Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, 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. 2 Corinthians 4:1, 2
These verses are incredibly challenging. Though I have been contemplating this passage for years, I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of Paul’s admonitions.
I took the title of this post from a teaching that Ravi Zacharias did on this passage, Three Severe Tests of Authentic Ministry. I have listened to it multiple times. I will listen to it many more. I encourage you to do the same.
Through God’s mercy, we have this ministry
There is great strength that comes from acknowledging that our ministry has always flowed out of God’s mercy, not our merits. That gives me comfort. We don’t serve at the behest of a fickle monarch, but at God’s mercy.
Understanding this will free you from the trap of performance and perfectionism. If you find yourself sometimes losing heart, like I do, remind yourself of God’s mercy towards you.
Follow me on this digression.
We in the modern church sometimes do a disservice to the Old Testament by an incorrect understanding of the Law of Moses verses grace in the New Testament. If we’re not careful, we can consign all of the OT to works and law. Through an overstatement of a truth, we can lose the beauty of God’s love and work in Ancient Israel.
The Law of Moses was not a bundle of mean-spirited rules instituted by an angry God that inspired self-righteousness. The Law was a beautiful gift of love that God gave His people that provided for a just society, taught them about Him, and painted a prophetic path to Jesus.
Yes, the Law, by its nature, underscores our inability to keep it, but have you ever considered the grace and mercy found in the temple? When God revealed the Law, He also delivered the blueprints for the temple. He provided plans and priests and a place of atonement and forgiveness so that a relationship with Him was always available, even though Israel could not keep up their end of the bargain. The Law not only specified certain sins, it also specified sacrifices that restored fellowship with the Father. Obviously, God’s desire was not in the rote obedience to the letter of these principles, but was always about developing a love relationship.
Psalm 51:16, 17 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
We, the church, the people of God, are the continuation of God’s temple. We, as a community, are the place of God’s activity of mercy and forgiveness in the world. We are a place of welcome to all, where a relationship with God is made possible and lived out.
We have renounced secret and shameful ways
“The devil is a secret keeper. God reveals His plans to His prophets. God, before He worked in Genesis, turned on the lights.” Jimmy Evans
God has been pounding this into my soul for many years (I pray I am listening and learning): our relationship with God demands complete exposure to Him of our true selves.
Sometimes I think the whole of human experience is found in the first chapters of Genesis. I, like Adam, am tempted to hide in the bushes when God wants to walk with me in relationship. God knew what Adam had done, and He came to meet with him anyway. It was Adam’s choice to hide, not God’s. The same is true for us.
John 4:24 says: “They that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and truth.” Worshipping God in truth means to bear all to Him and expose our true selves. This includes the way we feel. I can be the first to point out that feelings aren’t the same as facts. But our feelings are real and we must unmask them to our Father. I want my heart to beat in time with His heart. I must bear my heart to Him so He can do His work of transformation in me.
Our hopes, fears, disappointments, longings, dreams, failings, sins, joys and successes; we must bring them all to our Father.
But this verse goes further than that. How dare we fall into a practice of sin (a shameful way) and pretend that God does not know or care. Ravi points out that to do so denies the omniscience and justice of God.
We do not use deception, nor distortion
After serving in the church for over 20 years, I have noticed this temptation: we sometimes think the people of God cannot handle the truth. Even if we are honest with God in our relationship with Him, we think the people of God will not do well with the whole truth. Be it a failing of a church leader, financial hardships or mismanagement, or even a new ministry vision, we can sometimes use guarded words and phrases that hide the truth.
It is so easy to shave the truth. It is so easy to embellish a story. It is so easy to use marketing and media techniques to distort and deceive. To do so is to borrow the techniques of the enemy.
This is an area of challenge in the technical arts. It can be so easy to move towards manipulation in the way we communicate the Gospel. These techniques may see quick results, but they will not create lasting fruit. Shame on us.
Deception and distortion are not part of God. They are not part of His Gospel. They are not part of an authentic expression of Him and His truth. They will not result in the transmission and growth of His Kingdom.
Set forth the truth plainly.
Ministering mercy and practicing truthfulness go hand in hand. To hide sin and distort truth is to reject and nullify the mercy we claim to carry to the world.
2 Corinthians 4:2 ends with these words: in the sight of God. That phrase should fill us with joy and peace not fear or trepidation. If the idea of God viewing everything you do brings concern:
Confess any secret or shameful ways. Turn from any areas of deception and distortion.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
What a beautiful promise. God continues to not only challenge us with the high standard of His holiness, He has made the way for us to receive His mercy and restoration through Jesus.