Phil Cox

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We do not lose heart

23st October 2010

If you're not a Christian, you may well find the words of 2 Corinthians 3v18 - 4v1 ridiculous or, at least, incomprehensible. But if you are a Christian, then I really hope you find them staggering:

2 Corinthians 3v18-4v1
3v18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 4v1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

I'm not going to talk about the "unveiled faces" part of this. To gain an understanding of that phrase, read from chapter 23, verse 7. But consider the words that are around it. Paul says "we all reflect the Lord’s glory". Paul is speaking specifically about himself and his colleagues, but what he says applies to all Christians:

  • All Christians “reflect the Lord’s glory”
  • All Christians are “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory”
  • All Christians have God-given ministry.
And if we realise that this is true, we will not lose heart.

So the question is, dear fellow-Christian, do you believe it? In particular, do you believe it about yourself?

The Greek word that the NIV translates as "ministry" is diakonia. It means service. It's important to understand that ministry/diakonia is a humble word; it doesn't mean leadership or teaching - it means serving. And we derive the word "deacon" (not "elder" or "leader") from this word. I'm not really comfortable with the way we use the word "Minister" these days, because we tend to use it in a non-Biblical sense as leader instead of servant, as applying to a few Christians, instead of to every Christian.

We all have a God-given ministry. That is, God has ordained an area of service for every Christian:

Ephesians 2v10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

It may be that you don't know what area of service in the church God has called you to. In which case, I suggest you pray about it. It may be that you're resisting the Holy Spirit, in which case I urge you to repent. And it may be that you're discouraged in your service. In which case I urge you to meditate on the passage above, and not to lose heart.

Paul describes his ministry as “the ministry that brings righteousness” – see chapter3, verse 9. And it's obviously true that Paul and his colleagues served God by helping others to find righteousness. But all Christians are called to do the same (albeit in a much more humble capacity). We all serve in different ways, but we are all called to serve:

1 Corinthians 12v4-7
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(The word "service” in 1 Corinthians 12 verse 5 is diakonia again)

Paul then writes:

1 Corinthians 14v2
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.

It's interesting that Paul talks about honesty and integrity as the alternative to losing heart. When things aren't going well, when we're not seeing much in the way of return on our investment (investing time, prayer, money and emotion in building the church and reaching the lost, and seeing very little growth) we're tempted to lose heart. This can be manifested in two ways. We might just give up - go and do something else - or we might start to compromise our morality in the hope of being more effective. We might think that a few well-chosen half-truths could somehow bring in more of the Kingdom of God than honest, straight dealing.

Paul and his colleagues were determined to do nothing secretively, careful not to deceive anyone. Some think that a bit of deceptive talk now and again is a manifestation of wisdom. But it’s really a demonstration of ungodliness.

Here is the heart of the pastor/teacher: do not distort the word of God. Set the truth forth plainly.

A third manifestation of our losing heart can be that we start to preach about how wonderful we are, as well as how wonderful Jesus is. Paul refuses to do this. Instead, the only way he "commends" himself is by speaking the truth. We'll see more on this in verse 5.

Evidently, Paul was experiencing some discouragement; some people just didn't understand what he was saying. He writes:

1 Corinthians 14v3-4
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 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.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of our Christian lives is the experience of plainly explaining the gospel to someone, and seeing that they can’t understand it. We can even be tempted to express our impatience with them, but we mustn’t. Listen: the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. They cannot understand it. It’s not that they’re less intelligent than us. The god of this age has blinded their minds. They cannot see the light of the gospel:

1 Corinthians 2v14
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul reminds himself - and us - of this, so that we will not lose heart.

Paul now completes the thought from verse 2:

1 Corinthians 14v5
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Paul doesn't try to improve his own reputation, or to gain followers for himself. He doesn't suggest that he's worth following. He presents the truth of the good news as clearly as he can. He preaches that Jesus Christ is Lord and offers himself and his colleagues as servants to others. His sermons are about the character and ministry of Jesus Christ. They're motivated by a desire to help those around him to find the grace of God.

Again, here is insight into the heart of the genuine pastor/teacher: we don't preach ourselves - we preach Jesus. We don't look for the church to serve us; we seek to serve the church.

It's worth noting that the word translated "servant" here is not diakonos which means "servant" or "minister"; it's doulos, which means "slave". To make this clear, Paul is saying "we are all servants, but the leaders are slaves of the other servants".

And then Paul gets to verse 6:

1 Corinthians 14v6
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.

And this is, for me, one of the most beautiful and wonderful sentences in the whole of the Bible. But I'm going to leave it until next week.

Whatever opposition you face, whatever discouragement you endure - don't lose heart. Don't give up your integrity, don't look for fulfilment somewhere other than in Jesus Christ - it doesn't exist. And don't doubt that God can bring growth and healing to your situation. God bless you.