Introduction A. Chapter four is one of the great chapters of the NT. And it is our privilege to feast on it this fall. B. Read 2Corinthians 4:1–5 II. A couple of facts imbedded in verse 1: A. God’s servants do not lose heart (at least Paul and His fellow workers, that is). 1. This "we do not lose heart" certainly contains an exhortation for us to not lose heart ourselves. But it is primarily a statement of fact. B. Ministry is a privilege: “having this ministry by the mercy of God” 1. And this means that proclaiming Christ as Lord and making ourselves the servants of God’s people is a privilege. III. But how can this be? Why do God’s servants not lose heart? Why is ministry a privilege? Why is it a blessing to serve God’s people? A. This is important because we tend to think about ministry and not growing weary of it is just a duty which we’re supposed to perform because we’re commanded to. 1. 1Pet.4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 2. Gal.6:9 Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. B. But here in 2Cor.4 Paul calls his ministry a mercy. A duty? Yes. But a mercy? How is that? a. How can being called to serve others be a mercy for which we do not lose heart? C. It all matters who you are serving. The reason ministry is a mercy has to do with who the target of ministry is. 1. Just as there are those who are perishing and blinded to the glory of God in the face of Christ, so also there are those who are being saved and have had their eyes opened to the glory of God in Christ. And those people are very precious. 2. It is a privilege to minister to God’s people because they are the ones Christ loves so much that He died on the cross for them. 3. When Jesus was dying on the cross, when He was agonizing at Gethsemane, what kept Him going? It was His love for these people! Their salvation was the joy set before Him, for which He endured the cross and counted all the shame as nothing. (Heb.12:2) 4. They are the children of the King, the apple of God’s eye, the ones whose names are engraved on His hand, His treasured possession (Deut.7:6). 5. They are His bride. Could there be a more affectionate way to tell us how much His people mean to Him? 6. He reflects His amazing attachment to them in many ways in the Bible: a. It is better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to cause one of My little ones to stumble. (Matt.18:6) b. If you did it to the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me. (Matt.25:40) D. This is why ministry is a blessing! 1. We get to be the bearers of good news to those God has chosen to be recipients of His grace! 2. We get to communicate Jesus to people who will one day inhabit the glorious home of Christ in eternity! 3. We have the blessing of being used to build and encourage and help the very children of God! E. And this is why we do not lose heart. He so loves them. He so identifies with them. F. Christians talk about this language a lot, but mainly referring to ourselves. But we need also to think about these things with regard to why we love one another and why we are happy to serve one another. 1. We think too much of loving one another as a duty. And it is a duty. But we need to talk more of loving one another as a privilege. IV. This doesn’t mean all is well. Here are some other facts: A. The children of God don’t look special. They look ordinary, or even lowly, most of the time. 1. God has not chosen the smart people or the popular people or the powerful people to be His children. By and large, He has chosen the little people, the nobodies. (Mt.11:25-26; 1Cor.1:26–31) 2. And so, if we see them through the eyes of the flesh, it doesn’t seem like a privilege to serve them. B. There is also a dark side to the privilege of being involved in ministry. 1. It is possible to love it — for all the wrong reasons. Some love it because they get to stand up and tell people what they think about things. Some love it because it gives them a chance to control. 2. Some love it because people think highly of you; they think you are holy and close to the Lord. C. There are forces in ministry which tempt one to lose heart. 1. Ministry is dirty business! And nowhere is that clearer than in 2Corinthians. a. He gave himself to them for a year and a half, much more than any other church except Ephesus. b. And yet they went after these false apostles who showed up after Paul left, and bought into the poison they fed them about Paul. c. This whole letter is filled with all the problems in his relationship with them. d. All the frightful sufferings in ministry which he lists in 2Cor.11:23-29. 2. Ministry involves pain and hardship. This is one reason so many pastors burn out. a. And we don’t like pain. So, it is easy to avoid ministry in order to avoid pain. 3. But think about having children. Having children involves pain, and inconvenience, and enormous sacrifice. But not many parents would say they wished they had never had children. a. It’s worth the pain and the hassle. Parenting is hard, but it’s still a gift of mercy. Some avoid it because of the hardship — but they miss out on one of the best things in life! 4. And this is true also of ministry. a. A Christian is called to ministry, according to their spiritual gifts, the opportunities God gives them, and the call of Christ. And in spite of the hardship and pain which inevitably come along with it, this is one of the great honors Christ bestows on us — to serve Christ’s little ones. D. It is easy to preach ourselves instead of Christ. 