The first implication for Christian workers, as ministers of the New Covenant, has to do with the practical way in which they minister to other people. Our methodology is changed once we understand the nature and the source of the glorious ministry entrusted to us, and it can never be the same again.
3.1 We Set Forth the Truth Plainly
In verse 2 Paul goes on to describe exactly how the methods of our ministry are affected. He says that instead of losing heart, “we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
The conclusion drawn by Paul is a very logical one. Our business is to reflect the glory of the Lord, and this glory is unsurpassed in its greatness. Even the most glorious appearance of God in the history of mankind, when God descended on Mount Sinai in fire (Exodus 19:18) to give Moses the Ten Commandments, is considered as “no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory” (3:10) of the New Covenant.
The message can hardly be clearer. No human being can ever imitate what happened on Sinai, let alone add to the glory of the New Covenant. If this is the case, then it is a futile exercise to try and do so. There is no requirement for us to try and increase the glory or make it more appealing. We do not have to use deceptive strategies to entice people into the Kingdom of God. We do not have to distort the word of God to try and make it more comprehensible. “On the contrary”, Paul says, we set “forth the truth plainly”. Is that not what a mirror does? It is a mere reflector of reality, and nothing more.
Likewise, we are called to merely testify to the surpassing glory. We point to it, but we do not interfere with it. The glory is great enough to make its own impression.
3.2 We Commend Ourselves to Every Man’s Conscience
Paul says something else which is noteworthy: “We commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
A man’s conscience is that part used of God to speak to him. When someone has lost the ability to listen to his conscience, then he has lost the ability to listen to the Spirit of God. The world, however, does not speak to the conscience of a person. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the love of the world is to be identified with the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).
The world appeals to that which a person can see and feel, and to that which boosts his or her ego. These three components of man constitute what we call the sinful nature. The first sin committed in Eden, which is a prototype of all sins that were to follow, teaches us the same lesson. Eve “saw” that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also “desirable” for gaining wisdom. Behind the lusts of her eyes and her flesh, as we all know, was the boastful pride of life: She wanted to be like God, as the serpent said she could be.
This is how the enemy operates still to this day, and it is how he gets to the will of a person. God never uses such shameful tactics, and neither does he allow his servants to do so. Like God, we are called to address the conscience of those we speak to. A sincere conscience will detect the voice of God, whereas a hardened conscience cannot do so. We are not called to compensate for the spiritual deafness of those we speak to.
Oftentimes it is a great temptation for a Christian worker to use other tactics in convincing a person whose conscience seems unable to respond to the plain truth of the gospel. Such tactics Paul calls deception, a secret and shameful distortion of the Word of God. Literally, this is what Satan did in the garden of Eden to convince his potential converts: He distorted the word of God (“Did God really say…?”), he deceived (“You shall surely not die…”), and all of this was done in a secret and shameful manner.
The temptation to preach the gospel according to the manipulative communication tactics of the devil and the world is a great one, and prohibited by God.
3.3 A Warning to the Modern Church
This point is much more important than we may realise. We live in an age that is highly pragmatic and results orientated. The technological, management and motivational revolutions of the past few decades have changed the world in an unprecedented way. It has created a philosophy of achievement, a success mentality that has seeped into every area of life, the church’s included. According to it, there is an answer for every problem, a way past any stumbling block. Everything can be planned, plotted, programmed and achieved. We are masters of our destiny and nothing can stop us from getting there.
In spite of the alleged accomplishments that this thinking has led to in the worlds of business and economics, and even in the private lives of individuals, it has nothing to do with the power or the methods of the Holy Spirit. The success of the gospel does not depend on man’s will or effort, but on God’s grace. God’s grace is strongest when man is weakest, a point that is clearly made in the next few verses. The “success at all costs” mentality detracts from the great doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the work of salvation, and elevates man to the level of God.
If we return to that initial fateful sin once more, we shall see that the first motivational speaker in the history of humanity was a serpent. He introduced the concept of possibility thinking into a world governed by the providence and love of a most powerful God, and it shattered that world forever. The great error of Adam and Eve was to think that they were to take responsibility for that which was, in fact, God’s responsibility. Satan might have called it the maximisation of their potential, but God called it rebellion. The serpent has not changed his tactics in all the millennia since then, and we, it seems, are still as gullible as we were back then. The foolish assumption, that we can act as though we are God, lies at the root of all sin.
3.4 Uzzah’s Fatal Mistake
I mentioned earlier that the New Covenant ministry can be likened to the ministry of Uzzah and Ahio (1 Chronicles 13) who guided the ark on a cart. We are like them in the sense that we are carriers of the glory for the sake of God.
The story of Uzzah and Ahio teaches us something else, though. As one point in their journey the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark. We are told that the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and that he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. Uzzah died because he tried to compensate for what seemed to be a threat to God’s glory. In his he has become an eternal symbol of the flesh of man trying to interfere when the reputation of God seems to be under threat.
God does not allow this. He can protect his own glory, and he does not need our assistance. People ask: “How can God kill a man for doing that which was only natural and instinctive?” To this we have to answer that the price of one life is a small price to pay for the eternal testimony of God’s transcendence and glory that need not the arm of man to support it.
Much of the modern church has become like Uzzah, feeling that without their assistance the glory of God is under threat. We interfere with the majesty of God. We want to stabilise an ark that seems wobbly to us. We do this in a multitude of ways, and we do not realise that we are working against ourselves and against the purposes of God.
It is for this reason that Paul has the courage to speak the plain truth of God’s Word, and to direct himself to the conscience of each one he speaks to. He is not deceived into thinking that he can accomplish more than the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. He does not distort or go beyond the word of God, and neither does he allow any minister of the new covenant to do so.
3.5 We Do Not Preach Ourselves
In verse 5 Paul points to another way in which our methodology has been affected by the nature and source of the New Covenant ministry: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
In the light of that which has already been discussed above, it becomes obvious why Paul says this. If it is true that our ministry is one of reflecting the Lord’s glory and spreading his fragrance and aroma, then we shall be foolish to preach ourselves. It is not about us, it is about him. We do not possess the glory, we merely carry it. We dare not preach in such a way that the focus falls on us. It should always be on Christ.
It is told that the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem went home that night and boasted to his friends and family about what had happened. He had never noticed who sat on his back and was thoroughly convinced that the uproar was about him. The story might make us smile, but the fact is that many of us are like that donkey. When we reflect the glory of the Lord and we see the effect that it has on people, we are tempted to think that there is something special about us.
(Next Post: The Effects of the Ministry)