Sunday, July 17, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 4
Have you ever felt so discouraged that you wanted to quit? Give up? Life is hard, and all of us have moments when we’d like to throw in the towel. Pastors are no exception to this. I talk with lots of pastors who are discouraged and struggling to hang on. Ministry is hard.
ILL: When I was 25, I had breakfast with my pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. Roy had led a dying church into a megachurch in 10 years—and this at a time when megachurches were rare. Faith Center in Eugene also was planting churches like crazy—about 75 of them in 10 years! Roy was an exceptional leader. So over breakfast I asked him what was his greatest victory; of all his great accomplishments, what was he most proud of. He said, “That I’m not cynical.” I thought, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” Of all the great things he’d done, he picked that! “I’m not cynical.” I didn’t get it.
I do now. After 38 years of doing this, I get it. Ministry can make you cynical if you’re not careful. You’re working with people…people who are magnificent and maddening. Ministry is a paradox: it can be exhilarating and exhausting; thrilling and disheartening.
The apostle Paul understood this, and in 2 Corinthians 4, he says, “we do not lose heart.” He says it twice, once at the start and again at the end of the chapter. Why did he not lose heart? We’re going to read the chapter and I’m going to give you four reasons why Paul didn’t lose heart or give up, and neither should you.
I borrowed this outline from Warren Wiersbe, the author of The Bible Exposition Commentary, and then modified it. Everything else I got straight from God! J
We don’t lose heart because…
- We have this amazing ministry. 1-6
2 Corinthians 4
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 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 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 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Look again at verse 1.
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Since we have this ministry, we don’t lose heart. Here’s the first reason to not lose heart: we have this amazing ministry. God has chosen us as His partners in redeeming the world! Paul is saying this about himself as an apostle, but by extension, it certainly applies to all of us who are serving Jesus. Every Christian is a minister. Could I see the hands of all the ministers? If you follow Jesus, you are a minister. The word means “servant” and every Christian is God’s servant and called to serve others. You are a minister. You are God’s partner in His great work in the world.
Verse 1 looks back to chapter 3, which ends with a comparison of the old and new covenants, and Paul shows the surpassing glory or value of the new covenant. He ends with:
2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
This is our amazing ministry. We are pointing people to Jesus, who brings us into a face-to-face, open relationship with God. As we behold Him, we are being transformed into His image—our lives becoming brighter and more beautiful as we become more like Him. God uses us to spread the fragrance of Jesus everywhere! God has chosen us as His partners in redeeming the world!
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
Sometimes we get discouraged. Life is hard. There was more bad news in our world this week: a terrible attack in France; an attempted coup in Turkey. Racial tension is still ratcheted high in our nation; the political landscape in this election year has left many Americans disillusioned; and people are wandering everywhere looking for Pokemons. Besides the news happening all around us, there is what’s happening in our personal lives: so many people having a hard time. It’s easy to get to discouraged, to lose heart.
We need to remember that by God’s mercy, we are His partners in the most important work on the planet! We are helping people find and follow Jesus! We are helping people connect with God and experience life to the full! God is using you to spread the aroma of Jesus everywhere! Our broken world needs Jesus. Our broken friends and family need Jesus. The good news is that we have Him and can share Him with others.
We talk a lot about Find, Tell, Bring:
- Find someone you love.
- Tell them what you know.
- Bring them to church.
Hundreds of you do this regularly, and it’s changing lives! People are meeting Jesus.
ILL: A few days ago I had coffee with a Life Center member who was bragging about his daughters. They are very sharp young ladies who both serve in Mosaic, our terrific high school ministry. A few years ago, when in high school, one of his daughters invited a friend to Mosaic. This friend came, met Jesus, and now is in Bible College and is one of our best young female leaders. My friend’s daughter did find, tell, bring, and it not only changed this young lady’s life, but she is influencing dozens of others.
That story made me so happy! I thought, “I’m going to keep doing this.” There are moments when I get discouraged and wonder if it’s making a difference. But stories like these keep me going. They remind me that I have an amazing ministry. I get to partner with Jesus in changing the world, one person at a time.
So do you!
We do this together. Are you feeling discouraged? Go help someone! Give your life away! Share God’s love with someone! Find someone you love, tell them what you know, and bring them to church. Don’t lose heart—you have an amazing ministry.
Paul was taking flak from this church he started—pretty discouraging. What kept him going? “Since we have this ministry we don’t lose heart.” He goes on to say that because he has this ministry, he renounced all secret and shameful ways; he doesn’t use deception or distort God’s word, but sets out the truth plainly. Then he goes back to the veil that he talked about in chapter 3, but with a twist. He says that gospel may be veiled to those who are perishing because the “god of this world” (the devil) has blinded their minds so that they can’t see the bright light of Jesus.
