So refreshing to be together, away from all the chaos that’s going on in our world, and look out and see all your beautiful faces; and thank the Lord that you’re here and worshiping Him. This morning I want to take you to a passage that has been a treasure to me for many, many years. In fact, it’s actually a passage that I spoke on two years ago at a Shepherds’ Conference to all the men that were here. It’s one of those defining portions of Scripture, as I look at my life and my ministry, and your life and your ministry in the kingdom of light. That passage is 2 Corinthians chapter 4, 2 Corinthians chapter 4.
Now we’ve been looking at the idea of the fact that there is revealed in Scripture that the world is made up of two kingdoms. There’s the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. And last time we looked at 2 Corinthians chapter 6, which says light and darkness are incompatible, as incompatible as lawlessness and righteousness, as Satan and Christ, as unbelievers and believers. And so we said that the Word of God calls on us to be separate: “Touch not the unclean thing. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” The kingdom of light is not ever helped or advanced by an alliance in a common cause with the kingdom of darkness. Christ does not need Satan to accomplish His purposes, and breaching that reality is what causes all the compromise that infects, and has always infected, the church.
So there are two kingdoms. I want to reaffirm that to you. Colossians 1, you remember, “We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” In 1 Peter, that very, very important statement in verse 9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” Philippians 2:15, “We are lights shining in the darkness.” We are a light in the world, and we don’t let that light be hid, but it shines in dispelling the darkness.
If you go through the gospel of John you find that one of John’s themes all through his gospel is the issue of light. Jesus Christ is introduced to us in chapter 1 as the Light which comes into the world and lights every man. In chapter 3, we are told that He is the Light, but men love darkness rather than Light, because their deeds are evil. In chapter 8, we are again told that He is the Light of the world. Whoever comes after Him, follows Him, will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life. Even in chapter 12 of the gospel of John, we are reminded again to respond to the light while the light is here.
And 1 John chapter 1, John again opens his presentation of Christ with these familiar words, 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. God is Light, and in Him there’s no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” If you’re among those who are being cleansed of all sin, you live in the Light, you walk in the Light.
Now our calling and our duty as the children of light, as Paul calls us, is to make sure that we shine the light of the gospel into the darkness; that’s our responsibility. We don’t make alliances, common cause with the darkness, but we shine the light of the gospel into the darkness. Paul gives us some help on that when he gives his testimony in the twenty-sixth chapter of Acts. And if you look down at verse 12, that’s a good place to start.
Paul is giving his testimony to a pagan king, and he’s rehearsing what happened to him on the Damascus road. So he says, “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,’ – and here’s his calling – ‘to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, and that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’”
That is crystal clear, isn’t it? Let me read it again: “Your purpose is to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
We are lights in the world. We have the same calling the apostle Paul had, to shine the gospel light into the darkness. Paul accepted this calling, and in Romans chapter 1 he says this, chapter 1, verse 14: “I am under obligation to Greeks and barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish.” – this is an obligation – “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’ I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.”
Paul was not ashamed to boldly shine the light of the gospel into the darkness. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 9:16, he says, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” In 1 Corinthians 1:23, he says, “We preach Christ crucified.” In chapter 2 of that same book, and verse 2, “We preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”
Back to chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, verse 30, “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” He is the subject of our preaching. In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul says, “The Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us; in Him and through Him are the promises of God. And amen to the glory of God.” Even by those who were enemies of Paul, the gospel was preached; and in Philippians 1 he says, “Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice and will rejoice.” So the simple responsibility that all of us bear as the children of light in the kingdom of light is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkness, and that means to the people who are in the dark.
Again, just very foundationally, Romans chapter 10, just so you understand, tells us why this is necessary: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.” The only way to be saved from eternal hell is to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, which means you accept His atonement on the cross, validated by His resurrection. “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ There’s no distinction between Jew and Greek; same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him.”
