“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 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. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 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. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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.” — 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
The Ascription and Prayer of Illumination
“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever “(Isaiah 40:8 HSCB)”
Into the Text
We all know that it “matters what we say.” But does it matter “how we say it?”
Sometimes, instead of reading, I like to listen to a lectionary reading of the Scriptures for the day and to join in on a prayer service. Most lectionaries, arrangements for reading through the Bible, have daily readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament. A lectionary might also include composed prayers and confessions to aid in your devotional life with God. This “daily office” has been read each day for two millennia. Of course, [tongue in cheek] “it is now available on iTunes and other online sources!” This past week, I downloaded a podcast that I had never listened to before. True to the title, the recording was, indeed, one of the several podcasts out there that would give me the spiritual desire of my heart: to hear morning prayers read. The content was no different than the content that I listen to when I hear the daily English Standard Version daily office of morning prayer, my recording of choice for the daily office. However, this reader, a man that I believe was, in fact, a minister of the gospel, read the daily Scripture lessons, as well as the prayers and confessions, but I must say: his elocution obscured his elucidation. Now, I admit, those are some $5.00 words to describe this $0.10 sentence: the poor fellow read the Scriptures like he was either in pain or half asleep. I do not mean to be harsh or overly critical, and I would never name the individual, not that I can recall the minister’s name. And, because I am a professor the theology and make my aim to “shepherd the shepherds who shepherd the Sheep,” I readily confess my hypersensitivity to the technicalities of the public reading of Scripture. His reading, as doleful as an NPR voice on a drizzly day in February, obstructed the communication of the content. So, I say, “It not only matters what we say but how we say it.” As my Aunt Eva used to coach me, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
Both content and contextualization of the gospel were essential to the Apostle Paul. Second Corinthians is an epistle in which the apostle Paul deals with criticism, specifically, criticism against his ministry. Chapter 2 of Second Corinthians, verses one through four refers a letter that is not in our possession. It has been called “the painful letter,” or “the difficult letter.” In chapter 3 the Apostle Paul speaks of a possible “commendation” supposed to be needed to continue ministry with the Corinthians. There had been such a barrage of criticism against Paul that some must have even though the Paul would need some letters of recommendation to continue. As Paul gets to chapter four, verses one through six, he can make the turn from addressing the “elephant in the room,” that is, the controversy surrounding his ministry, his style, his leadership, and his necessary forthrightness, to the meat of the matter. And the meat of the matter was and is the gospel of Jesus Christ. More so, the message is about the light of Jesus Christ which as shown in our hearts.
“Light” is fundamental in this passage. The light of the gospel is pure and clean, it is transparent, and it is warm and healing. the light that Paul appeals to is in contrast with the dark accusations of “disgraceful, underhanded ways.” Paul refers to those who “practice cunning” and who “tamper with God’s word.” Paul mentions that there are those who are blind to the truth because of the “god of this world” (Satan and his hellish minions) has blinded their spiritual vision. They cannot see the light of the gospel “of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
We celebrate and speak about the light of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. But we must always remember that the radiance of the Gospel itself goes not only to a collective people, but it must also ever go to a called-out person. And this is the concern of the apostle Paul: the message of the gospel. Paul teaches us that believers must steward the gospel of Jesus Christ with high vigilance. The news of the gospel that shines into our hearts disrupts and dispels the darkness. As the light shone onto Paul in that dazzling display of divine power that interrupted the journey and the life of Rabbi Saul on his way to persecute the Church, so, too, the light went all the way through him. The luminosity of the gospel shone in his heart. The Gospel does that with each of us who would be saved by that light of Christ.
God has provided us with a single text in His Word, today, which demonstrates the nature of the message that we proclaim. Because there is the possibility of criticism, distortion, and even disinformation, every believer must unequivocal about the message that we proclaim.
What are the features of this message that we proclaim? And since the Apostle Paul frames his writing through the Biblical metaphor of light, we might rightly ask, “What are the points on the spectrum of this Light of the Gospel that St. Paul addresses in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6?”
The first point of light on the spectrum, the feature or that which we proclaim is this:
We proclaim a Gospel of Resilience (v. 1).
The Apostle Paul begins this part of his distance education of the Corinthians in verse one of chapter 4: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”
You see, the apostle Paul had not had it easy in Corinth. St. Paul was kicked out of the synagogue at Corinth when began his ministry there. Now it appears that there was a significant faction in the church that is seeking to discredit him and his message. We see that Paul says “we do not lose heart.” And you might ask how is it that the apostle Paul Okun express such resilience? The answer is simple’s own words, “for what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.” Now, this is very important for us to understand. The apostle Paul has taken what we might call a clinical approach to ministry. And when I say “clinical,” I do not mean to say dispassionate or disconnected from others. Quite the contrary! The apostle Paul was indeed the “apostle of the heart set free.” he lays his life open before the Corinthians. No, the apostle Paul can be resilient because it is not about the apostle Paul but God and his word. Paul is assessing the situation. He is diagnosing the spiritual condition of Corinth. St. Paul is treating the spiritual wound with the healing properties of the white-hot light of the Word, Jesus Christ. This is how he is resilient: he is not his own, God is using Betty. He is a bondservant not only to God but also to the people. If they mistreat him, then that is between them and God. If they speak ill of him, then that is between them and God. if they reject his message, then that is also between them and God. I say again that Paul is not dispassionate. He pleads, and he weeps for others with this message. He is very much like George Whitfield who was called by Dr. Harry Stout of Yale University, “the divine dramatist.”
Whitfield preached with such passion that some accused him of being a sensationalist, an actor, a charlatan. The George Whitfield was a man who was on fire. Throughout his life and ministry, he preached with a flaming zeal for God that emanated from his conversion. On the evening before his death, Whitefield preached on the terrace of the manse at the Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This stalwart man of God who had made the difficult passage across the icy North Atlantic many times stood to preach for his final sermon. The crowd below looked up to see the mighty evangelist unfold the Word of God by candlelight. George Whitefield proclaimed the unsearchable riches of Christ well into the night until the flame went out from his candle. But the fire never went out of his life.
Is there a fire of Christ burning in your life today my beloved? Is it a little flicker of sentiment or is it a reactor, pushing out golden beams of Gospel energy? The former indicates only a passing interest in the things of God. The latter demonstrates a saving work of God in your life.
We can learn from the Apostle Paul and the teaching of the Holy Spirit in this passage. We may suffer the indignities of one kind or another because we are believers or we might be like good apples lumped in with the bad, guilty by association. But as the apostle Paul appealed to having this ministry “by the mercy of God,” and confessed that he was a servant of both God and man, he was able to distance himself from the charges. He could rest in the sovereign grace of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. I confess that there have been times in my own life in ministry when I have felt the poisonous darts of unwitting agents of the devil. I have been called a charlatan on account of infamous phonies using the Bible to practice deceit. Other times I have been rejected because the message was uncomfortable for some to hear. And I also confess that there have been times when I took this personally. You and I together must recognize — and this is increasingly so in the corrupt and collapsing moral culture – that to stand for the Lord Jesus Christ is to be associated with him. The servant is no more significant than the master. If they persecuted Christ, they would oppress us. The resistance to the Gospel (if that is the case, and not that you have erred) is not about you. It is about the Lord Jesus in you. We proclaim the light of the world is Jesus: the word of unbounded resiliency.
There is another point on the spectrum of the gospel light that we want to investigate:
We proclaim a Gospel with Responsibility (v. 2).
Note that in verse two the apostle Paul says that he is has renounced the disgraceful and underhanded ways of others. He refused to practice their cunning methods or to tamper with God’s word. There were apparently those who were entertainers and who was performing for people to either get their money to get their praise. The apostle Paul notes this. He distances himself from them. He has a clear conscience that he has conducted his ministry in the sight of Almighty God as well as in their sight. He used responsibility with the message of the light of the Gospel.
I once had a church leader to advise me that I should “give the dogs what the dogs want to eat.” This good man and good elder meant to say that I needed to accommodate the message to the minds of the People before me. My friend was very genuine, and he was concerned about the flock. However, I felt that he had made a critical error in his logic: the people are not dogs, but in the metaphorical language of the Lord Jesus Christ, the people are sheep. We do not give the sheep what they want. We must often give them what they have never even thought about. For instance, there is a lamb who has fallen off of the ledge to a secure tender blade of grass. The lamb remains eager to get to the grass even though he has already suffered injury from the foolishness of his yearning. The goal of the shepherd is to do what is necessary to reach and to save the Lamb. The faithful shepherd must also remove the lamb from the danger that exists in his yearning. The shepherd feeds the Lamb what is best for the Lamb. Having that tender blade of grass on the edge of certain destruction is not the best. I do not intend to endorse the unsavory patronizing pastoral ministry that supposes the clergy know better than others. That is not what I mean for it is not what the Apostle Paul means. But what he is saying is that we must have a responsibility for this gift of ministry. The gift is a Word from another world. It is not our message. It is God’s. We are not entertainers. We are spiritual physicians of the soul. There is a remarkable difference between the two.
