Our current series on Truth for Life, which is titled The Pastor's Study, was originally delivered to an audience of pastors and elders, men who are familiar with the pressures that accompany the wonderful privileges of ministry work. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explores these challenges and looks to the Apostle Paul's instructions to learn how to prepare for them. Two Corinthians and chapter four, and what I'd like to do now is simply remind you of some of these central truths that Paul is affirming here in writing this letter that we know of as 2 Corinthians. It is Paul's most biographical letter. He gives us an insight into his heart, I think, more in the chapters of 2 Corinthians than in any of his other letters, even including 1 Thessalonians. It's tremendously helpful to us as pastors in that it reveals the tensions that are created in ministry that are caused by those who are his detractors. And when we recognize that everything is not always plain sailing for us, not only do we remind ourselves that Jesus said we shouldn't anticipate that it would be, but also when we look at the lives of the apostles, we discover that they too faced particular challenges. And the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians is actually outstanding for the way in which it demonstrates both the privileges and the pressures of pastoral work. And we are, each of us, aware to one degree or another of what those pressures and privileges are. Incidentally, I think it is one of Paul's most neglected letters when it comes to being taught in local congregations.
So with that, by way of just the sketchiest of reflections on the nature of the thing, I don't want to take any more time in setting context. I want essentially to look with you at these great declarations that he makes concerning the ministry of the gospel to which he and his colleagues have been called. Therefore, he says, since through God's mercy, we have this ministry. We are the recipients of God's grace, which pardons us from our sins. We are the recipients of his mercy, which consoles us. His grace, if you like, is his love to the guilty. His mercy is an expression of his love to the distressed. And it is sometimes when we are made aware of the mercy of God in our distress that we are drawn then to the grace of God that then deals with us in our guilt. And we should remind ourselves this morning as we come just to that phrase, which is the foundation for being able to say what he then says. In the first declaration, I want you to note that there is more mercy in the Lord Jesus than there is sin in us. And how Paul must have had occasion to reflect on that again and again as he thought about what his life had been before he had been arrested by Jesus on the road to Damascus, all of those mental pictures that he carried with him of the scene at the stoning of Stephen and many other sad and sorry circumstances that were directly related to his persecuting of the church of God. And you can only but imagine the sense of passion that reverberated through him as he either penned or dictated these words, therefore, since through God's mercy, we have this ministry. Who of all people should have this ministry?
And Paul would have said, Saul of Tarsus would have said, Certainly not me. Now, it is because we have the ministry by God's mercy that a number of things follow. Number one, we do not lose heart.
We do not lose heart. This is the only thing he says twice in this chapter. You will notice he says it again in verse 16, Therefore, we do not lose heart. It is an interesting study in the life of Paul to find out how many times he says things like this. For example, he declares that he is not ashamed. And certain commentators say that this is just an example of litotes or whatever it is, that there is no possibility of Paul ever being ashamed. What he really means is, I am really, really aggressively bold in relationship, and he expresses it in that negative fashion.
I don't think we have to say that at all. I think Paul was a regular man. He was certainly anointed by the Spirit of God.
He was part of an unrepeatable group of individuals as an apostle in the founding of the church. But I'm sure he knew what it was to look into the Corinthian context or walk into Athens and feel a sense of shame, a sense of despondency, a sense of discouragement. Because, after all, what was it he was going to say to all of these high-minded intellectuals?
He was going to say to them, Jesus Christ and him crucified. Now, we do not lose heart, he says, and it is a real temptation to lose heart. We do not lose heart.
It is an understandable tendency to lose heart. Certainly, there was much in his life that would have caused him to be disheartened. If you go back to the eighth verse of chapter 1, he says, we don't want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. In our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. So when he says, we do not lose heart, he's not talking about—it's not some kind of arms-length theology.
He's giving expression to his own convictions. And all of that feeling of being overwhelmed, he says there in verse 9 of chapter 1, this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. Now, let me just jump from there and move to ourselves. In pastoral ministry, we have not faced the circumstances in Iconium and Lystra. We have not gone down the same road that Paul has gone down. But we want to be able to say with Paul, we do not lose heart.