And then this wonderful invitation: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they’re sent. Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel of good things!’” Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How will they be saved if they don’t hear? How will they hear if someone isn’t sent? So that is what is behind the Great Commission. We are here in the world for that one glorious purpose.
And I want to say immediately: the boldness of Paul and the fact that he was not ashamed of the gospel put him in a precarious position from the very beginning of his ministry. His conversion story is back in the ninth chapter of Acts – and I won’t go through that, but I do want to mention one thing. His conversion is in the beginning of the ninth chapter of Acts on the Damascus road. We read his rehearsal of that in chapter 26 of Acts. But no sooner had he been converted and called by God, midway through that same chapter that gives the story of his conversion we read this: “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”
That would be the most hostile place he could possibly go to. A synagogue? He’s been converted, and he goes immediately into a synagogue to declare that Jesus, this crucified Jew, is, in fact, the Son of God? The boldness of Paul validates the fact that he was not ashamed. And the rest of his life he faced the inevitable hostility that comes to one who’s bold.
Look down at verse 8 of chapter 4, 2 Corinthians – we’ll get to that next week. “We’re afflicted in every way, no crushed; perplexed, not despairing; persecuted, not forsaken’ struck down, not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” Verse 11, “We are constantly being delivered over to death.” Verse 12, “Death works in us, but life in you.” He’s talking about physical death. It was a reality every day. He was so despised by the Jews and the Gentiles.
Look over at chapter 6, and he gives us a little litany of the things that came onto his life because of his boldness. Verse 4: “Much endurance, affliction, hardship, distress, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report, regarded as deceivers and yet true; unknown yet well-known, dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many right, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” That’s a frantic way to live, shuttling back and forth between persecution and blessing.
In chapter 7, he says in verse 5, he was afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. In verse 6, he says he actually was depressed. But maybe the most dramatic litany is in chapter 11, where he says in verse 23 that as a servant of Christ, “I have endured more labors, more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times receiving from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I’ve spent in the deep. I’ve been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, robbers, countrymen, Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false brethren. I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, as the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” Though, he bore all the burdens of the sins of the church as well as the physical suffering.
I just want you to understand that the most faithful servant of the Lord was the most persecuted person in the New Testament. Boldness and an unashamed willingness to proclaim the gospel will inevitably lead to this kind of hostility. Now you may not suffer the same things that Paul suffered, but there is rejection on that level of boldness that he exhibited. So, it’s hard, given that, to stay with it; hard to stay with it. But Paul stayed with it.
Let’s go back now to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 1. He says in verse 1 – notice just that phrase at the end of the verse: “We do not lose heart. We do not lose heart.” He says it again over in verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart.” This is the remarkable thing about this man. His life was just a constant act of dodging death because there was so much fierce hostility against the good news of the gospel.
There would be many people today who would suggest to Paul that he could maybe alter the message a little bit and it wouldn’t always be a jail ministry. “Maybe you don’t have to be so bold. What is it that you’re saying? This is supposed to be good news. What is it that you’re saying that is causing this level of hostility everywhere you go?” So extreme that he was even stoned to death, and raised again. He says, “We do not lose heart.” He was faithful to the very end, to the time that he laid his head on a block and an axe head severed it from his body, and he died in martyrdom. He never lost heart.
What does that mean? What does that verb mean, ekkakeō in Greek? It basically means to act cowardly, to defect sinfully, to give in to evil, to burn out. Paul has to remind Timothy not to do that, in 2 Timothy: “Don’t do that, Timothy. Don’t abandon the gift that was given to you, affirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders. Timothy, preach the word; you have God watching you.”
How did this apostle maintain such endurance when so many people bail out at some point? Complaints about burnout, about the ministry’s too difficult. There are fewer people who leave the ministry that way than there are who stay in the ministry and just avoid anything that’s offensive. They never say anything that could make anybody mad.