Some people are blind to the gospel. The message falls on deaf ears and hard hearts. Why? Paul says that the devil has blinded them. Jesus told a story about a sower scattering seed, which was the word of God. Some of it fell on the hard path where birds came and ate it. Jesus said this was the devil snatching away the word before it could grow. Both Jesus and Paul indicate that there is a spiritual battle going on for our souls. Our adversary the devil wants to keep people blinded to the gospel and in bondage. What can we do about this? Three things: pray, love, be.
First, pray. In Ephesians 6, Paul talks about spiritual warfare and urges us to put on the full armor of God, and above all, to pray. This is another reason why we have a Love List. This is a list of people we love who are still far from God. We keep this list in our Bible, and then as we read each day, we pray for these people we love. We pray that God will open their eyes, that they will see Jesus and respond to God’s love. We pray that God will give us a chance to share the good news with them.
Second, love. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. The best way to break through the blindness is to love them. Love them until they ask you why. Keep loving them just like Jesus loved you.
Third, be. Be a Christian. Be the fragrance of Jesus. Be a living letter from Jesus to them. Be someone who represents Jesus. Be someone whose life makes them curious about the God you love.
Pray, love, be—that’s the best way to break the blindness.
We don’t lose heart because we have this amazing ministry. We are partners with Jesus in changing the world one person at a time.
Second, we don’t lose heart because…
- We have a valuable treasure. 7-12
2 Corinthians 4
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
I love this image in verse 7: “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” In Paul’s day, many people stored valuables inside clay jars. So what’s the treasure? The treasure is Jesus. God Himself is living in us. The treasure is the gospel. And what are the clay jars? We are! Tell you’re neighbor, “You’re not bad for a clay pot.” The clay jar refers not just to our physical body, but to our humanity. God has chosen to entrust the treasure of the gospel to frail, broken human beings. God has chosen to implant the treasure of His Spirit, His presence in us—a bunch of clay pots! We look very ordinary on the outside, but contain a priceless treasure inside. We are ordinary people filled with an extraordinary God.
This is to show that the all-surpassing power is from God, not us. This is why Paul said in verse 5 that we don’t preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and we are just servants. I can’t save anybody, change anyone, heal anyone. I’m just a clay pot, and a cracked one at that! I can’t do it but I know who can and I can point you to Him. God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.
ILL: A number of years ago, my friend Pat, who was a plumber, seemed to have a gift for healing. He would pray for people and they would get well. So people would call me, the pastor, and ask me to come pray for them. And I would say, “I’m going to send Pat.”
“Who is Pat?” they would ask.
“He’s my plumber,” I’d say.
“You’re kidding me, right? I called the pastor for prayer, and he’s sending the plumber?” They were put off by the clay pot. But this plumber had a gift from God—a treasure in a clay pot.
So do you! Almighty God lives in you! He has given you His Spirit; He has given you the gospel; He has given you gifts and abilities to serve Him. You have this treasure in a clay pot! Our clay-potness shows that the power is coming from somewhere else, from God, not us! We’re clay pots with a treasure inside.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
The gospel is the power of God. The simple story of Jesus has power to save. I can’t save anyone—I’m just a cracked clay pot. But Jesus can. When we tell the Jesus story—even when we tell our story, how Jesus intersected our lives—God works powerfully.
ILL: Dr. E. V. Rieu the founder and general editor of the Penguin Classics series. His vision was “to make available to the ordinary reader, in good modern English, the great classics of every language.” His translation of Homer’s Odyssey was the first of 160 volumes that he published in the series. After the success of the Odyssey, he decided to translate the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He was 60 years old and lifelong agnostic. When his son heard he was doing this, he said, “It will be interesting to see what Father will make of the four Gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four Gospels make of Father.” He did not have to wonder very long. Within a year’s time E. V. Rieu, the lifelong agnostic, responded to the Gospels he was translating and became a committed Christian.
We have this treasure in clay pots. The power is not in us, but in the gospel, in the extraordinary God who lives in ordinary people like us.
Remember I said that ministry is a paradox? Paul loves paradox: we have this treasure in clay pots. Then he describes the paradoxical nature of serving God:
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Life in the midst of death, victory in the midst of defeat, treasure in a clay pot—so we don’t lose heart.
Third, we don’t lose heart because…
- We have a confident faith. 13-15
2 Corinthians 4
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Paul described some of the hardships he experienced because of his ministry, hardships that would have caused many others to lose heart, give up and quit. How did Paul keep going? He had a confident faith. He could proclaim the gospel fearlessly because He believed in a God who had raised Jesus from the dead. He believed that God would raise Him too. What’s the worst someone could do to you? Kill you! If you believe God raises the dead, that’s no so bad!
