Sermon: “We Do Not Lose Heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)
Listen to the Sermon:
Our scripture reading today is from 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.
1 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. 6For 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. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, ESV
My title for today’s sermon is “We do not lose heart”. Perhaps you are here today, and I don’t need to say a word about why we may be tempted to lose heart. Maybe you are coming in here today and you have all kinds of places where you are bruised and broken. Where you are very tempted to lose heart. Yet we come to the first verse of our passage today,
1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1, ESV
How can Paul say that? In the midst of the world we live in, the midst of lives that we lead, in the midst of churches that we find ourselves to be a part of, how can we not lose heart? Maybe you aren’t sure what I’m saying, maybe you live a blissful existence. Praise the Lord, we are rejoicing with you. Let me give you a few things to think about things that may tempt us to lose heart.
The first thing that might tempt us to lose heart, as we gather together as the PCA churches in this town, is that ministry is really hard. If you noticed, we aren’t the flashiest of churches, maybe you didn’t notice that and I hate to break your bubble. We’re not the biggest churches, we don’t have unending resources at our disposal. We are probably not the churches that Christianity Today will profile in their covers. We’re probably not even going to get profiled in the Omaha World Herald. We don’t go for flash in our liturgy. We don’t have the smells and the bells of the high liturgical worshiping churches. We don’t have the professional, slick production value of the really good low worshiping churches. We aren’t a flashy group of people and as such, ministry is hard.
The second reason that might tempt us to be discouraged is not so much what we are doing or what we aren’t doing, but it has to do with what is happening to us. We are under attack. We are in a war, a spiritual war. This passage gets at the ordinariness, the non-flashiness of our ministry. This passage has a lot more to say about the war that we find ourselves in, where we have a real enemy who really hates us. We have an enemy who really wants us to suffer so that he can distract us from worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s described as the god of this world in verse four, it’s Satan, the devil.
Maybe this year you’ve had a wonderful year and we are rejoicing with you. Maybe this hasn’t been your experience. I’ve talked to a lot of people, even today, who are coming off really difficult years. Years that have been marked by suffering and conflict and sin and anguish. Years where we have had to say goodbye to very dear people in our midst. Very difficult funerals to attend. People that we have loved who are called away to some other work, some other path. Those are hard things.
NewSong, we are praying for you as you are searching for your new pastor. I’ve been in those situations and those are wearing, tiring situations. In the midst of all of this it can be very tempting to lose heart. We might want to lose heart. How then does Paul have the audacity to tell suffering people, like us, we do not lose heart? How can he say that?
We Do Not Lose Heart in the Gospel, Because of the Power of the Gospel.
As we consider who we are and what we are doing, as we are reminded about the gospel in Omaha, here’s our big idea. We do not lose heart in the gospel, because of the power of the gospel.
The gospel is self-authenticating, self-renewing, self-demonstrating. It has power sufficient for itself in the messes that we proclaim, because we worship a great savior who has a great gospel. We do not lose heart in the gospel because of the power of the gospel.
We are going to see this in three points. The first two have to do with our problems, the problems I mentioned earlier. The third is the solution.
- We have a plain ministry.
- We have a persuasive enemy.
- We have a powerful gospel.
In all of this we do not lose heart.
Let’s start with the first two verses as we look at this. Where Paul describes the plain ministry we have.
1Therefore, 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.2 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV
Sometimes when we get in the middle of ministry and the things that we say aren’t landing with the impact that we think they will or the things that we pray aren’t getting answered in quite the way that we hope that they will. Then we wonder, why has God given us this ministry? Why has he put us in these relationships? Why has he brought these people with their problems into our lives?
Is it because God’s cruel? Is it because God wants to burden us and knock us down? No! Paul says that the ministry that we have is the mercy of God. Everything in our lives, from first to last, comes from God’s mercy toward us. His grace toward us, it’s unmerited favor. This isn’t a burden you have been saddled with. It’s a mercy that God most high, on his throne, out of his love and free grace toward you have given you as a gift. Therefore, having this ministry, by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
If anyone had a reason to lose heart it was the apostle Paul and yet he says we do not lose heart. He goes on to talk about the plainness, the ordinariness of the ministry that we’ve been entrusted with. He says in verse two, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.”
Now in verses three and four, Paul’s going to alert our eyes to the fact that we aren’t in a fair fight. We need to go into that soberly with our eyes wide open and recognize that our enemy is willing to do whatever it takes, even to bring in the disgraceful underhanded ways to oppose our ministry. Paul says, nevertheless, though we face an unfair fight, we are called to fight fair in the gospel.