1. It is easy for all of us to do ministry for ourselves and not for Christ. 2. It is easy to preach ourselves, for instance, isn’t it? It’s easy to preach the gospel of my country or my family or political views or my favorite store or my diet program or my school or my church or my hobby or my sports team or my expertise. 3. I have had many (what seemed at the time) nice conversations with people, and afterwards realized that all I advertised to them by what I said was me and not Christ. 4. Are we selling ourselves or our Savior? Are we selling our beauty, our body, or our Jesus? 5. This is why I’ve never been in favor of making GPC bumper stickers. I don’t want to judge other churches that do this, but I don’t want us to be about proclaiming our church, but Jesus as Lord. E. Ministry has its earthly benefits, and therefore it can be used for dishonorable purposes. It can be used not to feed Christ’s little lambs, but for one’s own advantage. 1. Ezekiel 34:2–6 “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” 2. This is what Paul is renouncing in v.2 “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word...” 3. It is possible to use God’s word to manipulate others for one’s own ambition, to act loving in order to manipulate others. 4. There are many today who use the Bible and the gullibility of Christian people to manipulate and abuse. Their ministries often enjoy lots of success, but not by the Spirit or according to the truth. a. These people claim to be sincere, of course. No one admits to practicing disgraceful, underhanded ways. 5. Satan has many ways to attack the truth. One is to deny it and blast it. Another is to counterfeit it. And yet another is to pollute it by adding foreign elements to it that poison it. This last method is what Paul has in mind when he refers to "adulterating the word of God." a. In every generation Satan adulterates the word of God. We must be watchful and alert – lest Satan lead us or others astray by polluting the word of God with some false teaching. b. In v.2 Paul says “We refuse to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth...” c. The Biblical way to handle God’s word in ministry is to openly state and demonstrate the truth from God’s word. It’s not enough the tell people what God’s word says, you need to show them. d. And you can’t just trust what a teacher tells you about what the Bible says, they need to show you. 6. But Satan is very shrewd. He can even use this desire to be discerning for evil. a. It’s exactly what the false apostles did in Corinth. They accused Paul of conducting his whole ministry for his own selfish, manipulative purposes. b. Paul’s response is a loving "NOT GUILTY." We do not live this way, Paul says. "We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways." Later, he says that it is his detractors who are the ones engaging in deceitfulness (2Cor.11:13-15). V. Christ’s call A. And so in this passage we see that we have two things: 1. We have the HS working in His servants, opening their eyes to the glory of Christ and to the unfathomable love He has for His people. There really are sincere people called by God and used to communicate the truth about His word. 2. We have human sin – and Satan himself – at work in those who minister in the name of Christ, twisting ministry into personal ambition and self-service. B. We have this reality where there are some who are manipulative phonies and others who are sound and sincere even if falsely accused. 1. It’s so important we know and remember both of these things. Many times, people know and think about only one of these and forget the other. C. This means there are two traps to avoid: 1. The trap of being naive and gullible, easily deceived by a clever con man with Bible knowledge and a loving smile. It’s easy to be led astray. 2. The trap of being jaded and cynical, almost assuming every leader is a self-serving manipulator. It’s easy to be cynical about the church today. It’s not only pastors who are burned out. Satan is having a heyday. D. Because cynicism also does another very destructive thing. It keeps us from ministry. 1. It’s easy to be critical of others from the sidelines. Do you think it pleases God to be cynical on the sidelines? 2. Get out there on the field and begin to minister to God’s precious people sincerely and humbly. 3. We all agree that we have a loving and sincere Lord; let’s represent Him well by being loving and sincere servants of His beloved people. E. 2Corinthians 4:1–5 Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God... 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.