There is another shade of light to be considered:
We proclaim a Gospel with Resistance (vv. 3-4).
In verses three and four of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4, we recognize that we conduct our ministry in the context of a supernatural, spiritual cosmic struggle. While we are not to go looking for a demon under every mistake that we make or behind every bad thing that comes upon us, neither are we to dismiss the reality of demonic activity.
One thing is for sure: if you are not advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, if you are not living for God, then you have little to worry about from this passage. The devil has no reason to resist your message because your message proclaimed or lived is void of Jesus Christ. The Gospel advances into enemy territory whenever we plant new churches or work for the revitalization of existing Christian communities. You can be confident that there will be diabolical activity and demonic resistance to such missionary efforts.
I remember very well teaching on evangelism in the local church and reminding those students gathered that when we go out to share Jesus Christ, we will not only see the resistance of human beings, but we will see the manifest activity of Satan. Why? We are invading ground held by the Evil One.
It is my prayer that we will recognize that there will be resistance if we are preaching the gospel. A demonic opposition is an inevitable wake in the water that follows the advancement of the Gospel ship: be it in the church or your life. Be not afraid. “Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world.”
The final point on the spectrum of the light of our message as seen in verses five and six.
We Proclaim a Gospel with Revelation (vv. 5-6).
By this, I meant to underscore the Apostle’s next brilliant turn in his thinking. He is saying something here that sustains and fortifies the rest of his proclamation.
We are not proclaiming ourselves, but God. We are proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. Yet there is more. We are proclaiming Christ as my Lord. I have experienced the living Christ. This is the message I share with you.
The light that shone on the heart of the apostle Paul was a very personal experience as well as an utterly pronounced one. We all remember Paul’s testimony of how he was on his way to Damascus to persecute believers. It was there, with his aides alongside him, that the risen Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostle Paul and struck him down with the inconceivable power of celestial light. The light was so brilliant that it blinded the eyes of this Rabbi Saul of Tarsus. He would not see again until God’s servant, Ananias, in Damascus, would remove the scales of the wounds from Paul’s eyes. Like Jacob who would forever limp from his encounter with the angelic being (some believe that the Being was a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity), so, also, the apostle Paul would live with the experience of this extraordinary light in his life. Some wonder that this may be the source of the ” thorn in the flesh” which plagued St, Paul throughout his life and ministry. We do not know. But this we know; the Apostle Paul preaches out of the living presence of Jesus Christ in his life. Every sermon is a sermon emanating from Christ’s work of grace in Paul’s heart.
You and I have the choice to hide the light or to let the light shine. That light is none other than the light of Christ Jesus our Lord fused to our own souls. When we speak from this posture, we do not proclaim the gospel in an academic or a detached manner. Instead, we declare that which we know. We speak of that which we have experienced. We talk of the light, we see the light, for the light has reached into our hearts. That did not come to you in the same way that it came to the apostle Paul. Almighty God is continually creative in his way of reaching fallen humanity, except for this one fact revealed: he reaches them always through his Son our Savior Jesus Christ.
Is the light of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ shining in your life?
We have seen that because there is so much misinformation and distortion of the true gospel of Jesus Christ we must be unswervingly faithful in our proclamation of the gospel. Yes, there will be resistance to our message, but there is a resiliency in the gospel itself that overcomes this resistance. There is also a responsibility to both preach and live Christ as we have received Him in his Word. And all of this is done through the revelation of God to our hearts.
I read this week about a young lady from MIT, Dr. Anna Frebal. Dr. Frebal is a professor researching stars as the source of life. In the process of her stellar archeological “digs,” this brilliant young woman has also uncovered remarkable revelations about the stars. While I may disagree with some of her assumptions I could not help but marvel as I read her words this week. I thought of Moses who wrote those most understated lines, “He made the stars, also.” But here is what I learned from reading Dr. Frebal: there is life in “them there” stars! Carbon and other chemicals essential for the building blocks of life are embedded in those stars.
And there is the building block for new life in “them there” pews!
Beloved in Christ, you do not need to be an MIT Astro-archeologist to know that the light of the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart is potent. That light that has shone in your heart is the light that has all the “building blocks” of spiritual renewal and even bodily resurrection. There is supernatural power embedded within the light of the Gospel that has been shed abroad in you. And this is our message: If Jesus Christ has shone in my heart and if His light has exposed the sinful wounds in my soul, and if that light has also healed me, renewed me, given me new birth, His light will do the same for you.
The light of this Gospel is our message to the world. The light of this Gospel is our message to ourselves. So: let – your – light – shine.