How did he endure? Well, at the end of verse 3 – I should say at the end of chapter 3, it says that, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” The answer is the Holy Spirit was consistently sanctifying him and making him more like Christ; and there was no lack of boldness in the preaching of Christ, was there? As the Holy Spirit sanctified him, he became more like his Savior, and he demonstrated the attributes of the Lord Jesus Himself, and one of them was certainly preaching the truth boldly. But as you come into chapter 4, he defines for us some convictions.
People will debate about whether theology is important. I think a lot of people assume that your Christian life is lived in some sentimental way, that it’s sort of some emotional connection to God. But the fact of the matter is you can only live the Christian life with any strength, and you can only avoid being a coward who defects when you have a very firm structure of certainties, absolutes, convictions that keep you strong, because living the Christian life, shining the light into the darkness is difficult, can be painful. You’ll be persecuted, starting with your own family and the people around you to whatever other level you go.
So how do you endure? You have to have some inviolable commitments, unchangeable beliefs. You can’t be adjusted from them; and Paul had those, and he lays them out here. And I want to take you through this chapter this week and next. But let’s look at it at least in part this morning.
He was able to face the hostile darkness, take whatever they threw back at him, for the following reasons. Number One: “He was certain of the superiority and exclusivity of the new covenant.” In other words, he was certain of his message. He was certain of the urgency of his message, that it was the truth, that it was superior to the old covenant, and that it was the only hope for sinners.
Let’s look at verse 1: “Therefore, since we have this ministry,” – I have to stop you there. What ministry? What “this ministry,” what are you talking about? Go back to chapter 3, verse 7: “If the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones,” – all right, what’s that? Law of Moses. It’s a ministry of death; but it came with a certain glory, because after all, it was divine revelation carved into the stone by the finger of God, as it were. “If the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of His face fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?”
So you had the old covenant ministry with a certain amount of glory. God revealed Himself partially to Moses on the mountain in Exodus 33. The glory got on Moses’ face, he came down; that is to say the law of God is represented as having glory because it comes from the Glorious One. But on Moses’ face, it was a fading glory. Yes, it was glory, but it was a fading glory, because the law is a ministry of death. The law only condemns you, it only kills you and sends you to hell because you violate it.
Far more glorious is the ministry of the Spirit. Paul makes the contrast another way in verse 9: “If the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it.” That is to say the glory of the new covenant salvation in Christ far surpasses the fading and condemning, deadly glory of the law.
Verse 11, “For it that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech.” So why is he so bold? Because he understands the glory of the new covenant gospel. He is certain of its superiority to the old covenant, which only condemned and damned.
All of the world is under sentence of eternal death because they have violated the law of God, everyone has. The law then is a ministry of death; it is a ministry of condemnation. The only way that any soul can escape that condemnation is through the new covenant, which is a ministry of the Holy Spirit and a ministry that provides righteousness. It really is the something better of Hebrews chapter 11. The New Testament gospel gives spiritual and eternal life. The New Testament gospel gives righteousness. The New Testament gospel has glory that is eternal. The New Testament gospel provides hope, hope. Verse 12 calls it “such a hope,” such a hope, a hope for eternal glory that will never fade away.
He understood that. He understood that clearly enough when he wrote in Philippians chapter 3 these very, very familiar words. He says, “As far as the law was concerned,” – chapter 3 – “I could put confidence in my flesh. You know I dotted every I and crossed every T.” He says, “I was” – verse 5 – “circumcised the eighth day, I was of the nation of Israel, I was of the tribe of Benjamin, I was a Hebrew of Hebrews. I was, as to the law, the most zealous possible, I was a Pharisee. As to zeal, I was a persecutor of the church because I thought they violated the law of God. As to righteousness found in the law I was blameless, as far as anybody knew. I kept the law perfectly. But whatever things were gained to me, those I have counted as loss, as dung, for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be dung in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish,” – that’s where he uses that word – “that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God through faith.” He understood that the only hope of salvation was in the new covenant. He understood that we are saved by grace through faith, and he makes that theme of his writings, as I read to you from Romans chapter 5.
