Preaching to the Glory of GodAllen Harrison
There are many passages of Scripture that give counsel and encouragement to those who are involved in the preaching of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul unfolds a variety of truths that apply to this great work of gospel proclamation.
The Privilege (4:1)
Paul writes, “since we have this ministry.” The ministry of the gospel is a gift. We believe in a divine call to preach. It is not a work that one takes up simply as a vocation, at least it should not be. The weightiness of the ministry calls for a sense of divine urgency in the one who responds to such a challenge. Paul continues, “as we have received mercy.” This ministry of the gospel is related to the mercy of God, as is everything else in the Christian experience. It is a gift by the mercy of a gracious God. In Ephesians 3:7-8 Paul speaks of the gospel “of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God…to me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” If you could ask Paul later in his life: “Paul, do you ever feel a sense of amazement that you have been given this great privilege of preaching the gospel?” I believe he would have said, "Everyday of my life!" Brethren, let us consider this awesome matter of being involved in the preaching of the gospel as the greatest of all privileges apart from our own saving relationship to the Lord. Be forever grateful that the Lord called you to preach. Gratitude for the privilege will help you to “not lose heart,” or as we might say, “throw in the towel!” You may be tempted to do so, but a sense of gratitude for such a privilege will hold you steadfast.
The Principles (4:2)
There are two primary principles in this verse to help guide us in our ministries. The first is the emphasis on integrity of character. We, like Paul, are to “renounce the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully (not adulterating the word of God).” As Paul defends his own ministry he reminds us that the character of the minister has much to do with the character of his ministry. Integrity of character and personal holiness will provide a pure motive in one’s ministry. He will not seek to manipulate others to gain for himself. The second principle mentioned is the emphasis upon truth. Paul says, “by manifestation of the truth.” Integrity of character is rooted in a commitment to biblical truth. Truth is what we are commissioned to preach. A firm confidence in Scripture, along with a life of consistent obedience to that truth, is required for an effective ministry of the word. Paul’s example should continually challenge us in our convictions and actions. Integrity of character and commitment to biblical truth are foundational principles for ministry.
The Problem (4:3–4)
There is a serious, humanly insurmountable, problem in the ministry. The problem is the spiritual condition of those to whom we preach the gospel. They are described as “those who are perishing.” They are facing total spiritual ruin. They are also said to be unbelieving. They do not, and cannot, naturally believe the truth of the gospel, no matter how clearly it is proclaimed. The essential problem is their lack of spiritual understanding of God’s truth. Their minds are blinded to truth, therefore they do not believe, thus they are perishing. They neither perceive that to be their condition, nor are we able to naturally bring about a transforming change in them. You cannot explain the gospel to a lost individual so that he or she can naturally grasp the significance of the truth. Sin affects our intellect, our emotions and our will. It requires more than a persuasive preacher to deal with this problem. Are you convinced of your helplessness in effectively preaching the gospel? You are preaching to those who are spiritually dead, blind, lifeless, helpless, deaf to the gospel and completely insensitive to spiritual truth. Nevertheless, we are to continually preach to such hearers with great confidence in God’s solution to this problem. Let us now see what that solution involves.
The Preaching (4:5–6)
“We herald…Christ Jesus the Lord.” Paul does not discuss a variety of ways to deal with the spiritual problem of the unbeliever. He does not propose different tactics to use in order to secure a spiritual response. He moves immediately from a clear look at the problem to the one primary task we are given to deal with it, preaching Jesus Christ as Lord.
Regardless of the inability of our hearers to understand the gospel we continue to present it to them, for we keep in mind the truth of verse 6, “God…has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What an encouragement to the preacher and all who seek to share the gospel. The God of creation is the God of salvation. He is powerful and unhindered in His work of creation. It is the same in salvation. He removes spiritual blindness, causes truth to be understood, inclines the heart to believe and makes Christ real as Savior and Lord to the one who previously had no concern for such matters.
Oh, what hope we can have as we preach the truth with the conviction that God can bring the light of the gospel into dead and darkened hearts. When He does so, the glory will go to Him, alone.
The Power (4:7)
Again, Paul speaks of our weakness in contrast to the power of God. We, the “earthen vessels,” have this incredibly valuable treasure of the gospel. When God brings people to respond to His truth the honor is given to Him, not the clay pots! Frankly, there are evidently too many preachers who are not content with this arrangement. The ministry of the Word is an easy place to express self-exaltation. What could be more inappropriate than a man taking credit for “raising the dead”? Being used by the power of God to bring people to spiritual life and health is an awesome matter to consider. How seriously it should be taken. How humbly it should be handled. In preaching our focus is to be upon the truth of God, the power of God and the glory of God. Humor should be very carefully expressed in such a context. A young lady, in describing her pastor to me said, “Oh, he is such a great pastor. He just makes me laugh!” As others have said, you cannot be a prophet and a clown at the same time. You cannot be a comedian and a preacher of the grace of God at the same time. Handle humor carefully. It is valuable, but dangerous.
Let us study hard to learn more the great value of the gospel treasure and seek the power of God to effectively use it through these weak human vessels in order that He may be glorified now and forever.
The Pressure (4:8–13)
There is nothing more thrilling than to be the instrument God uses for the spiritual good of others. But the privilege of preaching is sometimes in the context of unique pressures. Paul outlines some of his own experiences in these verses. Every preacher is familiar with similar, if not identical, pressure in his life and ministry. It is not something to dwell upon, but it is a reality to be dealt with. Some pressures and problems come from our own weaknesses, sin and failure. Others come from different sources, known or unknown. The important thing is our reaction to the pressures. Paul says, “we are…not crushed…not in despair…not forsaken…not destroyed…that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” Again, the Lord is to be glorified in our pressures as well as our preaching. It is easy to write those words. May the Lord give us grace to do it.
The Prospects (4:14–18)
Every believer needs to have the “long look.” We need to think much about what lies before us in the perhaps, not too distant future. As the preacher faces the issues of unbelief and lack of response to his witness, spiritual declension in the church and increasing corruption in society, he needs often to think deeply about his, and every believer’s, prospects for the future. According to these verses the prospects for the Christian are glorious! “He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you…therefore we do not lose heart…the inward man is being renewed day by day…we look at the things which are not seen…the things which are not seen are eternal.” All of these great truths should strengthen us in the midst of the pressures of life and ministry. And there is much more. In Revelation 22:3 John reminds us, “His servants shall serve Him.” Serving the Lord, in any way, is wonderful here. Think what it will be like to serve Him in glory. No sin to hinder. No time constraint. No conflicting schedules. Absolute freedom to serve the One who out of His mercy and grace has given us the privilege of serving Him here. Let us thank him for that and press on as we await that glorious day.
This article is adapted from a message preached at the Tri-County Baptist Association pastor's retreat in Branson, Missouri, March, 2003.