We Have a Plain Ministry.
The first disgraceful way has to do with manipulating people. He says, “We refuse to practice cunning”. We don’t trick people, we don’t coerce people, we don’t bend the truth to try to get people to see things our ways. We don’t manipulate people and we don’t manipulate the message. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word.
We don’t manipulate the message. Instead, by open statement of the truth, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. That’s all we have. That’s the only tool in our tool chest; to openly put forward the word of God before God’s people. Openly stating the truth and commending that to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. That’s plain, that’s ordinary, it’s certainly not flashy.
As the world looks at these things, they consider why on earth these people be giving so much to the ordinary means of grace of the word, of prayer, to the singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, of the sacrament we will receive here. Why would they think they would make that big of a difference? It’s so ordinary, it’s so plain. As Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, this is in the world’s estimation fundamentally as weak ministry. It is not strong or powerful, it is weak in the eyes of the world.
Yet, of course, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Externally we think it’s weak and yet what God says is that this is my power to save sinners. One of the core distinctives we have in the PCA is that we are Bible people. That’s one of the greatest treasures that we have. We don’t manipulate the message and we don’t manipulate people, or at least we repent when we do such things. We simply and plainly put forward God’s word in the sight of the people. Then we pray that that word will like seed take root in the heart and minds and lives of people to bear abundant fruit.
We have a plain ministry and while some might look upon that as a cause to lose heart. Paul acknowledges and this and says we have this plainness, but we do not lose heart. Of course, it’s not just our own weakness, the ordinariness that we are doing that causes and gives rise to the temptation to lose heart and give up.
We Have a Persuasive Enemy
We have an enemy, not just any enemy but a persuasive enemy. Not just any persuasive enemy, a persuasive enemy who fights dirty. Look at what Paul says in verses three and four,
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.2 Corinthians 4:3-4, ESV
I want you to notice the tenderness with which Paul talks about those who do not believe. He doesn’t despise or demean them. He doesn’t throw rocks at them. He doesn’t accuse them of being stupid. He doesn’t hold himself up and say he is better than those people because he actually believes this stuff. He pities them. He recognizes that he sees the glory of this gospel, but he remembers there was a time when he didn’t see the glory of this gospel. So, for us too, left to ourselves the gospel would be just as blinded to us. Just as veiled before our eyes apart from the grace of God. But for the grace of God we would not see the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ either.
Paul doesn’t look at the unbelievers and say that they are the enemy. Paul recognizes that we have an actual enemy who is blinding the minds of the unbelievers. That’s what he says in verse four. 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.
The way Paul talks about the god of this world, at first you might think, “Who is he talking about there? God is the God of this world, isn’t he?” In one sense yes, but as Pastor Andrew talked about earlier, there are two kingdoms. We have been brought out of the domain of darkness, the kingdom of this world, over which the god of this world is reigning. We have been brought into the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ. God has brought us out of one part of this world and brought us into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When he’s talking about the god of this world, he’s talking about the one who is reigning over the sin and corruption, who is instigating all of the misery and suffering and sin in this world. That person, not our God who is the God of glory, creation and redemption, but he is Satan himself. Satan is blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
A couple of weeks ago in Dallas, TX the Presbyterian Church of America had a unity service for all of the churches in the country and called it General Assembly. I’m sort of flipping that around. It was a lovely unity service because the pastors and elders from every church gathered together and worshiped together and did the business of the church together. The outgoing moderator of the PCA, Dr. Irwin Ince, preached the sermon at the opening worship service.
It was a remarkable sermon and I would encourage you to listen to it. He preached on this text and he did such a good job. The title was, “Grind on to Glory”. I was tempted to steal the whole thing for this service, but I did my own work. I did want to quote one passage that I thought was particularly good. You may be familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism question, the first question, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glory God and to enjoy him forever”. Looking at this verse about the god of this world, he flipped that and said, “What’s the chief end of Satan. What is Satan after, what is he trying to get at? The chief end of Satan is to deny God of his rightful glory by preventing people from enjoying him forever.” That’s what Satan is trying to do.
So, how then is it that Satan is blinding the minds of the unbelievers? He’s not letting them understand the gospel. I’m not talking about physically seeing Jesus bodily. There was a time when the image of God stood bodily on this earth. Phillip said, Jesus just show us the Father and it will be enough for us, in John chapter 14. Jesus was able to say, Phillip have I been with you so long and you still don’t know who I am? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. But Jesus, the exact image of the Father who took on our nature and became a human like us. He died, was resurrected and now is at the right hand of the Father.
