Tell the Truth   Leave a comment

Image result for image of telling the truthMinisters and ordinary Christians face a constant temptation to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. Sermons that confront a congregation with their spiritual shortcomings don’t usually result in a pat on the back. Instead, they quite often yield criticism and hostility. That’s why strong evangelical preaching and discipleship has largely fallen by the wayside these days. To preach in a way that serves Christ and not people’s egos takes courage and it is easy to become disheartened when people turn a deaf ear to preaching that tells it like it is.

Thereforesince we have this ministryjust as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of Godbut by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiledit is veiled only to those who are perishing among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselvesbut Jesus Christ as Lord, and  ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For Godwho said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Paul repeatedly had to deal with discouragement in his ministry. There were plenty of preachers whose motives were less than honorable and who would do whatever they thought would gain a following. There were also churches who were readily seduced by flattering speech and winsome ways. It would have been all too easy for someone who remained faithful in preaching Christ and not themselves to grow weary of the downside of human nature.

Paul didn’t give in to discouragement. What heartened him were two things: the character of his ministry and the mercy of God.

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, he says, we do not lose heart (v. 1). Paul looked on his ministry as something he received not because of any personal merit but on account of God’s favor. Nor was this a matter of theoretical knowledge. Paul experienced God’s mercy firsthand when he was stopped dead in his tracks while pursuing Jewish Christians who had fled Jerusalem for the safer haven of Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Then there was the surpassing splendor of the new covenant (this ministry). The privilege of being a minister of such a covenant more than compensated for the trials and tribulations that he experienced as an itinerant preacher.

As a result, Paul did not lose heart (enkakoumen, v. 1). The Greek verb means “to act badly” in the face of difficulties; “to give up” or “grow weary” while pursuing a worthwhile goal. Paul wouldn’t allow any obstacles inside or outside the churches to pressure him into abandoning his ministry. Instead of giving in to discouragement, he deliberately and categorically “renounces” the kind of behavior that characterized much of the itinerant speaking of his day. He described this behavior as secret and shameful (v. 2). The phrase is literally “the secret things of shame.” “Secret things” are a person’s innermost thoughts and intentions. These are deeds one hides because of their shameful character.

Paul rejected two types of shameful deeds. First, he does not use deception. Use is literally “to walk” (peripateo)–a verb that occurs frequently in Paul’s writings to describe the Christian life. The Greek term for deception means “capable of anything” (pan + ourgia). In the New Testament it refers to those who use their ability unscrupulously and denotes cunning or slyness. Not only does Paul not resort to deception, but, second, he does not distort the word of God. The verb distort (dolow) is commonly employed of adulterating merchandise for profit. Paul refused to follow in the footsteps of others who tamper with God’s word in order to make it more palatable to the listener or more lucrative for themselves.

Paul eschewed any behavior that was not according to the character of the gospel that he preached. His opponents, had no such scruples. They quite willingly exploited the Corinthians for financial gain (2:17; 11:20). Paul, instead, set forth the truth plainly. The Greek term translated “set forth” (th phanerwsei) refers to an open declaration or full disclosure. The contrast is between a straightforward and open message as opposed to a deceptive presentation of the gospel.

Paul told it like it was and we should tell it like it is.

By setting forth the gospel in a plain-spoken way, Paul “commended” himself to every person’s conscience.The conscience is where conviction takes hold that what one is hearing is the truth. Paul didn’t seek to commend himself to a person’s ego or intellect but appealed to their capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. He didn’t simply trust human judgment but commended himself in the sight of God. He was aware that what he did was done under the perpetually watchful eye of the Lord.

Paul went on in verses 3-4 to deal with the accusation that his message is veiled (kekalymmenon). It would appear–if we can read between the lines–that Paul’s critics reasoned from the absence of large numbers of converts (especially from among his own people) to some fault in his preaching. Paul was the first one to recognize that he was not an overly impressive speaker, as speakers go. This was deliberate on his part, as he would have his audience know only “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So it isn’t surprising that he didn’t deny the charge. The conditional form that he chose acknowledged their claim: If [as you claim] our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing (ei + indicative). But what he didn’t allow was that there was some fault with the message that he preached. If the content of his preaching was veiled, it was not because he didn’t present the truthes of the gospel plainly (v. 2).

The fault lie rather in three areas. First, the audience was at fault. If there was a hidden aspect to what he preached, it only appeared so to those who were perishing. As in 2:15-16, Paul divided humanity into two groups based on their destiny:

  • those who are on the road to destruction (tois apollymenois)
  • by implication, those who are on the road to salvation.