So what drives us in ministry to be faithful and not defect, not give up, not become ashamed because we can’t take the hostility and the rejection? What drives us is the certainty that this is the sinner’s only hope. This is the sinner’s only escape. They’re all around us going to hell. Do you care enough to shine the light into their darkness? Do you understand they have no hope without it? Paul understood that, and it kept him bold until he was martyred.
There’s a second characteristic, a second certainty, a second strong conviction that’s also in verse 1. It says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy,” – and again, I have to stop. He understood that ministry is a mercy. This is the second certainty: “Ministry is a mercy.” In other words, he never lost the wonder over the fact that he was doing something he didn’t deserve to do: he was not worthy to carry this message, not at all. It was always a stunning shock to him. He never got over it, even late in his ministry, as he writes his first letter to Timothy.
In chapter 1 he says this: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” And then this: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost. Yet for this reason I found mercy, that in me as the foremost sinner, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Paul says this: “God in His mercy, Christ in His grace, saved me, to show the world that no one is beyond redemption. I was the worst. I was the worst.”
Jesus tells us that when someone is forgiven much, they have much gratitude. “It is the mercy of the Lord” – Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7 – “that has made me trustworthy.” Philippians 2, he says, “God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and also God had mercy on me so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. God continues to be merciful to me. I didn’t deserve that my dear friend Epaphroditus, whom I needed, survived. But God allowed him to survive, was merciful to him because He knew I needed him.”
So Paul is saying that, “God is merciful, even allowing me to minister, even allowing me to preach this glorious gospel, and God is merciful to surround me with the people that I need. None of us deserve it. No one deserves such a privilege. No one deserves” – as he says in chapter 5, verse 20 – “to be an ambassador for God, representing the heavenly King and the kingdom of light.”
Such ministry always is a mercy, always a mercy. That’s why back in chapter 3, you look at verse 5, “Not that we’re adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves; our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of the new covenant.” We’re not adequate. We don’t deserve this, and we aren’t capable. But the Lord chose us and empowers us by His Holy Spirit.
There was a sense in which Paul understood that even his own unworthiness was not a hindrance to what the Lord could do through his faithful life. I don’t think he ever got over that. I think always through his life as a person who was bent on imprisoning Christians at one time, that he was the worst antichrist activist on the planet; and the Lord gave him the ministry of the gospel and the new covenant, and he was so aware of how wretched he was. What an antichrist life he lived, that he always saw ministry as a mercy, and it sustained him out of sheer gratitude.
There was a third certainty – and by this we’ll at least get to verse 2. There was a third certainty: “He was certain about the need for a pure heart.” “We’ve renounced the things hidden because of shame. We’ve renounced the things hidden because of shame.”
All kinds of false accusations were thrown against Paul. We know that there were people who said he falsified the number of converts that he had. There were people who said he had a hidden life of sin. Terrible things were said about Paul. He was brutally slandered even by other preachers. Read Philippians chapter 1. They were trying to wound him while he was already feeling the wounds of his imprisonment.
And he had lived a life essentially as a Pharisee in which he had developed a very high skill in hiding sin, right? That’s what Pharisees are; they’re coverup artists, they’re hypocrites. Jesus said they are whitewashed tombs; on the outside they look clean, and on the inside they’re wretched with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness, Jesus said. And they were the most zealous of all the Jews, the most acquainted with the law, the most fastidious about supposedly observing it. They were experts at a hidden life of shame, because false religion doesn’t restrain the flesh, false religion does not overcome sin. So when you have somebody who appears very religious and you don’t see the evil in their life, you are looking at what false religion has to produce, and that is the best of all spiritual hypocrites. It seems to me the more external decor, the less internal reality.
What does shame mean here? Anything disgraceful, anything dishonorable, anything that produces shame. Paul says, “I’ve renounced secret shame.” We wish sometimes that we knew when we hear people speak or preach or we know some Christian who’s seemingly representing the Lord Jesus Christ but something seems wrong there, and we wish we knew what really was going on inside that individual. Sometimes we find out, sometimes we don’t. But we have a right to expect of those who minister the gospel that there is no secret life of shame; and when there is, it is devastating, it is devastating.
