Although Paul here is first and foremost defending his own ministry, if we box and pummel these verses with questions we shall draw illuminating insights about our own role as Christian disciples.
Q. Who do we think we are? v. 1 A. We are those who have received mercy and at the same time a ministry. So often Christians are accused of coming over with a “holier-than-thou” attitude, so it is vital to remember that even for the sins of today we deserve to go to hell. Amazingly, and totally unmerited by us, we have received mercy. Yet we were “saved to serve”, so we are not meant to be pew-fillers but are to engage in ministry. It will therefore be a case of “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.’
Q. What are we to renounce? v.2 A. Three things. First, discouragement. Paradoxically, it is a huge encouragement to know the great apostle was himself tempted to lose heart. So we are in good company as we face what is probably the biggest test in Christian ministry. Then, we are to renounce secret and shameful ways”. This naturally follows on from discouragement, for when we are tempted to lose head there will also be the temptation to get results by underhand methods – emotional stories in our sermons, manipulative methods in our counselling, moral blackmail. Stephen Wookey, in his recent book `When a Church becomes a Cult’, exposes the way many of us in the mainline churches come very close to doing just this. Thirdly, there will be the temptation to distort the Word of God in order, once again, to get results. So we might leave out those unpopular bits about hell and judgement, the call for discipline and sacrifice. and any of those dear biblical issues that are currently politically incorrect.
Q. What then are we to do? v.3 A. To act forth the truth plainly. No tricks, no guile, but simply to tell the truth, the whole truth (not leaving anything out, no small print in the message) and nothing but the truth. There is an equal danger of making additions to the simple Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q. What are we up against? v.4 A. Men and women all around us are blind and are perishing. The “god of this world* may be the Sovereign Jehovah (older commentaries), Satan (more recent commentaries), or the god that consists of this world, which blinds and destroys. Our mission is therefore not merely a matter of doling out a few aspirins and vitamins – it’s life or death.
Q. What has got to happen? v.6 A. There has got to be a miracle equivalent to the creation of light. Only God can make the light of the glorious Gospel shine in the hearts of men and women. There are echoes in v.6 not only of the Creation story but also of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 9. The fact that it Is ultimately His work takes all the stress out of ministry.
Q. What then is our role? v.5 A. This is the magnificent bridge verse between the appalling and impossible situation of verse 4 and the divine miracle of verse 6 – “ourselves as your servant for Jesus’ sake. In the final analysis they are not our masters for He alone has that position, but we are called to be their servants.
Jonathan Fletcher is a member of the full-time ministry team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon, in the Diocese of Southwark.