We all face difficulties in this life. At times these difficulties feel like they will overwhelm us. The question is how are we going to deal with it when we are going through these difficulties?
In answer to this question I am going to be doing a series of posts from 2 Cor 4:17-18 where the apostle Paul gives his strategy for dealing with difficulites. Today I am going to start by just by introducting the subject.
In the church we often speak of “gospel ministry,” but what does this mean? Literally the word minister means to serve, and so to be involved in gospel ministry means to serve the gospel. Specifically, gospel ministry is serving the purposes of the gospel message (i.e. to bring glory to God, save sinners, and edify the church). Ministry such as this comes in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. This is because God has gifted each of us in different ways. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 the apostle Paul put it this way:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This means that whether you are preaching, or mopping floors, or somewhere in between your ministry is “gospel ministry” used for the “common good.” The key is that we all have a responsibility to get involved in gospel ministry.
This theme of gospel ministry is important for us to understand, and it is a theme that comes up quite frequently in the book of 2 Corinthians. As Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church he was under the sharp attack of false teachers. These false teachers had infiltrated the church teaching a message that contradicted the message of Paul. In order to build up their own credibility with the Corinthians, these false teachers had to discredit the apostle Paul. These men were willing to stoop to all kinds of dirty tricks in order to discredit Paul-even mocking Paul’s personal appearance (cf. 10:10). The most notable, as well as outlandish, charge these men had for the apostle Paul had to do with the difficulties that Paul had endured as a minister of the Gospel.
No one had been through more difficulties than Paul. Paul described a few of these difficulties in 11:24-28:
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
While most of us would look at all Paul went through and marvel at his endurance, the false teachers in Corinth had a different perspective. Their own lives and ministerial experience could not compare with Paul’s, and so they tried to discredit his ministry. Their accusation against Paul was that he faced so many difficulties because his gospel ministry was not effective. Apparently, they even attributed the trials that Paul faced to some sin issue in his life.
In light of this kind of opposition it would have been easy for Paul to compromise his ministry. Why endure all of this hardship if you are just going to be criticized for it? However, in 4:1-2 Paul makes it clear that he had no intention of compromising his message:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 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 was not going to “tamper with God’s word” in order to tickle the ears of his listeners. His ministry was totally Christ centered and Gospel oriented. This is the nature of true gospel ministry, and it is an example for us of how gospel ministry is to be done. The only problem is that this kind of ministry is usually “easier said than done.” Difficulties, hardship, and trials always seem to arise and make true gospel ministry backbreaking. We are constantly pressured to compromise; we face persistent stress that tempts us to quit; and we deal with a constant internal struggle with sin that hampers our progress. In light of all these difficulties, the question is how can we endure in gospel ministry?
We find the answer to this question in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. Here the apostle Paul reveals to us how he endured in his own ministry. As we look at this passage we will see that if we are going to endure the difficulties of Gospel ministry-like the apostle Paul did-then we must 1) understand the humble purpose for our difficulties, and 2) understand the glorious motivation for endurance.