We don’t see him with our bodily eyes today. We will, that’s our hope, but not yet. Paul is talking about the preaching of the gospel. Whenever the gospel is preached and proclaimed, whether from a pulpit of in a private conversation, Satan is preventing unbelievers from seeing the truth.
He’s not doing this by openly oppressing the truth because he has an equally valid truth claim. Instead he’s manipulating people and manipulating the message. He’s twisting God’s word to keep people from seeing the glory of Christ. Satan did this back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter three. He manipulated Eve and twisted God’s word. Satan tried to do the exact same thing in the temptation of Jesus. He tried to manipulate Jesus’ hunger by turning stones into bread and twist God’s word by trying to get Jesus to throw himself down off a roof and bow down to Satan, by quoting scripture to him. But Jesus saw through Satan’s lie and saw that he was manipulating him and manipulating God’s word and he refused to have it.
So, he did not succumb to the temptation. Because of that we have a great sinless savior. He is the one we preach and proclaim as we pray that people will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We Have a Powerful Gospel
Now as Presbyterians, our reformed theology then gives us a powerful foundation for evangelism. We see the true sad pitiable condition of those who don’t yet know Jesus. It’s not a reason to despise them or to demean them, it’s a reason to pity them, to have compassion upon them. We see the wicked, deceptive work of Satan. Then also we see the beautiful glory of Christ in the gospel.
In our theology, this is called the doctrine of illumination. Until the Son of Righteousness dawns in the eyes of unbelievers, until they can see the glory of God, until they see the light of the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they won’t come to believe him. It’s not just about information, it’s also that our hearts need to be illuminated.
So, we have this persuasive enemy we are facing. As cunning as he is, we must not lose heart. We have to realize that this lost world does not know what they are rejecting. They don’t understand that the wrath of God is stored up for them because of their sin. They have no conception of what it would mean to spend an eternity in hell for their rebellion and sin.
More than that, they don’t know what they are missing in the beauty of the glory of Christ. They are blind to it. So as Paul writes in Roman 10, how will they know unless someone tells them? That is our mission. It’s not easy, we have a weak ministry, we are facing a persuasive enemy. Yet we are called to tell people about the gospel of Jesus. We do no lose heart in the gospel because of the power of the gospel. We would quit this unless the gospel were so wonderful, so all encompassing, so heart captivated, so soul lifting. We have a powerful gospel.
Yes, we have a plain ministry where we just openly state God’s word. Yes, we have a persuasive enemy. But more than that we have a powerful gospel. Where God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are working together to bring sinners out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved son, in whom there is redemption and the forgiveness of sins. We see the way that God is working in verses five and six.
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.2 Corinthians 4:1-6, ESV
The message we have is of Jesus Christ as the Lord, the one who is the Lord of heaven and earth. The one who came into this world, took upon himself a human nature, was born in humility and poverty to the virgin Mary. The one who lived obediently to every bit of the law, dying ultimately on the cross because of our sin, not his own sin, in our place. The one who is risen from the dead on the third day, the one who is ascended to the right hand of his father, this one, the Lord Jesus Christ he is the Lord. We proclaim him.
How then is anyone going to believe that message, if it’s a plain non flashy kind of message? If we have an enemy who is blinding people from seeing the truth of that message, how is anyone going to believe it?
Paul says because the same God who spoke light into existence when nothing was around, the same God who said let there be light, let light shine out of darkness. That same creative God, by the power of the word of the Father, is speaking again. He’s speaking by sending light, he’s shining in our heart to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The Father speaks and send the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit comes into the lives on unbelievers and causes light to burst through the veils so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Father’s involved, the Son is involved, the Holy Spirit is involved. Yet we do not have three gods working for us. They are united as one God, together to bring about the salvation of sinners like you and me. This is why we don’t lose heart, because Almighty God is working, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to ensure that our ministry, however plain it is, will be effective. Even in the face of an enemy, no how persuasive, however dirty tactics he may be, our ministry will prevail. Not because of us, but because of the Lord Jesus Christ whom the Father sends forth and pours out his spirit so that we might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Understand, that little phrase right there “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is your eternal hope. You will gaze upon this glory, the invisible glory of God in the face of the human being Lord Jesus. Fully God, fully man forever and it will never get old. For all of eternity you will gaze on the glory of God radiated through the face of Jesus Christ.
