One of the surprising and somewhat depressing observations of my life is to look back on the many dozens and dozens of guys whom I knew well in college and seminary. Though upon entrance to each institution, pretty much everyone was committed to a lifetime of ministry, honestly the percentage of those who have actually done it is sadly rather small. The education at both schools was very intense as well as very excellent. It was difficult to complete. It therefore startles me that so many went through all this academic preparation, only to use it in vocational ministry for a very small time of life or in a very fractional way relative to other pursuits.
Paul just finished speaking of being compelled (or pressed hard) by Christ’s love to prioritize the gospel message in all of life. If one really believes this but then does not act upon it, this is receiving this message of grace in vain … as he says in 6:1 – As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
The word for “vain” has the meaning of being “empty.” Not living for the proclamation of the gospel, having received it, was really a waste of time. And Paul says, in the spirit of Larry the Cable Guy, the time has come to Git-R-Done! … 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [from Isaiah 49:8] I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. After years of expectation and hope, the Messiah Christ has come and given his life as a payment for sin, and not just for Israel, but for all people. This is a message to spread.
Paul was actively doing just that; and it was a difficult thing to git-r-done. The opposition was inevitable and oft oppressive. Sometimes the opposition was not only from outside forces hostile to the gospel, but rather from within the so-called Christian community. This was especially exacerbated in places where there were false teachers touting their own credentials while mocking those of Paul. The Apostle’s credentials were not what you might expect, as the genuine teaching of the Scriptural truths would lead to troubles of all sorts. Paul writes …
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
But even with these difficulties, Paul had ministered in honorable ways …
6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;
The Apostolic ministry involved quite a few paradoxes. It was a life that was very different than the way someone would expect it to look like. Nine items are listed …
8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Living for Christ and preaching the gospel out of a response to the great love that Christ has shown us is always going to be difficult. Though there are blessings along the way, great trials are inevitable. But even in the sorrows and depredations there is a God-given sense of joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. If we calibrate our expectations toward a realism about the nature of a sinful world, our difficulties in living for Christ take on a new dimension. We become eternity-minded in light of the bigger picture of God’s work.