September 21, 2011

Thursday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 25, 2 Sam. 15:13-29, 2 Cor. 4
Evening - Ps. 27, Mt. 3

2 Cor. 4

"Therefore" (4:1) links the following verses to those in chapter 3. They are a conclusion drawn from the primary truth stated in that chapter, namely, that Paul is called into the ministry of the New Testament. Almost incredibly, Paul claims his is a greater and higher ministry than that of Moses, for the proclamation of Christ, the Spirit of the law, is greater than the proclamation of the letter of the law. All ministers reading this should pause and reflect on the awesome responsibility and privilege to which you have been called. Paul rightly says he received this ministry by mercy, not by worthiness, but having received that mercy, and encouraged by the greatness of the privilege of serving Christ, he faints not. Certainly Paul had enough trials to cause many to faint, to give up, to consider the preaching of the Gospel either too costly or a lost cause. But he continues as one assured of victory and filled with hope. He preaches the word of life, and, though he may face many trials, he is assured that the word of life will bring many souls into the Kingdom of God.

Paul's preaching is free from manipulation of either the message or its hearers (4:2-3). He does not change the message to entice people to convert, nor does he use gimmicks and tricks to lure people into the Church. By making this statement, Paul implies that others have distorted the Gospel and manipulated the people to gain a following. The Corinthians have followed such people, which is why they fell into such apostasy, and why they had to endure the pain and problems of getting the church back into the Apostolic faith and practice.

Verses 3 and 4 make it plain that the problem with those who will not receive the Gospel message is with them, not Paul and not the Gospel. The Gospel is clear and simple. He has proclaimed it openly and honestly. Many of the Greek religions claimed to have secret knowledge given only to a few select people, but Paul proclaims the whole Gospel to all who will listen. Thus, those who refuse it bear the responsibility themselves. They have allowed Satan, the "god of this world" to blind their minds.

"For we preach not ourselves" (4:6) implies that others do preach themselves. We have here a sure test of a minister. A true minister does not promote himself, does not attempt to win a following for himself, and does not attempt to call attention to himself. He proclaims Christ. That means he preaches the Bible, faithfully calling people to become followers of Christ and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded (Mt 28:19). One who errs from this is no minister of Christ. A faithful minister views himself as a servant of the Church, not as master of it. He serves the people and the Lord by preaching the Bible and leading the people to the means of grace. The minister does have responsibility to protect the people from error and deal with sin and heresy. But even this power is a service to the Church and undertaken only as a servant of Christ.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (4:7). The treasure is the Gospel of Christ. It is the story of redemption from the beginning of time to the end of time, when God brings all things together in Christ. The earthen vessels are our decaying bodies and the mental and spiritual limitations of our fallen minds and beings. Paul's point is not to belabour the earthen vessels but to show that it is not the minister who causes the success of the Gospel, it is God. The Gospel has been placed in fragile containers of clay, yet God causes it to advance and bring souls into His Kingdom. Thus the true power and message of the Gospel is no human invention, it comes from God, and God alone gives its success, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."

It is God's power that keeps the earthen vessels alive and in the faith (4:8-14). Verses 10 and 12 capture the essence of this passage. The end result of the suffering and trials of Paul work life in the people. He gladly endures the troubles and cares of the ministry that people may hear the Gospel and be saved. The glory of God is the goal and the purpose for which he works.

It is not only the people of God who receive the benefit of a faithful ministry, the minister himself also receives eternal glory and rest (4:16). Therefore, let him look to the things unseen, the home in Heaven, the end of sin and temptation, the face-to-face relationship with Christ in that land where there is no more sorrow, pain, or death. In that hope, he will faint not.

This fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians has much to say to ministers because Paul is writing about his own ministry to remind the Corinthians what God has done for them and how He accomplished it. Yet, it has much to say to the Christian layman also. Certainly, you also have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. You share the same temptations, limitations, and fallen inclinations ministers have. And you have the same hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, on the basis of His grace, not your merit. Your first calling is also the glory of God, and no "light affliction, which is but for a moment" should be allowed to crowd this purpose out of your life. You also will be helped immeasurably by keeping your hope fixed on the things of Heaven, which are not seen with the physical eye, but only with the eyes of faith. Finally, this should help you to judge who is, and who is not, a faithful minister, or church, or Christ. Faint not.