The Paradox of Ministry : Part 2
Are you protected? You may be asking, “protected from what?” The initial question is somewhat open-ended, it can be answered in quite a few different ways. Some people may be asking whether or not your property is protected by insurance for physical damage. Or maybe it’s liability insurance to protect you from a potential lawsuit if someone is injured on your property. As human beings, we try to protect the things that are valuable to us.
Here’s another question; “does the Gospel need to be protected?” What do you think? One way to get at the answer is to ask more questions, right? Here are a couple; if the Gospel needs to be protected, how does that happen; what must the Gospel be protected from? And another, “isn’t it God’s responsibility to protect the Gospel?”
By now I hope you’re thinking seriously about this question. And, as we continue our study in Second Corinthians, we’ll discover the answer to this question. So, let me read the text again. After I do that, we’ll review just a bit and then continue with our study. The text is Second Corinthians 6:1 to 10.
As we began this study previously on The Voice of Hope, I said that in this text, Paul lists four PERSPECTIVES that help us understand “The Paradox of Ministry.”
The first perspective we looked at was the perspective of privilege. And I asked this question; Do you understand the dignity of your work? For the Christian, all work that’s done well, except what the scriptures prohibit, has eternal value. You and I are in a cooperative effort with the sovereign God, the Creator, and Sustainer of all things! Do we truly appreciate that the way we should? I am sure I don’t. I need to grasp that more deeply.
The second perspective to help us understand the paradox of ministry was the privilege of passion. Paul’s passion was for the pure word of God. As followers of Christ and reconcilers with Him, we need that same passion. Our passion as ministers, as servants of the Lord, is to plead with people to leave spiritual infancy and grow to maturity. And that takes pleading, it takes repetition, it takes patience. Sometimes it looks like we’re getting nowhere with people; they seem to take two steps forward and three steps back. But we need to press on and not give up.
So, we have the perspective of privilege and the perspective of passion to help us understand the paradox of ministry.
The Next Perspective (to help us understand the paradox of ministry) is,
The Perspective of Protection
Here’s where we get into the idea of the Gospel needing protection. Verse three tells us what the Gospel needs to be protected from. Look at what Paul wrote. “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.”
This statement in the original language contains a double negative. In English, that makes a positive. Not so in Greek. We could translate it this way, “Giving absolutely NO offense or stumbling block in anything lest the ministry of the Gospel be faulted.” Did you catch that? It’s not stated directly, but here’s what I understand Paul to be saying; the Gospel needs to be protected by the reputation of the proclaimers.
We know the Gospel carries its own offensiveness. The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe in the Gospel. They love their iniquity, and they hate the light because their evil deeds are exposed. Their minds, controlled by their false philosophies and their fleshly desires, can’t understand spiritual truth, according to First Corinthians 2:14.
But woe to those who cause unnecessary offense through their obnoxious behavior. Romans 2:24 is a terrible indictment against the people of Israel who had been given the law of God. Paul was writing about the need for both Jews and Gentiles to exercise faith in Jesus for salvation. He wrote, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written.” In other words, the Gentiles looked at the Jewish people, especially the religious leaders, and saw how they manipulated God’s commands for personal and financial advantage.
So, here in our text, Paul says he wants to live in such a way that no one could refuse the Gospel because the messenger was offensive. You and I should want to live in that same way too. What is the most frequent response when people are asked why they haven’t become a Christian? “Because the church is full of hypocrites.” Now, I realize, many people are looking for excuses to justify their sin, but we ought to live in such a way that their accusation is false.
We’re told that Mark Twain rejected the Gospel because of the hypocrisy of some of the deacons in the church he attended as a boy. Their pious words on Sunday weren’t backed up by righteous living during the week. To be sure, that excuse won’t be sufficient on Judgment Day, but remember, Jesus pronounced woe on those who cause any of the “little ones” to stumble.
We live in an era where too many prominent Christian leaders have chosen to bring disgrace on the Church and on the name of Christ by their personal moral failures. And the world loves that. The news media gloats over it. But the apostle Peter tells us, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”
Paul was very much concerned about how his ministry was perceived. Not because he had a big ego, but because he didn’t want anything he did to hinder the Gospel. In fact, in First Corinthians 9:24 to 27, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [self-controlled] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus, I fight not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
The imagery Paul uses is from the arena. He put his body through rigorous discipline just like an athlete in training. When his body said, “quit,” his spirit said, “keep going.” He didn’t let his feelings dictate what he should or shouldn’t do. He did all he could to protect his personal reputation and, in that way, protect the Gospel.