ILL: Aberra Wata worked with Christian youth in the southern part of Ethiopia during the time of Communist rule (1974-1991). He told the following story to missionary John Cumbers:
Word came from the commandant that the Party leaders had studied my report about the work among the Christian young people. The authorities had decided that I had to be executed because of my “treasonous” words.
“The only way you can overturn this sentence,” said the commandant, “is for you to deny that you are one of the believers.”
What could I say? I told the commandant, “If you execute me, I will be immediately with the Lord.”
The commandant replied, “That’s what I expected you to say.”
As I awaited execution in prison, my Savior gave me songs to sing I had never heard before. He turned me into a composer. [My fellow prisoners and I] reveled in the joys of praise to our God. The guards kept trying to silence us, but with the threat of execution hanging over us, why should we keep quiet? Seven men had come to Christ in that prison, and we all sang together.
The story goes on and the Lord does some remarkable stuff—but what I want you to catch was their complete fearlessness in the face of death. Why? “We believe and therefore we speak.” They believed that God had given them an amazing ministry, that they had a treasure in clay pots, and that God would raise them from the dead.
I hope you will be completely fearless as you serve the Lord. As we read yesterday (if you’re following the Bible reading plan): (read together)
Hebrews 13:6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
Notice one other thing: in verse 15, Paul says,
15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
What kept Paul going despite hardship and suffering? He not only trusted God, but knew that what he was doing would benefit many people—more and more people were being reached by the grace of God. He didn’t lose heart because he had a confident faith: a faith that God would raise him from the dead, and a faith that God was working and many people would be reached and benefited.
Don’t lose heart. Have a confident faith that God is at work in you and through you! We believe, therefore we speak.
Fourth, we don’t lose heart because…
- We have an eternal perspective. 16-18
2 Corinthians 4
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We don’t lose heart because we have an eternal perspective.
In v. 16 he says that, “outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
ILL: Pastor Noel was a beast. He was an all-state football player in high school who played for the Oregon State Beavers on a scholarship. He worked in the woods setting chokers and falling trees. He was a beefcake before anyone lifted weights. He kicked my butt in racketball until his heart attack at 70 finally slowed him down. He was a beast. In his last few years, failing health shrunk him to a shadow of his former self; he grew frail. He often told me, “Joe, don’t get old.” It might be the only bad advice Noel ever gave me—bad, only because it’s impossible.
Outwardly, we are wasting away. But inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. Jesus is making me new inside—I’m experiencing daily renewal as I’m being transformed into His image. Each day, we get a little better, brighter and more beautiful as we look to Jesus. Noel was certainly like that. His physical body faded, but he grew more like Jesus every day.
Then Paul says an amazing thing in verse 17.
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Notice how he describes our troubles: light and momentary. They don’t always feel that way, do they? But they are. Our troubles are light and momentary. “This too shall pass.”
Now notice what they accomplish: our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that is heavy and eternal. The word “glory” meant “brightness, radiance, splendor; greatness; honor.” God is at work in your life, making you radiant and beautiful, a person of greatness and honor. This beauty, this glory is weighty, substantial, and it is lasting, eternal. Our troubles are light, but they are making us heavy, people of substance. Our troubles are momentary, but they are making us eternally glorious, giving us a lasting brightness and beauty.
What a different perspective! In verse 18, Paul concludes by calling us to an eternal perspective.
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We fix our eyes on the unseen, not the seen. The unseen is eternal; the seen is temporary. We live with an eternal perspective.
Perspective is everything: To a worm, digging in the hard ground is more relaxing than going fishing. Perspective changes how you look at things. If you are focused only on the seen, the temporary, you can lose heart. If you focus only on the news, or on your current circumstances, you can lose heart. But if you fix your eyes on the unseen, the eternal, you see that our light and temporary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory. It all depends what you focus on.
ILL: On a balmy October afternoon in 1982, Badger Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, was packed. More than 60,000 die-hard University of Wisconsin supporters were watching their football team take on the Michigan State Spartans.
It soon became obvious that MSU had the better team. What seemed odd, though, as the score became more lopsided, were the bursts of applause and shouts of joy from the Wisconsin fans. How could they cheer when their team was losing?
It turns out that seventy miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the 1982 World Series. Many of the fans in the stands were listening to portable radios–and responding to something other than their immediate circumstances.
This is what Paul is saying. If you focus only on your troubles—well, it looks like you’re losing and you’re bummed. But if you focus on the unseen, the eternal, then you know you’re winning and you don’t lose heart.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. He endured the “light and temporary” pain and shame of the cross because He saw the eternal joy that was coming.
What are you facing? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Live with an eternal perspective and you won’t lose heart.