To the one the gospel makes no sense (v. 3), while to the other it is plain as day (v. 6).

The fault lies, second, with the situation. The minds of those who are perishing have been blinded. The blindness is inability to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (v. 4). As the Mosaic covenant shone with glory, so the gospel shines with glory. Of Christ is plausibly construed as objective: “the glorious gospel about Christ.”

Christ is further described as “the image of God.” To be an image is to be a true representation. We say today that a child is the “spitting image” of his father or mother. Wisdom is similarly described as “a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26). Paul stated that Christ is, not was, God’s image, for He alone brings to visible expression the nature of an invisible God (Col 1:15). To see Christ is to see God and to not see Christ is to not see God.

The fault lies, third, with the source of the blindness. Unbelievers cannot see the gospel’s light because their minds have been blinded by the god of this age (v. 4). This is the only place where Paul referred to the adversary of God’s people as a god. He was usually called Satan or the devil–although in Ephesians 2:2 he was named “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” It could well be that these are traditional formulations Paul used because of their familiarity to his readers. But there is no denying the power of this being. He can destroy the flesh (1 Cor 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and empower his servant, the antichrist, to work all manner of miracles, signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Paul’s thorn in the flesh is attributed to him (2 Corinthians 12:7), as is tempting (1 Corinthians 7:5), scheming against (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11) and trapping (2 Timothy 2:26) the believer. On more than one occasion Paul experienced firsthand his active opposition to the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

The Christian, especially preachers, in our media-oriented society is pressured to use the pulpit as a stage for displaying eloquence, dramatic skill and fine oratory. Congregations add to this pressure with their desire to be amused and entertained. As a result, preaching is often seen by outsiders as just another stage performance. And what is hailed as a successful ministry is sometimes little more than good acting. But to his credit Paul said of himself and his coworkers in Christ, that “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5).

The emphasis in terms of word order is on not ourselves (ou heautous khryssomen, “not ourselves do we preach”; v. 5). It is hard to determine whether Paul was on the offensive or defensive here. He certainly accused the Corinthian intruders later in the letter of putting on airs (10:12-18). But he also appears to have been faulted for ministerial arrogance (3:12–4:3)–although his claim to preach Christ and not himself was not an idle one. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 he reminded the Corinthians that on his founding visit he did not come to them with eloquence, superior wisdom or wise and persuasive words. This was so that they might know nothing while he was with them except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Now he is concerned that they know not only the crucified Christ but also Jesus as Lord, that is, Jesus as master of their congregational life.

What then is Paul’s role? In 1:24 he said that he didn’t not lord it over the church but worked together with them. Here he goes even further in defining his role as that of a servant (doulos). As an apostle of Christ, he could have merely said the word and commanded their obedience. Domination was not Paul’s style. He was there to serve them and used a command only as a last resort.

This is an important reminder for pastors today. If Christ is to be truly Lord of the church, then pastors must be content with the role of servant.

Paul went on to explain why he preached Jesus Christ as Lord. For God . . . made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (v. 6). The familiar caricature of sudden understanding as a light bulb going on in a person’s mind captures the idea. Knowing what, however? In verse 4 it was knowing the good news about Christ. Here it is “knowing God” –or more specifically, knowing “God’s glory”.

This knowledge, Paul said, God made shine in our hearts. It is commonly thought that Paul referred to his Damascus Road encounter, but Luke described that experience as “a light from heaven [that] flashed around him (Acts 9:3), while here it is a light that illumines the heart. Paul also uses the plural our hearts, indicating that this was (and should be) the experience of all gospel ministers. Some aspect of his conversion experience is undoubtedly in view. Perhaps it was the point at which “God was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15-16).

Paul pictured the conversion experience as a new creation (v. 6). For it is the God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, who illumines the human heart through knowledge of himself. The key thought is that God’s light dispels darkness, whether it be the physical darkness of night or the spiritual darkness of human ignorance. The idea of light dispelling darkness is a recurring one in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most familiar texts are Isaiah 9:1-2, where it is promised that those who walk in darkness in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali will see “a great light,” and Isaiah 49:6, where it is said that God will make his “servant . . . a light for the Gentiles.”

The light that dispels darkness in the human heart is found in the face of Christ. Paul was undoubtedly thinking of the Incarnation. The face is the image that we present in public. Christ’s face, then, is what He presented during his earthly ministry. This is the second time Paul linked knowledge of God irrevocably with Jesus Christ. The connection is a relatively simple one: To know Christ is to know God; to not know Christ is to not know God.

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