And certainly, we know that there is a real temptation to do so. And there are peculiar challenges for us in pastoral ministry. For example, there are expectations we can't fulfill. Expectations we can't fulfill. Expectations that others put upon us, perhaps because of the man that we are following, because of the circumstances that have been unique to this place.
And now we've been called there, and this congregation has an expectation that is directly related to the gifting package that was known by someone else. And it may then cause us to be really disheartened. We do not lose heart in face of the accusations that we can't avoid. There are accusations that are avoidable. We bring them on ourselves, but there are others that we cannot avoid.
And Paul certainly knew what it was to be on the receiving end of accusations. 1 Corinthians 4, where he says, I care little if I'm judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time.
And I somewhat facetiously mentioned Nehemiah chapter 6, 8. Nothing like what you're saying is happening. You're just making it up out of your head. And frankly, that is a retort and is a response that we may need to go to from time to time. Otherwise, we will be dreadfully disheartened. Expectations I can't fulfill. Accusations I can't avoid. Indifference that I can't overcome. An indifference that I can't overcome. Some of you have spoken to me about how you believe you're doing your best in preaching the Bible, and yet there just seems to be an indifference on the part of people.
There isn't that receptivity that you have read about in the biographies of others, and you're wondering, is it your problem, or should you give up the methodology, or what should you do? Well, the one thing you mustn't do is lose heart. Do not lose heart. We do not lose heart, despite expectations that can't be fulfilled, and accusations that can't be avoided, and indifference that can't be overcome, and a blindness that we cannot relieve. Because the God of this age is blind to the minds of unbelievers, and they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
And then we add to that our own personalities, and our own personal challenges, and all the sins that so easily beset us, and we have to take this and strap ourselves to it. Lord Jesus, let us say with Paul today, as we think about going back to the challenges of this coming Sunday, we do not lose heart. Secondly, we do not use deception. We do not use deception. We have renounced the kruptos approach, the secret approach. We're not going to be those who are iskunos, who are shameful. We have given up, as Phillips paraphrases it, the hidden things of shame. The word for deception, you will recall, is panurgia.
It is the characteristic of the unscrupulous politician or the ingratiating secondhand car salesman. Phillips paraphrases it, we use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God. Brethren, this must be our statement. And you see, to say we do not use deception immediately will challenge us, because there will be so much that will cause us to lose heart. Because we live in an easy-going, theologically vague, harmlessly accommodating context in which theology is the product of the deceived and the deceiving.
And we remember that it was Ryle who said that one of the great diseases of contemporary preaching in his day was the desire to be popular. And now we don't need to belabor this, but we want to be careful, lest we are being slightly deceitful in the way in which we say things or do things. We do not use deception, because we have determined that we will renounce the way these false teachers operate with their secretive practices and with their shameful ways. Nor do we distort the Word of God. Dulontes, the diluting of the Word of God. We do not dilute the Word of God so as to make it palatable. We have determined that we will not do the kind of preaching that responds to the itchy ears of 2 Timothy 4.
We're not going to tickle the people under their chins and rub their hair for them and make them feel that we are the most wonderful person in the world, because we've been given the privilege of being heralds. We must bear testimony to God before men and women, for we will answer to God for what we have said to these men and women. Therefore, we dare not use any form of dilution, distortion of the Word of God. Now, we saw John the Baptist at the opening of it all, didn't we? He certainly was not involved in distortion, was he?
There was no sense in which he was diluting. Again, I say to you, try this as an introduction to an evangelistic talk. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming out, you brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. It's not exactly what you would call seeker-sensitive, is it, as an introduction?
And what about Paul before Felix and Drusilla in Acts chapter 24? Have you been there for a while? Can you imagine the situation? You're in the White House of the day.
You're in a problem. You're shut away, and the president and the first lady invite you up. They've been playing checkers in the evening.
