Paul's ministry was being contested by some of the people associated with the church in Corinth. Paul had been appointed by Jesus to be an apostle and so could not simply walk away from the church – it was not simply his own ministry that was at stake but the gospel itself. So Paul had to defend himself even though this went against the grain of this converted man who really wanted to focus all attention upon Jesus himself.
This evening as we look at the opening verses of ch.4 Paul gives us more insight as to just why Jesus must always the centre stage in the preaching of the gospel. He also tells us how gospel ministry is to be carried forward and by what type of person.
What Paul has to say is obviously relevant for assessing any Christian minister but the principles are not to be restricted to such – they are applicable to the way in which every Christian believer is to conduct himself or herself.
The Focus must always be Jesus
Paul's reasons for wanting to concentrate upon Jesus were excellent ones. Look at how Paul describes Jesus in these verses. The gospel centres on Jesus because he is:
The image of God – as Paul writes about this it is clear that he places God and Christ on exactly the same level. Christ shows us, as a reflection in a mirror, exactly what God is like. God's glory is made visible in and through him and in and through him alone!
The writer to the Hebrews put it like this:
"He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Heb.1:3
The Christ – Paul refers to Jesus in this way three times here. He is the anointed one of God, the long-
From as early as the third chapter of the Bible the promise of a coming deliverer was made and this promise became the hope of the people of God as their history developed. The OT people of God had ample time to try to sort out their own problems and to find help in other places – but their history revealed their complete and utter failure to do so. There was no other hope for them apart from the One God had promised to send. Now this One had come from heaven, had gone all the way to the cross and there had secured salvation by dying a sacrificial substitutionary death that completed satisfied the just requirements of a Holy God.
More than that this Jesus was now alive again having been raised from the dead. One consequence of that resurrection was that all authority had been placed in his hands, authority both in heaven and on earth. How else do you describe the One who has such authority than to call him Lord? And Paul does precisely that in these verses!
The Lord – Paul sums up his entire gospel message by declaring that true apostolic preaching proclaims "Jesus Christ as Lord". Authority, power, responsibility and identity are all included in such a summary – the declaration is full of rich meaning and must never be reduced to something akin to a courtesy title.
Glorious – Paul also declares Christ to be glorious. The whole of his life reveals his glory to those who have eyes to see and nowhere does his glory shone more brightly than it does in the work of redemption accomplished on Calvary. The writer of the hymn "O what matchless condescension", William Gadsby, wonderfully described how Jesus in his life and death revealed the glory of God:
v.3 "Would we view His highest glory,
here it shines in Jesus’ face;"
v.4 "In His highest work, redemption,
see His glory in a blaze;"
It is here at the cross that the wisdom of God and the power of God are most clearly revealed and yet this is something that the unaided natural mind simply cannot comprehend!
God mercifully provides that which we so desperately need
Because we are sinners under the just condemnation of God we stand in desperate need of this gospel. But because we are sinners God owes us nothing not even the privilege of hearing the gospel. Since we have no right to hear this gospel we are consequently utterly dependent upon God taking pity upon us. And this is just what he does!
In his mercy God not only established the gospel but he also established gospel ministries through which his good news was to be made known. Paul has referred to this ministry in the previous chapter as the ministry of righteousness. This is because Jesus provides us with the righteousness which we personally lack in order that we might enjoy a right standing and relationship with God.
Even though Paul refers to the gospel as "our gospel" in v.3 he certainly does not expect us to think of the gospel as his own invention or as the invention of any other man for that matter! No, the gospel flows from God's loving compassion. He deals with us in a way that we don't deserve, graciously ensuring that there is a gospel at all. Further he acts mercifully in establishing ministries that will make this gospel known.
If God in his mercy has given gospel ministries then it is important that such ministries be carried out in an appropriate manner.
There is however a right way and a wrong way to go about fulfilling such a ministry as Paul shows us in these verses.
Here are some of the characteristics that marked Paul's ministry – they are characteristics that are normative for all Christian ministry, they are normative for Christians seeking to live for Jesus Christ today.
Confidently and expectantly. v.1
No giving up or wearying in the work; nor living lives of moral failure.