So Paul says in chapter 7, as we saw last week, verse 1, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves form all defilement of flesh and spirit,” – outside and inside – “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” You’ve got to be dealing with your heart. Matthew 15, Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into you that defiles you, it’s what comes out of you.” So Paul knew that if he was going to be faithful to the end and he was going to endure, he knew that if he was going to be faithful to shine the light into the darkness there had to be some things that anchored him down, some certainties. He was certain regarding the superiority and exclusivity of the new covenant. He was certain that ministry was a mercy. He was certain that he needed to have a pure heart.
And there’s a fourth and very important conviction: “He was certain of the duty to preach accurately the word of God.” Look at verse 2 again. He was certain of the duty to preach accurately the word of God, “not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God.” Conviction about handling the word of God accurately. This opens up, for me, Pandora’s box. Nothing is more disappointing to me than somebody misinterpreting Scripture and speaking as if it’s the truth when it’s a misrepresentation. That’s why Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to be a workman needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” You’ve got to get it right. You’ve got to get it right. You get it right, and all Scripture is profitable, he says to Timothy; and then you preach it.
So, first, you have to interpret it correctly, and then you have to understand that every single thing it says is profitable, and then you preach it. Conviction of handling the word of God accurately, and he uses the word “craftiness”: “not walking in craftiness, panourgia. Literally if you take the word apart, it’s the word for “all” and the word for “energy”: all work.
What does all work mean? That there are people who will do anything to accomplish their ends. They’ll be shrewd with the Scripture. They’ll be unscrupulous with the Scripture. They’ll twist and pervert it. They’ll deceive people with it. A synonym for this word is kakourgia, which is an evildoer or a criminal. I don’t think there’s much difference between a criminal and someone who twists the Scripture; that is a crime against God.
The New Testament uses panourgia, craftiness, always in a negative sense. It is being willing to do anything to gain your end, anything with the Scripture; and he describes what he means: “adulterating the word of God,” adulterating it, using it in an illegitimate way. Adultery is a sin. It’s a violation of a covenant. It’s having sexual relations outside your marriage covenant. That is violating that covenant. And you have a covenant with the word of God to teach it faithfully; and if you do not, you have violated that covenant. Adulterating, dolountes – only here in the New Testament. It’s a snare. It’s a trap. It’s a fishhook. It’s something deceptive to hook people using the word of God as a way to deceive them.
Look over at chapter 2, verse 17. It’s very much like peddling the word of God, peddling the word of God, kapēlos. That’s a conman, that’s a crook. False teachers always twist, always pervert the word of God in a deceptive way, corrupting it, diluting it, twisting it, to make their lies look scriptural, to make the people who follow them think they speak for God.
Over in 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul defends himself again and says, “Our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our heart. We never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness.” We don’t use the Scripture, we teach it faithfully and accurately.
This leads to a really amazing point here. The apostle was truly faithful to the Scripture, and notice what this verse says it accomplished: “But by the manifestation of truth” – that was because he was faithful in interpreting the Scripture, he was manifesting the truth – “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” “By the manifestation of the truth,” that can’t be overemphasized. The duty of every preacher, the duty of every witness is to proclaim the truth, to manifest the truth. Accuracy of interpretation demands a clear, careful exposition of Scripture.
I was saying to some of our young men the other day, I hear preachers telling me what the Bible means, telling me what the Bible says: “The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says.” That’s not helpful. Show me how it says it, don’t tell me what the Bible says. You hear preachers all the time on television, “The Bible says, the Bible says.” Well then let it speak. You’re not an intermediary for it; take me into it and show me that it’s speaking, and show me what it’s saying. That’s why the only legitimate kind of preaching is expository preaching, because only that kind of preaching lets God’s voice be heard and not my interpretation of God’s voice. Don’t tell me what the Bible says, let the Bible speak for itself.