If you are familiar with the previous chapter, you remember Moses’ glory got boring. People got tired of it and it began to fade away over time. The glory of Jesus will never fade away. That is our eternal hope, to gaze upon the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Do you believe in this gospel? It’s not enough to be a member of a PCA church, as wonderful as that is. As much as I would encourage you to enter into membership if you haven’t. But what is of ultimate, fundamental importance is not mere membership, but faith that that membership points to. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Here are three applications,
- Embrace the ordinary means of grace.
- Brace yourself for the spiritual war we are fighting
- Seek the face of the Lord Jesus Christ
Embrace the Ordinary Means of Grace
We have a plain, ordinary ministry, but we should embrace it. God has given us all that we need pertaining to life and godliness in the word, in prayer, and in the sacraments. God has given us everything. So, in worship we gather, and we read the scriptures. Again, there’s no smells and bells, there’s no slick light show or anything like that.
We have the simple declaration in the reading of the word of God. That’s good news because it’s through the word of God that people come to see Jesus Christ. Lean into that. Spend time listening to that, even on your own. Even in your families. Also, the sacraments. This isn’t something magical that we are going to do. This affirms and confirms the reality of what God promises us in the gospel declared in his word. God gives us these ordinary things, ordinary bread, ordinary wine and he says this is the power of God for the gospel. Embrace the ordinary means of grace.
Brace Yourself for the Spiritual War we are Fighting
Don’t be naive. It’s so easy, especially in the comforts of the United States where we are fairly affluent, to think that we don’t really have problems that can’t be solved with our money. Or that can’t be solved with fill-in-the-blank, whatever you think can solve your problems in this world and in the life.
Understand that we are facing a terrifying battle. A spiritual battle where our enemy is conspiring to keep God from his rightful glory by keeping us from seeing the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the image of God. Our theology helps us to realize and see this for what it is, to recognize the war that is going on around us. To recognize the work that needs to happen is something only God can overcome. Therefore, we need to be not just devoted to work that we’re doing, hoping that if we just work hard enough or have the right doctrine and information, that that will fix things. We need to be a people devoted to prayer.
Seeking what the Lord will do through prayer. Give yourself to prayer. Are you praying for the leaders of your church? Are you praying that God will reach the lost and draw him to himself through the proclamation of the gospel? Are you praying for our church planters as they are going into new places to try to establish new outposts for the kingdom of God, to proclaim his glories to people who haven’t yet heard? Are you praying for opportunities in your own life to share the gospel? We need to be given to prayer.
The only way we will succeed in this ministry is if God himself is in it. That’s what our theology holds out to us. So therefore, we need to give ourselves to prayer. Brace yourself for the spiritual war we are fighting and embrace the ordinary means of grace.
Seek the Face of the Lord Jesus Christ
Negatively this means we have to take stalk of our lives. We have to get rid of our worldliness. Worldliness has always been a problem for Christians. It’s especially a problem in today’s day and age where worldliness is so sophisticated, so easily accessible. It’s on your smartphone at any time. Worldliness is hard. How do we come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ?
We have to develop and cultivate a love for him. A love that pushes out our love that we have for worldly things. A love that recognizes that as we come to study the Bible, we are not just trying to cram information into our heads. We are asking that God will help us to see the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not merely about learning more facts, though study is so important to this. It’s not merely about working our way up into emotional frenzy, though our emotions have to be involved in this. You cannot love the Lord Jesus in a cold, disinterested arms-length way. It’s not even about girding up our will power because we will find that our desires guide our motives and not the other was around.
We must grow in our admiration of his glory. To cultivate a taste for him and to learn to appreciate him through the word, prayer and sacraments. In fellowship with other believers, even from other churches, under the leadership appointed in our local churches. As we seek to reach others and as we seek to know Christ as well. Brothers and sisters do no lose heart. I know we have a plain ministry, it’s by the mercy of God. I know we have a persuasive enemy, but guess what, we have a more powerful gospel from a more glorious and powerful God. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we ask that as we come before you in worship this morning that you will lift our eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. That you would cause the Son of Righteousness to dawn in our hearts. So that we will see that the light of the knowledge of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ who is the image of God. Help us to see Jesus because in seeing Jesus Christ we see who you are. He reveals you fully and he glorifies you. We pray this for the sake of Christ and for you glory. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.