“Paradoxes of Ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10)

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.

Advertisements

The Time is Now – 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

I don’t think I have ever been to a graduation ceremony (and I’ve been to a lot of them – four of my own, and a total of 10 for my boys) where a speaker did not include this line: “Today is not the end; it is the beginning.”

We often think when we have achieved a new status or promotion in life that circumstances will ease and all of life will become easier. It really doesn’t happen that way. Most often, newer and bigger challenges and difficulties find their way to the front door of our lives.

It is likewise an errant thought that life will be so much easier when one knows Christ and is in a saving relationship with God. It is true that the indwelling Spirit and the truths of the Word give us resources not otherwise available to the common man. But in fact, life actually gets more difficult when one becomes an identified alien and stranger in a land hostile to Christ and the gospel.

Some of the Corinthians had fallen prey to believing false accusations about the Apostle Paul, both about the content of his message and the character and experiences of his life. Some of these opponents were surely Judaizers who promoted the works of the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation in addition to the message about Christ. To combat this, Paul quoted a well-known passage from Isaiah that looked forward to a time when Gentiles would find salvation as well as Israel.

And Paul was saying that this time had now come. He urges them not to receive God’s grace in vain … meaning to take something that was actually empty, since it wasn’t really grace, but was works.

Paul references those of genuine faith as God’s co-workers.  That’s cool!  It really is!  And it means that everything is now going to be easy and the disciple will be well-respected, right?  People will see the reality of God and his power in the life of a servant. The credentials will be glowing and the path easy.

But that’s not how it works out.

The credentials that Paul puts forward, credentials that are fully the opposite of his detractors, involved an upside-down confirmation of his genuine status. Among surprising difficulties were hardships, beatings, imprisonments, endless hard work, sleeplessness, dishonor, fake news, false accusations, sorrows and poverty. Yet with all these losses, Paul said it was accurate to see them as the marks of great gain and rejoicing. It is being like Jesus. It is giving up everything in order to gain everything.

The concept of being identified with Christ is to understand that true rewards are not in this life. The pay for being God’s co-worker is in the eternal realm. Knowing our identity gives us perspective. This is not the end; our identity with Christ is this life is just the beginning. Another graduation is ahead.

2 Corinthians 6:1 – As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [quote from Isaiah 49:8]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

6:3 – 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; 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; 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.