They've been doing a number of things, and they've run out of stuff to do. And so, they're sitting having dinner, and one says to the other, why don't we get the apostle Paul up and see what he's on about? After all, he's apparently a wonderful preacher. And so, they call him up. You remember that he's being held in waiting the arrival of the other members of the team of lawyers to deal with his case.
And so, enters Paul in Acts chapter 24, verse 24. You can imagine him coming in, not a particular pre-possessing kind of individual. He certainly, by all accounts, was not the kind of individual who would have made it as the quarterback in the high school football team. He apparently would not have been like that.
He would have looked more like Dustin Hoffman on a poor day with a limp and with less hair than Hoffman enjoys. And here he comes in, and sitting in the position of power and authority, apparently, is Felix and his wife, Drusilla. And so, Paul says, thank you for inviting me up.
I'm glad to have the opportunity of talking with you. I just have a three-point sermon that I'd like to give you, and my first point is righteousness. I want to talk to you about righteousness, and he talked about that for a little while until he saw the beads of perspiration coming out on the brow of Felix, when he saw that Drusilla was wriggling around on her throne. And then he said, now I come to my second point, self-control. Of course, they were living in an adulterous relationship.
Felix had stolen this woman away from her husband as a result of the work of a Cyprian magician. And so, Paul says, thank you for inviting me up. I want to talk to you about the moral law of God and how you stand in an abjectly horrible situation in front of it, because God calls us to be righteous in his sight. And now let me talk to you about self-control.
And as my third point, I'd like to tell you that there is a judgment that you're going to face when you will stand before God. Again, I suggest to you that it is not exactly the way that begins by saying, I wonder what it is that Felix and Drusilla are into. Perhaps I should talk to them about stress. You know, after they must be very stressed out. Perhaps I should talk to them about finances.
They seem to have a lot of money, and I'm not sure how the stock market is going at the moment. I talk about a biblical perspective on finance. Whatever else it is. No, Paul goes up the stairs and says, thank you for the opportunity. Number one, righteousness.
Number two, self-control. And number three, a coming judgment. And people say, I don't like to hear all these hellfire and damnation sermons. When is the last time you heard a hellfire and damnation sermon? When is the last time you ever preached one? When is the last time you were bold enough to stand right up to the members of your congregation, fat, sleek, wealthy, self-assured, and tell them, you've got an appointment with a risen Christ, and you're out of line with his righteous law, and your lack of self-control is an indication of the fact that you need Christ.
Remember, they're sitting out there going, tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies, tell me lies. Paul says, no, we do not lose heart. We do not use deception.
We do not use distortion. He is in direct contrast to the church today, here, a church that has lost its nerve. Are we going to challenge the cultural darkness of our day? Or are we going to try and come up with a gospel that reflects the darkness? Are we going to talk to people about wholeness rather than holiness? Are we going to deal with what the Bible has to say about sin? Or are we going to constantly try and couch it around in words like dysfunction? Are we going to offer to people recovery so that they might limp through the rest of their lives as a result of psychological theory, explaining their predicament and helping them forward? Or are we going to talk about salvation?
That's the question. We do not lose heart. We do not use deception.
We're not going to use distortion. Therapeutic language has replaced the moral in our culture and, sadly, in so many of our churches. A diluted message caters to our notions of self-sufficiency rather than a very potent message which conveys Christ's unique sufficiency. The Bible becomes a step-by-step manual for happy living, and sermons descend to trivialities or ascend to a high-sounding moralism. And it is amazing how much moralistic preaching there is in evangelical churches, where folks are coming in, and they're essentially being told, now, try and just be a much better person this week, and let me give you seven ways in which you can be. And so they're sent out in this absolute hopelessness, because they've tried all the seven ways and another five ways and four other ways. And moralism doesn't work. Legalism doesn't work. Pharisaism is useless. What do they need to know? It was a Calvin who said, probably, I don't know.
This is like him. You know, I only need to do two things, that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior. So we need to preach the law of God so that people will be confronted by the fact that they're broken and distressed, and they need to be saved. We need to tell them you're living in a burning building, which is hard around here. The people drive in here in all these lovely cars and come in, beautiful suits and clothes and everything. They're the hardest people to preach to.
