According to 2 Corinthians 4:1, Paul did not lose heart in his God-given ministry because of "having been mercied (once-for-all)" by God. He had been saved by sovereign grace and he had been given his ministry by sovereign grace. Therefore, having been mercied by grace with eternal salvation and a God-authorized ministry, he did not lose heart in his trials and suffering for the gospel (4:8-10). After all, if one has mercy, what trial or suffering on earth can be too much to bear? So, pastors who have Christ have all they need; there is no reason or basis for losing heart or growing weary in well-doing.
But that is not all God's mercy did for Paul’s perseverance in ministry. Having been saved by grace through Christ's Word to him on the Damascus road, mercy received enabled him to trust God's method of bringing the same message of mercy to others: preaching the gospel. Greeks may seek wisdom and debate, Jews may seek signs and wonders, but from the beginning to the end of his ministry, Paul understood the power of the gospel preached to save an eternal soul (1 Cor 1:17-18; 2 Cor 4:5). Therefore, he never changed his method or message to the end of his life and exhorted Timothy to commit to do the same (2 Tim 4:2).
In the past 50 years there has been a movement, perhaps with good intentions, to reach more and more people with the gospel by being more "relevant, seeker-friendly, contextual, culturally-sensitive, etc." Perhaps meaning well, this movement has often denigrated the method of preaching the Word as the primary means and method which God has ordained for each generation and culture to hear the gospel of grace in Christ. In the process, evangelism and worship practices have employed cultural trends to attract more people to the gospel and to the church. This has often resulted in the use of drama, musical intoxication, movies, gospel comedians, mass hysteria, psycobabble, and promised prosperity to attract people to Christ and to the church.
Would Paul approve of such methods? Would he approve of a more palatable message which appeals to fleshly stimulation? Some say he would. Did he not say: "I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:22)? Yes, Paul said that. But the context of that statement and the very culture he lived in does not support the supposed relevancy and contextualization described in the previous paragraph. On the contrary, the context of 1 Corinthians 9 only speaks to Paul's personal accommodation to the differences between Jew and Gentile in regard to the "dividing wall" of the ceremonial laws (see Eph 2:11-22). When he was with Jews, he ate what Jews ate; when with Gentiles, he ate what Gentiles ate (1 Cor 8-10). Yet, he did not accommodate either the message or the method to either. To both he preached the unchanging gospel (1 Cor 9:18, 27).
Having been mercied by the sovereign power of God, Paul concluded that he must not lose heart in God's method and message in his ministry.
1. Paul renounced wrong methods to achieve acceptance in the eyes of men. 2 Corinthians 4:2 says, "but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
Paul refused to walk in craftiness, scheming, trickery and unbiblical methods to gain a following. He refused to adulterate or handle deceitfully the plain manifestation of the word of God. He did not resort to the things available in the Corinthian culture to enhance either the message or the method. He did not use the driving music and mass hysteria of the Aphrodite worship. He did not use the athletic culture of the Isthmus games in Corinth to excite interest. He did not promise prosperity in the robust Corinthian economy. He did not use the popular Greek drama form as a means to appeal to the masses. He simply preached the gospel truth to men's consciences in the sight of God, no matter what response he received! Paul was committed to God's ordained method of preaching and teaching the Word in God’s sight. This is what saved him; so, he did not lose heart with God's ordained method and message. Is it so with you, dear brother?
2. Paul did not lose heart in ministry because he believed that the gospel preached is the God-ordained method and message to free men from sin and Satan's power. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 says:
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Men are naturally blind and actively blinded by God's great enemy so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Paul could not expect acceptance of his teaching unless God worked in their hearts by His divine election and effectual Spirit. Paul knew that the only reason he himself believed was because God sovereignly showed mercy on him and opened his eyes to Jesus Christ.
It may be discouraging to think that we preach to men who are blinded by their own sinful ignorance and Satan's power, but if we accept that truth, we will not expect from others what only God can do in their hearts. Nor will we resort to compromise of message or method to get a response. Instead, we will continually preach Christ Jesus as Lord at all times, get ego out of the way, take on a servant's spirit for others, pray faithfully, and daily remember that the only reason we believe is because the God who said light shall 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 Christ. Having been mercied, Paul did not lose heart in God’s ordained method and message for his ministry. Rather, he preached the Word.
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Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
Contributers to the blog:
Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).
Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA
Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY