Motivation is something we all need in order to accomplish anything in life. The little child is motivated to walk and to talk by the desire to be like those around them. Athletes are motivated by championships or by contract negotiations. People in business are motivated by profit or by a goal of service excellence.
Not all motivation is good motivation. Have you ever been motivated while driving by the desire to beat someone to a stop sign or parking spot? Some are so motivated by money that they steal from their place of business; or so motivated by appearance that they developed an eating disorder; or so motivated by revenge that it poisons everything they do.
This morning we catch a glimpse of the motivation of the Apostle Paul. He begins 2 Corinthians 4 with the words, “Therefore seeing we have this kind of ministry” . . . his motivation for life is found in the fact that he has been called to share with others the message of God’s mercy and grace. It is a ministry that presents to people the choice to follow Christ in repentance and to experience new life and forgiveness. Paul feels he has been called to one of the highest of jobs: declaring a message that changes lives!
Let’s imagine Paul sitting on the platform. We have the chance to ask him a question, so we ask: Paul, What fuels your passion and what advice would you give to us so that we too might be passionate for the things of God. Based on this text I think these would be his answers.
Never Give Up (Be Determined)
Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.
Let’s be honest, there are many times it would be easier to walk away than keep going. There are times when we don’t want to keep proclaiming the gospel because people resist the message of salvation that all people are lost and cannot save themselves. There are people who bristle and actually become hostile at the idea of submitting to the Word of God. It seems easiest to give up.
It is tempting to turn away in our relationships with each other. We forgive for awhile. We serve humbly for awhile. We give generously for awhile. We are even patient for awhile. For awhile we will attribute the best motives to someone and try to look at the positive. But let’s be honest, it is much easier to do these things in the short term than it is to do it consistently. Too often we want to say, “It’s not worth the hassle”.
We work in spurts in our walk with Christ. We start off on a Bible reading program, we set aside time for prayer, we buy a book that we think will help us grow and before long it feels more like work than we thought it would. We may hang in there for awhile but soon we conclude that our time could be spent more productively doing other things. It is easy to give up.
Paul wants us to see that it IS worth the hassle, it is worth the hard word, it is better to hang in there! There is no more important calling in the world than to know and serve the Lord. Not only this, God’s way really is the best way to live and to enjoy life to the fullest. When we give up we are like a woman who is 8 months pregnant who says “forget it”. If she will endure the blessing will far outweigh (most days) the struggle.
Think about that parent, Sunday School teacher, Pastor, or friend who continued to tell you about Jesus and answered question after question even though you resisted and pushed them away again and again. Think about that friend that stayed by your side even though you kept trying to push them away. Think about the musician that worked for years in the shadows before anyone ever noticed their music. Think about that teacher or tutor that kept working with you until the light finally went on. Think about the parent who never stopped believing in you or loving you even though you were making horrible decisions in your life. Think about that saint that never stopped praying for you. Because these people did not give up, we were blessed.
God doesn’t give up on us either. No one was more acutely aware of this than the Apostle Paul. He had spent his early days as a devoted student. He studied under the finest teachers. Yet, Paul rejected the message of the gospel. God continued to reach out to Paul. Since God did not give up on him, Paul was not about to give up on others. When it comes to serving the Lord and each other we have to hang in there.
Never Compromise the Gospel (Speak the Truth)
2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
The stereotype of salesmen is that a good salesman will do whatever they “have to do” to make a sale. In other words, they will lie, they will make promises they cannot possibly keep, and they will spin things to make even bad things sound good.
I appreciate the way THE MESSAGE paraphrases this text,
We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
As someone has said, “The sun does not cease to be the sun simply because the blind cannot see it.” In like manner the truth does not become less true because a person is blinded to that truth. The way of Christ is still the only way for us to be made right with God whether or not we embrace Him. When we compromise the truth in any way we are actually leading people astray and doing them more harm than good.
Paul reminds us that Satan wants to blind the minds of those who don’t believe. He does this by encouraging us to water down the truth (so that people think they are following Christ when in reality they are following some hybrid faith). He will try to get us to focus on programs, personalities, and obstacles. He blinds others by drawing a caricature of what it means to be a Christ-follower. He pictures Christians as narrow-minded, empty-headed, angry, and heartless.
Please understand, when we talk about not compromising the message of the gospel there are two dimensions to this. First, we must not water down the TRUTH of the gospel. We are sinful people and we need someone to rescue us. We need to tell people the truth that sin matters. But we must also make sure we never compromise the HOPE of the gospel. When we talk to other people we must make sure that the message we are preaching is GOOD news. (Sometimes we sound like people who are announcing arrogantly that others are not as good as we are . . . we sound like we are happy they are headed to Hell). Our job is to help people see that a loving God wants to lead them into a relationship with Him that will transform their lives and bring them a sense of fullness and fulfillment that the world around us cannot deliver. We must speak the truth with the love and compassion of Christ.
Never Preach Yourself . . . Preach Jesus
The third motivating principle is in verse 5
5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves.
In a society that urges us to “promote ourselves” the Bible says: “Don’t worry about promoting yourself – point people to Jesus.”
Every one of us wants to be liked. We all want to be popular. Every preacher wants people to want to attend his congregation. Every Sunday School teacher wants to be seen as a good teacher. The thing is . . . none of these things will lead people to eternal life. If we call people to be our followers then they are not following the only One who can truly save them.
