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Friday, November 22, 2013

Pastors and Ministers: Do Not Lose Heart – 2 Corinthians 4.16-18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4.16-18). 
I have been working on memorizing these verses when I go jog in the frigid, grey hours of the morning. Last week while jogging and reviewing, the lights came on for me as to some aspect of what Paul was after in these verses. Allow me to take a running head start, and then I will jump to my point.

Paul began this chapter by saying “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (1). Whilst unpacking what he meant by “this ministry” and all the heart-wrenching aspects of it, he capitalized on the reasons he didn’t lose heart:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (7-11).
It was in the midst of Paul’s inability and incapability that the life/vitality of Christ resurrected came through gloriously. Paul recognized that this was the intentional plan of God, so that having “this treasure in jars of clay” – having “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” shinning in the hearts and lives of fickle, frail, feeble humans (6) – makes the brilliance of the “surpassing power” that belongs to God, and comes from God, more obvious. This was why Paul didn't lose heart (and he had tons of reasons to lose heart!).

Now we get down to 2 Corinthians 4.16-18. Here Paul went a step further and pointed out that, in the words of the sacred Psalm writer, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73.26). Though his physical and mental capacities were diminishing, waning, and weakening, yet God had turned what was normally discouraging into something that was encouraging. God was growing the man (unseen) who looked to be fading (seen). And so, whatever the affliction (seen), it was really short-lived compared to the final, unending, substantive end result (unseen). But the way forward is to keep looking for what is unseen – Christ and our being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8.29). Then Paul summarized his point a few verses later, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (5.7). The point Paul made here is true no matter what we, adopted, justified, deeply loved children of God are going through. Take heart!

And this is where the lights came on for me. Though what Paul talked about is applicable to any believer at any stage of life, he was referring to his ministry! There were obvious, empirical, observable, categorical reasons for Paul to lose heart in his service for Christ. He mentioned them in generalities back in v.7-11. He stated them broadly in 1.8-11 (“we despaired of life”!), and he will cite them again in 6.3-10, as well as 10.13-12.10. Nevertheless, he didn’t lose heart because he was not looking at the things that were seen, which are transient, but at the unseen, which is eternal! Therefore, in his ministry he walked by faith, not by sight!

As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (warning: this is a “truth in advertising” moment!!!), I am conditioned – in an almost Pavlovian way – to gauge ministry by the visible; by the number of nickels and noses. It is in our denominations, in the light talk between fellow ministers, and in the unspoken looks of others when you talk about how “big” your church is. It’s in our American drinking water, on our airwaves, and zinging through our internet connections. Even AT&T made the “bigger is better” slogan their trademark recently (for example see here). 

But the principle Paul sketched out is that even in ministry we don’t look at the observable, numerable, countable, because it’s truly transient! We look beyond to what God is doing that is normally unseen; to the way God is renewing the inner self day-by-day; to the display of the glory of God in jars of clay; to the unending, formidable resurrection-life of Jesus manifested when “death” looks to be the natural, automatic, immediate (or near immediate) outcome!

So, whether you’re in Indonesia, India or Indiana, know that the light momentary affliction you’re going through in serving Christ is actually preparing an eternal weight of glory as you look, not to the things that are seen (nickels and noses for example) – which are transient; but as you look to the things that are unseen (the surprising power of God in Christ displayed in stunning ways in your congregation, no matter how big or how little) – which are eternal. Walk by faith, not by sight!

Mike the Meagre


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