So, Paul says, “not in craftiness, not adulterating the word, but rather by the manifestation of the truth of God’s revelation,” – what happens? – “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” This is a most unexpected promise. A faithful, accurate, clear exposition of God’s word will do exactly what we would want it to do. It will commend ourselves, meaning the message that we have brought to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. This is one of the greatest promises in the Bible. This is the best possible truth for all Christians to hear. If you proclaim the truth, it will commend itself to the heart of the hearer. No craftiness is necessary. No deceptiveness, no alteration, no adulteration; just declare the truth – the truth of sin and condemnation and forgiveness and justification through Christ – and you have this promise that it will commend us to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
Now you only have one ally in the heart of an unconverted person, and that is the law of God written in the heart and the conscience. Romans 2 says, “The law of God is written in the heart,” and there’s a conscience, a mechanism God has put in every human being, much like pain in the physical side, that is activated when that law is violated. Every sinner feels guilt, every sinner feels fear and anxiety when their sin is confronted. Amazingly, this is one evangelistic strategy that promises to achieve the goal. If you said, “Okay, what would be the highest possible effect of my witnessing?” the answer would be to literally, by proclaiming the gospel, commend yourself to the hearer and in the sight of God. Well, we know how we would commend ourselves in the sight of God: by being faithful to the truth. But that’s also how you commend yourself to the sinner.
If you could get any effect out of your witnessing, what would it be? That the sinner would understand the truth of what you’re saying, that you would establish credibility with the sinner and with God. All the clever strategies, all the nonsense, tactics, to try to make sinners respond without offending them don’t do any good. The only way you can commend the truth to a sinner initially is to hit them at the only ally you have in their heart, and that’s the law of God and a guilty conscience. If you avoid that, you have not commended yourself to the sinner. The sinner is only affirming the truth of what you said when they feel the reality of sin and guilt. So all the clever strategies to avoid that are distortions and deceptions and craftiness and adulteration.
You say, “Well, that makes the sinner angry.” Of course! That’s the point. But it also, under the power of the Holy Spirit, makes the sinner repent. All these people coming up with all these endless strategies about how to circumvent the hostility of the sinner to the indictment of sin and death and judgment, all going around in circles to try to make the sinner embrace Christ out of some whimsical, almost romantic emotional response bypass the only thing that is in a sinner that can say this person is telling me the truth.
Every sinner knows the wretchedness of his own heart, everyone. The only way you’ll ever commend yourself to a sinner is to hit him right between the law and the conscience. You say, “People will hate the truth.” Of course. But that’s where you have to start.
Romans 1:32. After all the lists of immorality, homosexuality, reprobate mind, all the sins, Paul says, “They know the ordinance of God.” Wow. That’s an affirmation that sinners know the ordinance of God. He’s talking to Romans; these are Gentile pagans, not Jews who had an Old Testament. They know the ordinance of God, and they also know those who practice such things are worthy of death. Wow, where does that come from? Why do sinners when they are confronted with their sin get angry? Because you’ve raised fear. The law of God condemns them, and they know they’re worthy of death.
“But they not only do those things, they give hearty approval to those who practice them.” And as we’ve seen in America, they make laws to turn that into some kind of acceptable behavior. Sinners know they’re sinners, they know they’re worthy of death. And if you’re going to proclaim the gospel to them, that’s the only ally you have in the human heart. Proclaim the truth of sin and righteousness and judgment, and then of grace and forgiveness and salvation. Proclaim the gospel in truth accurately, call sinners to escape sin, to escape hell by trusting in Christ.
Look, Jesus said this, John 7:7, “The world hates Me,” – “Why, because I do miracles? No. Because I fed them one day and didn’t feed them the next day? No.” – “The world hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” Did you hear that? “The world hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.”