If we take this advice seriously several things would happen,
- We would spend more time talking about Jesus than we do the benefits of our church over other churches. Our concern would be to lead a person to the Savior and then support them to get involved in A church.
- We would sincerely rejoice every time the Kingdom of God was honored . . . even when it had nothing to do with us.
- We would talk more about our struggles than our victories (because quite frankly, we have more struggles than we do victories). We would spend less time convincing people of what fine believers we are and would put our focus on showing what a kind and merciful Savior we have.
- We would spend less time promoting formulas for “how to save yourself (which usually is “be more like me”) and spend more time talking about the fact that only faith in Christ can save us because only Christ can provide what we need.
We can’t remind ourselves too much: Jesus saves people; we don’t. He transforms lives; our rules don’t. Our testimony and experience shows how God brought us to faith in Christ, it does not show how He will bring everyone to faith. God uses a variety of means to accomplish His end.
Live With a Servant Mentality
In verses 5 and 6 Paul calls Himself a “servant for Jesus’ sake”
and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
The word used here for servant is a word often translated “slave”. It is one of Paul’s favorite descriptions of who he is in Christ.
In Luke 7 we read the story of a Roman officer who sent some officials to come to Jesus to talk to him about his servant who was very sick. As Jesus came near the officers home he sent friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my solders. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, and ‘Come,’ and they come. (Luke 7:6-8)
This soldier understood the idea of authority. He knew that Jesus had authority over creation. He approached Jesus as a servant. Jesus commended the Centurion because he had adopted the proper posture before the Lord. It is a good an important lesson: the Lord is the King and we are His servants. It is a privileged position.
But don’t miss what Paul is saying! He is not saying that he considers himself only a servant of Christ (which he undoubtedly did) but he is saying that he understood himself to be a servant of the Corinthians! Paul did not see himself as a person who was to demand honor . . . his job was to serve the congregation. His job was not to be a celebrity but to be a servant.
How counter-cultural is this? Instead of jockeying for position, instead of trying to rise up in the pecking order, instead of trying to build a good reputation for ourselves, we are to serve each other! We are to invest ourselves in trying to help others grow and mature in the faith.
To be honest, this is something I am continually trying to learn in my life. I realize that often I serve only when it is convenient to me! I am willing to sacrifice only when it really isn’t a sacrifice! I serve only those whom I find it pleasant to serve, or serve those from whom I can see some future benefit. Having a servant heart is seeing other people with the eyes of Christ. It is to be tuned in to the needs of those around us and to look for opportunities to reveal the love of Christ in our actions.
I remember an old story about a man who had a near death experience and was given a glimpse of Hell and of Heaven. As he looked in the first room (Hell) he noticed that everyone sat around a banquet table filled with food. However, everyone was emaciated from starvation. The reason for this was because arms had been replaced by spoons and there was no elbow in the spoon. Consequently, even though you could obtain food you could not get it to your mouth. It was the epitome of frustration.
The next room was Heaven. It looked exactly the same except here the room was filled with joy, laughter and people abounding in health. What was the difference? In the second room the people were feeding each other.
As we serve each other we help advance God’s Kingdom in the world. As we serve others we get to experience the joy of seeing lives changed.
In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul gives us motivation for living a life of discipleship: We are children of the only true God. Because of that we are privileged to be involved in a work that is greater than anything else we could do. So let’s evaluate.
First, are you weary? Have you become discouraged by the lack of response or the hostile response others have given to your faith? Do you want to give up because people keep picking at you? Do you want to give up because change is slow? Are you discouraged by your lack of growth or maturity? Hang in there! Remember what is at stake. Consider what the Savior endured for you. Instead of throwing in the towel ask Him for strength then get back into the contest called life. It IS worth the effort.
Second, are you holding fast to the truth? Are you telling others the truth about the gospel or are you watering down in the hope that it will be more acceptable? On the other hand, are you clobbering others with the “truth” with a lack of the love and heart of the Father? Jesus treated the religious snobs with fierce words, He related to the lost and hurting with kindness and compassion.
Third, we need to ask ourselves if we are point more to ourselves, the church, or some program rather than to Jesus. It is OK to be excited about the church (we hope you are excited about what God is doing here), it is OK to be grateful for someone’s teaching and want to share it with others. However, we must always be careful that we are pointing people toward Jesus . . . not toward anything else.
Fourth, we are challenged by Paul to serve the Lord and each other with a more servant mentality. He challenges us to look less at our “rights” and spend less time “demanding respect” and more time opening our hearts to those in need. It is a mentality that is different from the world around us. It is an approach the world calls “weak” but one that in reality sets us free. It frees us to truly see others, love others, and to be used by God to bless others.
Finally, I hope you are led to look at your own heart and ask: Have I embraced the Jesus of history and the Bible as the one who alone can rescue me and change me or am I trying to change myself? Are you putting your trust in your “goodness” or in the sinless perfection of Christ which was traded at the cross for your sin? Putting our trust in ourselves is idolatry. There is only One who can save us and that is Jesus. Have you come to rest in Him? If not, I encourage you to do so today.
And if you have come to trust Him let me remind you today that you and I have been given a tremendous gift and a wonderful privilege. We have been made children of God. We have been entrusted with the life-altering message of God’s grace. It is a privilege that should motivate us, spur us on, and fill us with abundant joy.