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The Basics for Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10

Jim Davis

There has probably never been more confusion as to how churches ought to carryout ministry. Style has become a substitute for substance. Faith has been substituted with the thrill of emotionalism. The mentality of Christ has been substituted with the mentality of the world. Authenticity has been substituted with hypocrisy and dishonesty. Sincere ministry has given way to egotistical pride. The result has been confusion and ineffectiveness in carrying out the mission of the Christ. The confusion has led to a breakdown in the personal integrity of Christians. The effect is that Satan is succeeding in blinding the world to the true message of the gospel.

In the verses for this lesson Paul outlines the basics of an effective ministry. When I speak of ministry, I am speaking about each of us, not just to preachers. For each of us is a minister of God. Each one of you is a priest of God built up into a spiritual house (1 Peter 1:4-5).

A Ministry of Mercy is Essential

2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (NIV)

The word "therefore" in the verses before us indicate that what is said in these verses is dependent upon what has already been stated in the previous chapters of 2 Corinthians. The summation of what was said in the previous chapters is succinctly stated as Paul writes, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart" (4:1). The foundation of Paul's ministry was the mercy of God. Paul's focus was upon experiencing God's power in weakness and in impossible circumstances. Paul's focus was on seeing the unseen things of God.

In the first three chapters Paul recognizes the mercy of God as the sustaining force of his ministry. It was God's mercy that empowered his ministry when he felt as though he was as good as dead (1:8-11). His ministry was based upon the integrity of God's message (1:12-14). His ministry was totally dependent upon what God was doing in the hearts of the Corinthians (2:5-3:18). Therefore, Paul did not lose heart or become discouraged in the most difficult and trying circumstances. He knew God's grace was sufficient to sustain his ministry.

Are today's ministries built upon the mercy of God? Focusing ministry upon the mercy of God means trusting the integrity of God's mercy to accomplish his purposes. When we trust in God's mercy, we build churches empowered by God. When we fail to do so the gospel becomes veiled as they are prevented from seeing the glory of the gospel of Christ.

A ministry founded upon the mercy of God is one built upon biblical principles. It seems as though biblical instruction is a rarity today. Today we resort to everything but biblical instruction to reach the masses. Often, the Bible is not even used as a basis for preaching. Its principles are not expounded upon. It is not the standard by which churches are built. Often, when the Bible is preached, the whole counsel of God is not proclaimed. Ministries are often conducted in secret and shameful ways so as to distort the word of God.

Many churches exploit and manipulate people to become members. We use slick advertisement gimmicks to persuade people emotionally while leaving their minds void of reason. "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Satan is at work in churches around the world to blind the world to the light of the gospel. If we want to be effective in ministry we must let God's light shine through this darkness, by first letting it shine in our own hearts. The world must see that we are persons of integrity.

A ministry of integrity is built upon the power of God and not upon egos. Often our egos get in the way of God's ministry of mercy as we seek to take credit for what God is doing. Paul says, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." Nothing blinds others to the gospel more than egos. Egos were flaring in Corinth, but Paul was pointing to the mercy of God as the basis of a ministry of integrity. God's mercy was the source of the light shining in their hearts. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Human hearts are easily lifted through pride, so Paul gives special emphasis in his life to prevent this from happening in his heart. We hear a lot about burnout today, without the power of God the flesh will burn itself out. When we serve God for the purpose of boosting our own egos, it is an attempt to steal God's glory at the expense of God's power. We may be impressive, but it will not empower us in difficult times. When the glory is gone we will soon lose heart. When God gets the glory our ministry is glorified with the power of God.

We get into deep trouble when we seek to steal God's glory for ourselves.

The Story of Saul and David warn us of the hindrance of egos.

1 Samuel 18:6-16
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. "They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?" And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I'll pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns. (NIV)

The Story of Uzziah warns us about the destruction God brings to the proud.

2 Chronicles 26:17-21
"But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said, 'It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God.'

"Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.

"King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house- leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land." (NIV)

The Story of Nadab and Abihu warn us of the danger of not doing things God's way.

Leviticus 10:1-2
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (NIV)

God knows what motivates our service. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they couldn't lie to God about their motives (Acts 6:1ff). Simon the sorcerer learned that God's power couldn't be bought or sold. Peter told Simon, "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin" (Acts 8:20-23 NIV).