Get past this, will you? That’s necessary, and it engenders hate. But you have to activate hostility because that’s a reaction to the recognition of sin. You only commend yourself to a sinner when the sinner knows you’re telling the truth because his heart is telling him the same thing; and his heart’s not going to tell him anything about grace or truth, but it’s going to tell him about his sin. So expect hostility, expect to have experiences like Paul. Look, if the sinner is in the group of lusts and wickedness and likes your message, you didn’t give the right message. If the sinner feels no pain and no rejection, you failed, you missed the target.
Rejection, hostility, resistance, even persecution is the natural result to an accusing conscience. But it’s also the path to repentance under the power of the Spirit. One theologian said it this way: “Paul knew that the truth had such a self-evidencing power that even where it was rejected and hated, it commended itself to the conscience as true; and those who are sincere and declare simply the truth as God has revealed it commend themselves as truth-tellers when they speak to the consciences of men.”
In an ironic twist – being a little personal for a moment – somebody was writing things about me and said this: “MacArthur can’t reach people. He can’t reach people that the missional movement is reaching. So if he and his followers are successful delegitimizing it, the individuals who would never join the faith would hopefully be only in the tens of millions. How many souls could be lost to such unwillingness to be missional?” The criticism is I’m not missional because I preach on sin, and so tens of millions of people might be lost. Look, people aren’t going to get saved unless you talk about sin; and that’s why Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,” because if you’re not willing to take the assaults, you’re going to fail, you’re going to lose heart.
Look, you can’t overcome consumer resistance, neither can I. This is not a marketing exercise. Oh, yeah, this is a marketing exercise; I was just reading something on that yesterday. You have the product, the gospel, you have the consumers, and you have to figure out how to sell the product to the consumers – overcome consumer resistance. You can’t do that. Consumer resistance is too profound, too deep. They’re blinded by Satan, as we’ll see in a minute. You don’t save anybody. You can’t save anybody. One writer put it this way: “Preaching is a sacrament of salvation, but only God does the saving.”
So certainties drove Paul, they kept him faithful: certainty of the superiority of the new covenant, ministry is a mercy of pure heart, and certainty about being accurate with the word of God and expecting hostility. And then this fifth one. Settle down, I’m not done. I know you’re looking at your watch.
Okay, verse 3: “He is certain that salvation is the sovereign work of God.” Are you ready for that? He is certain that salvation is the sovereign work of God. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
He is certain about this, that if the gospel is veiled, if it’s covered over, if it’s not received, it is veiled to those who are in a category: “the perishing.” And also, “the blinded by Satan”: “The god of this world has blinded their minds.” We do not have the power to overcome the sinner’s resistance. There’s no amount of cleverness, there’s no amount of manipulation, there’s no amount of oratory that can cause repentance and salvation. We can’t fight this battle with human weapons.
Why is this true? Let’s go back to verse 3 for a moment. Number One: “They are the perishing.” These people are the perishing – strong verb. Those are those devoted to destruction. That’s a category of people. Paul refers to that in 1 Corinthians 1, 2 Corinthians 2. They’re the perishing. In other words, they’re a category of people who can’t respond. They have no mechanism. “They don’t understand the things of God, they’re foolishness to them.”
Secondly: “They’re blinded by Satan.” So you have this category of people who are “the perishing,” as contrasted in 1 Corinthians 1, from those who are being saved. And then, additionally, “The god of this world has blinded their minds so the might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The god of this world – the god of this age may be a better way to say it – is Satan. Satan has blinded them. Satan has deceived them. Chapter 10, Paul says they’re fortified in ideologies of doom and death; they need to be led captive out of those. John 8, we talked about that already in the last few weeks, “They are of their father the devil, who’s a liar, and they believe his lies. They love darkness rather than light. They’re under the wrath of God. Their minds are corrupted by their perishing status and the double-blinding of Satan so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” They can’t, they can’t see it.
So that’s the level of consumer resistance that we have to attack. You say, “Well, what do we do in a situation like that?” You recognize this: “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” We preach Christ, because we know this: “God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” I’m just going to make a comment about that.