The messenger is confident because the message he proclaims to others has already proved itself in his own experience. He has heard and heeded the message that he passes on – and a true gospel minister must be a converted man. He knows that the message is powerful to save and to transform because he has experienced its reality himself. Paul thinks back to his first living encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was there that God had done that great work in Paul's life that no man can accomplish – conversion and new birth. The magnitude of such a work when properly understood cannot and does not leave a man to simply go on in life as he had before. Indeed so great is this work that Paul compared it to what God had done on Day One of Creation! Small wonder then that Paul was a completely transformed man. The integrity that now characterised his life could only be attributed to the saving work that God had carried out in his life – the fruit of the Spirit is thus evident and must be so in any genuine Christian.
Paul knows God as absolute and unqualified Giver, a God of sheer mercy. It is not Paul who causes light in people's hearts it is God!
It must be effective because it God's message and method.
Not in disgraceful or underhanded ways, not with cunning, not in tampering with God's word v.2
Paul had renounced ways in which he had once walked before becoming a Christian – similarly for us becoming and being a Christian will of necessity involve changes in former lifestyle and behaviour. Adam and Eve in the garden tried to cover their shame with fig-
Although others might be, Paul was not in the ministry for financial gain and didn't seek to line his own pocket by selling his ministry to the highest bidder. Would that such honesty always characterise men in the church! Super-
The cunning behaviour to which he refers has more in common with the old serpent who "was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made" (Gen.3:1) than with the LORD. To resort to such ruses would be to demonstrate a lack of trust in God. Our God does not need to be "aided" by our trickery, play-
So we don't promise what God doesn't promise nor do we withhold truth that God clearly reveals.
To act in any of those dubious ways would be to demonstrate either a lack of concern for his honour and glory or pride in our "supposed" wisdom as being wiser than God's!
Open statement of the truth done with integrity and with transparency v.2b.
Paul was so convinced of his own conduct that he knew he had not somehow "got in the way" of the gospel message. The quality of Paul's behaviour commended itself to the conscience of others – no-
People might not accept what Paul declared to them but they would be unable to assert him to be crooked.
Respect for a man of integrity may exist even where the message he has to proclaim finds no welcome, under the sovereignty of God, in the hearts of his hearers.
Not in self-
The Christian's task is not to be forever talking about himself and giving the impression that he is somehow particularly special or clever or spiritually a cut above the rest – his task is to communicate Christ. The Christian is at best merely one of Jesus' servants working to serve the interests of those to whom he's been sent. Paul's boast has nothing to do with his own gifts and abilities, he is fully taken up with Christ and as his herald is fully satisfied to be able to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
When we have clear views as to the glories of Christ we will want to be all taken up with him and not the slightest bit interested in trying to build our own little empires! That was true of the apostle – he was determined to know nothing other than Christ-
Hence beware of Christian superstars – how easily we can get caught up in this in our day when we're surrounded by celebrity culture! There is even a website called "jcsuperstars" that panders to our interest in the great and famous!
Success and Failure in Gospel Ministry
Apparent lack of success when men fail to appreciate just how wonderful the message is must not cause us to change the message itself for the problem does not lie there. Not everyone believed as Paul preached the good news but he didn't torture himself about whether or not he needed to change his methods, alter his message, introduce this or that technique. He knew that the problem lay in the blindness of unbelievers who have been blinded by the god of this world. Satan always works to stop the unbeliever from seeing "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" if he can.
Men are responsible for their own sin and unbelief and no man can try to excuse himself by blaming Satan. However unbelief is compounded by a spiritual blindness that renders men incapable of appreciating the relevance, beauty and goodness of Jesus Christ when he is presented to them in the preaching of the gospel. Men will only "see" when that blindness is taken away.
Praise God that he gives the vision we need! Gospel success is in God's hands and God's hands alone. He is well able to shine such gospel light into the heart of men and women. If he has shone in your heart then surely he can shine into the hearts of others too. If he has shone in your heart then rejoice, be glad and be at peace.
Unless and until God so works the unbeliever will remain an unbeliever still.