Essentials for a Ministry of Integrity

Paul continually points to God as the sustaining force of his ministry.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (NIV)

The power for ministry must come from God's integrity. For we have no power to resurrect our dead lives from the death grip of sin. Paul writes, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." God's power resides in the message from God. It is a power from God and not from us that accomplishes his purposes. That power comes to life when we can look beyond ourselves, and our accomplishments to the life of Jesus Christ. The power for ministry doesn’t reside in the person engaged in ministry. It resides in the integrity of God.

The power for ministry is found in the death of Christ. We can look beyond ourselves when we are given over to death for Jesus sake. Paul writes, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." Our death in Christ becomes evident when we are willing to die to the hardships ministry imposes. It is giving ourselves over to death for Jesus sake that we see Christ's message come to life in others. Paul's willingness to die for others brought Christ to life through the message that was proclaimed to the Corinthians.

Paul defines what he means by "death." It is when we accept the painful realities of ministry, which include perplexity . . . despair . . . persecution . . . abandonment . . . and being struck down. It is when we are being crushed beneath the load that we experience God's power for ministry. This happens when we have delivered ourselves over to death for the sake of Christ. When others see that we are not out to glorify ourselves, the message of the gospel will seep through.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIV)

Someone defined mercy as God's ministry to the miserable. When we die, Christ comes to life in us. When we lose, he wins. When we are weak, Christ becomes strong. When we are dependent, Christ is powerful. That is the power of clay pots.

When others see Christ’s death in us, it changes them. Paul writes, "So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." When others see what God does through our impossible circumstances, others see hope for themselves. When they see God's power perfected in us despite our weakness, they realize that God can do the same for them.

Egos blind others to their possibilities in Christ. An egotistical ministry is self-defeating, because egos seek glory through intimidating the weaknesses of others. Egotistical ministries leave others thinking they cannot accomplish what the egotistical person accomplishes.

There is no way that we can accept the life Jesus offers, without facing the fact that we must die his death. If you want to impact your personal world for Jesus Christ, you must live out the death of our Lord in the sight of those you come into contact with. Don't try to be sanctimonious, and don't whitewash your weaknesses with egotistical pride. Let Christ shine through the cracked clay pot. God loves to use broken pottery. When others see God using your broken life, they will sacrifice their broken lives to his power.

God's Promises the Basis for Ministry

Faith in God's promises is the basis for every ministry. You can't give yourself over to death for Jesus without believing he can resurrect your dead life for his glory.

2 Corinthians 4:13-15
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (NIV)

Faith allows us to align our lives with God's purposes. Paul aligned his life with the message he preached. He spoke God's message because he believed in God's power to raise the dead. His ministry was based upon the belief that God's power would allow the message of the gospel to reach more and more people. He was confident that this would result in thankful praise to God.

Faith motivates ministry through an attitude of gratitude. Faith is built upon gratitude for what Christ has done for each of us. When sincere gratitude is the motivation behind our service sacrifice, becomes a joy. Gratitude makes it much easier to be given over to death for Jesus sake, and for the sake of those who will be benefited. We discover a great source of encouragement when gratitude motivates our service for the benefit of others. The revelation of God's glory through us motivates an attitude of gratitude, which encourages us, and others to do even greater things.

When our lives are properly motivated we discover the power for personal renewal and encouragement. Paul writes, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (4:16-17). The word "renewed" in the original language has to do with our lives being renovated as dead lives are transformed into the image of Christ.

Faith forces us to look beyond what is seen and felt to the unseen eternal things of God.

2 Corinthians 4:18-5:5
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (NIV)

It is often impossible to see what God is doing through observation of our temporary circumstances. But one thing we do know is that God is at work in them. We may not see or understand, but we can choose to believe in his eternal presence. And we can know that we will not be found naked. This gives us confidence to make it our goal to please him, wherever we are found. This focus encourages us to make the necessary sacrifices.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (NIV)

Conclusion:

The stench of death runs through almost every verse in this section we are studying. Living for Christ is about dying with Christ. The aroma of death is one sure way to know that we are living for Christ. In Christ it becomes the fragrance of life. It indeed becomes a sweet smelling odor to God.

The fragrance we give off reminds the egotists and non-believers of God's judgement.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

"Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience." (NIV)

Is your ministry or service given over to death for Jesus' sake?

 

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