You know this, that the same God who spoke in Genesis 1:3 and spoke light into existence is the same God who has to speak spiritual light into the heart of a perishing, satanically-blinded sinner. So this is Paul’s certainty that salvation is a sovereign work of God. It is a sovereign work of God. So what does Paul say in verse 5? “We then do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” We just preach Christ. We’re not looking for gimmicks to overcome consumer resistance.
As I said, the only way that you can commend yourself to a sinner is to hit his conscience and activate the law of God that strikes his conscience and makes him feel guilt; and that guilt validates the truth of what you’re saying about his sinfulness. And then you come to the saving good news of the gospel; but even at that, you have absolutely no ability to save the sinner. The sinner is too profoundly locked down by being in the category of a perishing person, one already devoted to destruction, and blinded by Satan. Salvation is a creative miracle, just like light in Genesis.
Now there’s so much more to say about, and I will say more about verses 4 and 6 next week. But I want you to look at verse 5 for a moment: “We do not preach ourselves.” Don’t preach your ideas, don’t preach your insights, preach Christ as revealed in Scripture. “We preach Christ Jesus as” – what? “Lord.” We preach Christ Jesus as Lord. We’re just slaves, doulos. Spiritual results don’t come from us, no; we preach Christ. That’s sufficient. That’s our calling. We preach Christ as the only hope for the sinner to escape judgment and hell.
In John 7:18, Jesus said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory,” just note that: “he who speaks from himself.” When you hear a preacher who’s the hero of all his own stories, he’s seeking his own glory. “He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there’s no unrighteousness in Him.” Listen for the preacher who gives all the glory to Christ. We preach Christ as Lord.
I think a good way to end – do you have that little card, “We Preach Christ”? Pull it out of whatever you’ve got it in. I want you to stand and read this together with me. And we just really got started, there’ll be a lot more from this section next time. But I thought it would be a wonderful experience for us to just hear ourselves say these things. If you have one, just follow me and read out loud, okay?
We preach Christ, who is the Eternal Son, one in nature with the Eternal Father and the Eternal Son – the triune God.
Who is the Creator and life-giver, as well as the sustainer of the universe and all who live in it.
Who is the virgin-born Son of God and Son of Man – fully divine and fully human.
Who is the One whose life on earth perfectly pleased God and whose righteousness is given to all who by grace through faith become one with Him.
Who is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin that pleases God and whose death under divine judgment paid in full the penalty for the sins of His people, providing for them forgiveness and eternal life.
Who is alive, having been raised from the dead by the Father validating His work of atonement and providing resurrection for the sanctification and glorification of the elect to bring them safely into His heavenly presence.
Who is at the Father’s throne interceding for all believers.
Who is God’s chosen Prophet, Priest and King, proclaiming truth, mediating for His church and reigning over His kingdom forever.
Who will return suddenly from heaven to rapture His church, unleash judgment on the wicked, bring promised salvation to the Jews and the nations and establish His millennial reign on earth.
Who will, after that earthly reign, destroy the universe, finally judge all sinners and send them to hell, then create the New Heavens and the New Earth where He will dwell forever with His saints in glory, love and joy.
This is the Christ we preach.
You need to go back to the first paragraph and recognize that that’s supposed to be the Spirit, Father and the Eternal Spirit. Just make that one correction. That’s what we preach. That’s what we believe, right? You said a hearty amen. We don’t have to be clever, we just have to be faithful and don’t lose heart.
Father, thank You for our time this morning. The best of all possible experiences to be in Your presence and the presence of Your people, worshiping You, hearing You speak through Your word. May sinners repent right in this very service and beyond where this message is heard. May they turn from their sin. May they feel the fear, weight, dread, guilt of their sin and flee only to Christ, who offers complete forgiveness.
Our Lord, we love You, we desire to be faithful to serve You as Paul did, to the end of our days. May we never lose heart, may we never defect, may we always be bold and unashamed, and may You be glorified in our lives, faithful to the very end.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.