What about you and me; how well are we protecting the Gospel? Are we being careful in the things we choose not to do? What about being careful about the things we choose to do? Paul not only didn’t want to give unnecessary offense, but he also wanted to be commended to the Corinthians. The greatest gift you and I can give to others, outside the Gospel, is our personal virtue. Godly character protects the proclamation of the Gospel.
The Final Perspective (to help us understand the paradox of ministry) is,
The Perspective of Paradox
In verses four through ten of our text you see all these things that Paul experienced. These were the basis of his commendation to the Corinthians. It is a tremendous list of both the positive and the negative. And here’s the paradox. Satan’s desire is to use those hard things we experience in life to discourage us, to make us think our work isn’t worth all the trouble. But if we hold fast to our faith in God and His sovereignty, we grow stronger and more determined to be faithful to our calling.
Do you remember what Joseph said to his brothers after their father died? His brothers said to each other, “now that dad is dead, perhaps Joseph will hate us, and pay us back for all the evil we did to him.” In fact, they even put words in the mouth of their dead father! They came to Joseph and fell on their faces and said, “‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.’”
Look at the list of things Paul mentions in these remaining verses of our text. They are divided into three groups. The first group of things is “in” [key word] ten different settings or experiences. The second group is “by” [key word] twelve different actions. And the third group is “as,” or like, [key word] six contrasts. And every one of the things on this list carries a story that can be filled in by Paul’s experiences as an ambassador of the Gospel.
Most, if not all, of the things on Paul’s list of “in” things or experiences, were forced upon him by other people. Riots, beatings, imprisonment, afflictions, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and hunger were all perpetrated by those who rejected the Gospel. Who is willing to endure such things for something you really don’t believe in? Paul did all this for Christ and for the Church. He maintains these are proofs of the authenticity of his ministry. Would you and I be willing to endure similar things for the sake of the Gospel, for the building up of the brotherhood?
Then notice the 12 different actions, the “by” things in verses six through eight. Things like purity, patience, kindness, and love, are a list very similar to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23. When Paul mentions the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, he’s referring to a fully equipped soldier. Generally, the right hand held the offensive weapons, and the left hand held the shield. Paul gave a detailed listing of the armor and weapons in Ephesians chapter six. Are you and I allowing the Holy Spirit to develop these fruits of the Spirit in our lives so we can be more effective ambassadors for Christ?
And then, finally, we have the “as or like” contrasts at the end of verse eight and through verse ten. Paul was ignored by his accusers because he lacked the credentials they put so much value on. Yet he was recognized, well known, and loved by those who really mattered. Many times, he was covered by the shadow of death, but he continued to live life to the fullest.
He was beaten, but not to the point of death; he was often sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; he lived with poverty, but enriched multitudes by his ministry; he owned little to nothing and yet considered himself a wealthy man. All these sacrifices he gladly made so that no one could charge him with being unfaithful to his calling. His greatest fear was the possibility that “after he had preached to others, he himself would be disqualified,” I Corinthians 9:27.
In many parts of the world, our brothers and sisters experience the paradox of ministry very much like the apostle Paul did. Here in the West, not so much. Why is that? Sure, some of it has to do with the foundations of western civilization being based on the historic Judeo-Christian values of religious freedom, private property ownership, and more. But it’s not all because of that. I believe part of it has to do with the level of comfort we expect or demand in daily living.
Paul was willing to embrace Jesus’ teaching of being content with food and clothing. I know, we need those things, and we need housing and transportation too. But do we need expensive cars, RVs, boats, motorcycles, four-wheelers, vacation homes, and more? You see, the more comfortable we make our lives, the more we enjoy the temporary pleasures of life, and the harder we’re going to find it to endure discomfort and hardship.
I’m not suggesting you become a hermit or a monk. I’m just asking you, and myself, to think seriously about the choices we’re making for the sake of the Gospel. Paul’s life was characterized by many hardships and trials, and yet he was filled with joy. Why? Because his goal was to know Christ and make Him known. He knew there was a crown of righteousness reserved, waiting for him in heaven. As an ambassador for Christ, there’s a crown waiting for you, too.
Can you see the paradox of ministry in these perspectives? Do you grasp the privilege that you and I have to work with Christ and have His Spirit live in us? Does that realization give you a passion to see that the Gospel isn’t proclaimed in vain? Are you striving to live in a way that protects the Gospel, that eliminates or minimizes things that might cause others to reject the message? And are you able to live with the paradox of ministry, the honor and dishonor, the patience in tribulation, and the rejoicing in sorrow?As you reflect on these perspectives, do you see yourself as being rich or poor?
In conclusion, here are the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34 to 38. “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
May God help us to recognize and embrace the paradox of ministry.