Do Not Lose Heart, You Have the Gospel Ministry
February 11th, 2024
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Do Not Fear, You Have the Gospel Ministry
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.
In the name of Christ who has called us by His great mercy into the ministry of His Gospel, dear fellow redeemed:
What would you think of a baseball player who played seven seasons without hitting the ball in fair territory? One of the best players of all time, Mickey Mantle, did the equivalent of that. His walks and strikeouts add up to more than 3,400 trips to the plate—seven seasons’ worth.
Or what would you think of an inventor who failed hundreds of times in his experiments? Thomas Edison, perhaps the greatest inventor in American history, spent many long months failing before he found a filament that would stay lit in his incandescent light.
Whether it be in the life of people we regard as quite successful, or in the life of those whom we consider ordinary, failure always finds its place. No one has gotten to the point they are at without first experiencing some sort of failure. The difference between Mickey Mantle and 90% of people who desire to make baseball their life, is the response to failure. All the greats struck out. All the greats went through periods where they didn’t seem to be as great as they appear. Except that failure did not cause them to lose heart. Instead, they learned from their failures, capitalized on them, and used them to shore up their weaknesses and persevere onwards.
Failure loves to define people. It was no different for the Apostle Paul. If anyone had the right to throw in the towel, or to let failure win, it was him. He was beaten, stoned, thrown into prison, lied about, disobeyed, shipwrecked, and so on and so forth. All throughout his ministry he found what appeared to be failure after failure after failure. . .and yet he persevered. Can you imagine the temptations running through his head on a daily basis? “Why continue to look after those Corinthians? They clearly want to follow after their own sinful desires rather than the Word of God that you preached to them. They aren’t worth it.” Paul would write three, and possibly even four letters to the congregation at Corinth both instructing them and chastising them for issues that were arising in their midst.
The church he had spent a considerable amount of time teaching, strengthening, exhorting, just didn’t quite seem to get it. There were abuses of the Lord’s Supper, a man who took his father’s wife to be his, rivalries that wanted to go to public court instead of dealing with each other, factions that claimed to be more righteous because of whom they belong to (whether Apollos, Paul, or Christ). The city of Corinth was well known for its moral decay, even among other heathens such as Rome. The church at Corinth was not quite ready to detach from the world around them and brought the world into their church. A recipe for failure. It would have been natural for Paul to simply let them collapse. Let them stew in their love for the world and chalk up Corinth as a failed mission.
I’m sure there are a number of ways you can identify with Paul, or even with the Corinthian church. I know I certainly can. Failure has wreaked havoc on my life, and all of our lives. A curse of living in a sinful world. Have you found failure in your personal life? How to manage being in the world, but not letting the world become a part of you? What about in the ministry into which you have been called? You are a part of the priesthood of all believers. Have you let failure take root?
If only life would go the way we want it to go. If only every one could just get along. If only my children would listen more. If only my parents would hear me. If only people would just come to church. If only people would desire the truth of God’s Word instead of those greedy prosperity preachers. If only…
If only sin were not in the world, all those things would be resolved. And, in fact, that is what is coming in heaven. But now, we are faced with the failures of our own sinful flesh and the failures wrought by the god of this age, Satan who is seeking to blind all to the light of the Gospel.
Discouraged? Losing heart? Understandable. The more we stop at look at how much sin has infected our lives, the more it is inevitably revealed that we are in no way worthy of this faith, this church, or this ministry into which God has called us. So many times, we have let Satan won. We have succumbed to temptation, we have let anger take root, we have despised the precious gift God has given us in His Son. And all for what? Fleeting moments of pleasure.
Suppose the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to you as well. What do you think he would say about the failures that you have experienced? Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. He would encourage you the same way God encouraged him and he the people of Corinth. Whether it be the ministry we embark on together as members of this congregation, or whether it be the personal ministry you embark on a daily basis, the encouragement remains the same. Remember what brought you here.
A Lutheran theologian Johann Bengel once said, “Grace takes away the fault, mercy the misery.” God showed you and me a tremendous portion of grace and mercy. First His mercy was shown when He looked upon our helpless state. He saw all our failures, wickedness, and misery of our sinfulness.
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. In His compassion, He took away the veil that was covering your eyes and mine, and shone brightly in our hearts the knowledge of the glory of God, that is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. His mercy sent Jesus to earth to take on human flesh and to live the perfect life that you and I could not. His grace brought Jesus to the cross to suffer the punishment that you and I do deserve. Not only did He go through death, but the very wrath of God that your failures and mine deserved, He took the full force of that wrath. Jesus, the Son of God, gave you His grace by taking care of your faults. Your sins are no more before God for His sake. Jesus has also given you His mercy by rising from the dead. His resurrection is the guarantee that God’s grace covers you. Your sins truly are forgiven. And, as Christ rose from the dead, you will follow Him from death into life everlasting. The misery of this earth, the misery of your failures will all be wiped away.
Even now you have God’s mercy. Despite the times we still stumble and fall, God reaches out to you with His forgiveness. He restores you as His child and places you back on the path of righteousness. But most of all, He has entrusted you with the ministry of His Gospel. And this is life-changing. It is the one area of life where the success and failure is not up to you. You are the messenger, but God is the power. You are the planter and God is the grower. This is not to say you are without responsibility. On the contrary. You have a great responsibility: To proclaim the message of grace and mercy that God has showered on you in its truth and purity to everyone around. Millions of people are walking around in blindness right now.
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.
They have been blinded by the god of this world, that is Satan. He is the one who stands in the way of these church halls being filled. He is the one who is the cause of godless churches who feign Christianity leading people astray. People naturally look to the places that make them feel good and let them forget about the guilt that might be on their conscience. But they never receive the healing for that guilt that is found in the Gospel of the glory of Christ. God’s grace is the only solution to the guilt of mankind.
You have the truth and you have the personal testimony just like the Apostle Paul. Hear his testimony from 1 Corinthians 15: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Paul continually went back to the grace of God that called him out of his former life into the life of His ministry. He recognized his unworthiness and his failures, but even more, he recognized God’s mercy in calling him to be the provider of this truth. If it weren’t for God, Paul would not be an apostle. He would have been a persecutor of the church. Instead, God used him to encourage the Gentilic congregations of his day and all the way down to you and me today. The same encouragement Paul found is to be your encouragement.
Whether it be in our personal lives, or in the ministry of this congregation, God calls out to you with His grace and mercy. He assures you that your sins and your failures are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. Your work will be blessed by Him, even though we may not see the results until God shows us on the last day.
I remember one of my first days at Seminary when one of my professors said, “Your ministry is to make sure no one can stand across from you on the last day and point to you and say, ‘Why didn’t you warn me? Why didn’t you tell me?’” When I tell you that shook me to the core, I meant it. I was ready to drop out right then and there. No way am I cut out for this! But, as the year went along, the beauty of God’s ministry was revealed. The ministry God has called you and me into is a blessed one, not a terrifying one.
God has already provided for you the message: Sins forgiven for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ. Repent and be baptized for salvation! God has already provided for you the success: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10 ESV).
Do not lose heart. You have the ministry of the Gospel. Your life has been changed because the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with you all. You have received forgiveness for failures. You have encouragement when you stumble. But most importantly, you have the message that can bring light to all those who are blindly walking in the darkness of unbelief. Take heart! The Lord is on your side, Amen.