I'll trade with many of you. You think this is great? You come try this.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because they're so used to buying their way into every club in the place. I play here. I play there. I train here. I go there. We vacation here. We vacation there.
Tell me the kingdom thing. What do you need? What do you need? I'll do it.
I'll do it. It's not good news for you. Entry here, you come flat on your belly. Say, no, I don't go in my belly for nobody. That's exactly why you're not going in the kingdom. See, we cannot stand and sing, I need no other argument.
I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died and that He died for me, and then give to people some moralistic nonsense about how they can be better and able to meet God. Fourthly, we do not preach ourselves. We do not preach ourselves.
We live in a world with personalities and no heroes, right? If we get nothing to say, we could talk about ourselves, I suppose. Now, up to a point, as preachers, we can't avoid the Paul polis. So you can't, up to a point, avoid the fact that we can be an encouragement to one another, that God uses us at a certain point in the race just to give each other a lift on.
Come on, let's run on. It's helpful. Thanks for doing that.
Mark this down. This was important to me. I can give you my Bibles. They're full of people's names that I've asked to sign my Bible. Why? Because they're the greatest things since sliced bread.
No, just because I appreciate them, and the fact that they have their name in the flyleaf of my Bible or my book is a reminder to me of just an important point along the journey. And so we recognize that. So we can't avoid the Paul a polis thing, but we can avoid cultivating it. If it happens, we got to deal with it.
If we're trying to make it happen, that's a different thing, you know? Look at all the minivans that are driving around Greater Cleveland with the stickers on the back about who their kids are, you know? I have an honor student here.
I have an honor student there, you know? What is that about, for goodness sake? Years ago, no parent would have stuck that on their van and driven around the town.
Why? Because it would have been regarded as totally proud and self-assertive. You don't brag about your kids and stick it on the back of your van and drive around town, you know? But you do now, because those poor, fledgling little children are so ruined in their esteem and in their lostness.
And what they need to know is how brilliant and wonderful they all are, so that they can have pride of place in the restaurant, so that we can't hear ourselves think, because little Penelope has to do her thing, and we got to deal with her, and we basically want to take her and chuck her out the window, and chuck her mother and father right out the window after her, and say, when did these things become the center of the universe? You say, are we still on the point? I don't know.
Since when was that a question? I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, well, his kids are dumb as dirt, and he never got one of those stickers. Well, they may be dumb as dirt, but I did get the stickers.
We stuck them on the fridge for about seven minutes. But my wife has not been seen walking around Greater Cleveland with a refrigerator so that her friends and neighbors could understand how brilliant our kids are. It is so important for us to keep in mind that it's by God's mercy we're given a ministry. Therefore, we do not lose heart. We do not use deception, distortion, and we do not preach ourselves. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg in a message titled The Call of Ministry.
We'll hear the conclusion of the message on Monday. If you're a pastor and you'd like to learn more from Alistair about leading a congregation, we have an online study for you. It's titled The Basics of Pastoral Ministry. This is a collection of sermons and lectures by Alistair where he offers instruction on a full sweep of ministry topics. The online teaching and the corresponding online study guides are accessible for free at truthforlife.org. Just search for The Basics of Pastoral Ministry. Now, if you enjoy the teaching you hear on Truth for Life, you might want to think about booking a ticket on the Deeper Faith 2023 Mediterranean Cruise. Alistair is one of the guest speakers aboard this voyage that sets sail August 26, 2023. You can find out more visit deeperfaithcruise.com. Sometimes we have seasons in life that are filled with challenges and frustrations and we may not feel particularly thankful, but we are called to give thanks always in every circumstance.
So how do you do that? Well, the book The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks gives us an explanation. This is a short book that begins with a gratitude quiz and it ends with a 30-day gratitude challenge. In between, you'll learn to become more aware of God's hand in everything and learn how to turn from grumbling to gratefulness. You can request your copy of The Grumbler's Guide when you give a donation at truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you have a great weekend and are able to worship with your local church this weekend. Join us Monday to find out how to get out of the way of the Gospel. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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