhere the apostle Paul went his ministry created social upheaval which was caused by Jews or by priests from a pagan temple challenged by the gospel of Jesus. Sometimes he escaped by the arrival of soldiers or by being let down in a basket from a window in the city wall. He was the object of mass hatred, and he often left in the night after the riot so that the Christians could lick their wounds, regroup quietly and know some peace. So there was physical violence and threat which Paul knew.
John Wesley tells us of what happened to him in Wednesbury when the mob came "pouring down like a flood." "To attempt speaking was vain; for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. So they dragged me along till we came to the town; when, seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man, catching me by the hair, pulled me back into the middle of the crowd. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street, from one end of the town to the other." George Foxe tells us of what happened to him at Tickhill. "I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel. So I went up to them and began to speak, but immediately they fell upon me; the clerk took up the Bible as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. Then the people cried, 'Let us have him out of the Church'; and when they had got me out they beat me exceedingly, and threw me down, and over a hedge; and afterwards they dragged me through a house into the street, stoning an beating me as they drew me along, so that I was besmeared all over with blood and dirt.... Yet when I was got upon my legs again I declared to them the word of life and shewed them the fruits of their teachers, how they dishonoured Christianity." Less than a hundred years ago the same violence was exerted against Salvationists in the salvation army when they stood on street corners to preach. Barclay Let’s be glad for our liberties which we enjoy today, but lets not forget at what cost they came.
"in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger" (v.5)
'hard work.' He would have to purchase the cow skins, carry them to his rented rooms, cut them and sew them together.
'sleepless nights.' Grief over others attitude towards him. Grief over the malice and meanness of men.
'hunger.' That is something we know nothing about, wondering how and where we will eat again. The Lord who did not spare him from the 39 lashes did not exempt Paul from days when he had nothing to eat.
ministry affects your body and mind as your words stir up such venom from the world. For the apostle Paul as he struck hard at the kingdom of Satan we see how hard Beelzebub struck back.
Are we going to be prepared to hang in there, not rebelling nor moaning at the cup he has given to us to drink? Endurance is required.
3. A MINISTRY KNOWN BY ITS MOTIVES The Agonies Of Obligations
"in purity, understanding, patience and kindness:"
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt. 5:8).
Understanding towards people. Patient.
How do we react under provocation? God himself is slow to anger. The Lord Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. Have you ever met a successful fisherman who was an impatient man? "Love is patient,"
Kindness. is the positive side of patience. It is the kindness of God to sinners that leads them to repentance. Kindness is the wonderful context in which the words of evangelism can be set. How hard to resist a kind and loving man.
'In the Holy Spirit,' "Who has done this?" people would ask as they visited Corinth and were introduced to this large congregation of loving holy people. "The Spirit of Christ," they would readily answer. It was no secret. The ministry of the Spirit was absolutely fundamental for his fruit of love, joy and peace that made them the same, and for the Spirit's gifts which made them different.
'Sincere love,' Not 'pretend' love with sickly smiles, but love that does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (I Cor. 13:4-7).
'Truthful speech,' "I am the truth." Christ is the light of the world. Genuine love and truthful speech is a rare but priceless combination.
'In the power of God,' Paul's enemies looked at his little man and disdained him. They said, "in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing" but his letters, they reluctantly conceded, "are weighty and forceful" (2 Cors. 10:10). James Denney says about Paul, "Of all men in the world he was the weakest to look at, the most battered, burdened, and depressed, yet no one else had in him such a fountain as he of the most powerful and gracious life." What could explain the apostle Paul? The power of God.
4. A MINISTRY KNOW BY ITS MEASURE The Agony Of Contradictions
"with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report" (vv. 7 & 8).
He looks at the whole Ephesian congregation and he says to them, "Therefore, put on the full armour of God!" To the 1 Thessalonians 5 he says
He begins with in honour and in dishonour. The word he uses for dishonour is normally used in Greek for loss of rights as a citizen (atimia). There are some days when men speak ill of us - "he splits churches, he has not had a happy history" - then there are other days when we are the flavour of the month and we are wanted everywhere. There are days when men glory in our gifts and other days when they dishonour us by cruel criticisms. We stand and fall as those who must give an account and receive a judgment from the Lord himself. Let us go through the little times when men might glory in us, and through the times when they dishonour us, and through the times of bad report and the times of good report.
"Genuine, yet regarded as impostors;
known, yet regarded as unknown; Paul was dismissed as a nobody.
dying, and yet we live on; The reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. In the eyes of the world his was a miserable life going from one encounter with death after another,
beaten, and yet not killed;
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; This word 'sorrowful' is found eighteen times in this letter. Paul was certainly following the man of sorrows.
poor, yet making many rich; Paul wouldn't peddle the gospel for gain. He dressed poorly. He carried all he owned in a little bag. He had nowhere to lay his head. Yet how he enriched Philippi, and Thessalonica, and Corinth, and the prison at Rome by his presence and all he gave to the people he met. They became blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus when they believed the message.
having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (vv. 8-10)
Every day I thank the Lord for His mercy to me in allowing me to share the wonderful goodnews of His grace to us in Christ Jesus. Paul called it Ephesians 3:8 This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints!—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah...
I don't care whether I have much or have nothing. I am rich if I have the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am inexpressibly rich if I am allowed to proclaim Him. How rich are you?
Will you join me in this inexpressibly wonderful task of proclaiming Christ, no matter what the agonies God calls you to endure for His sake?