For pastors, the Gospel ministry is not always smooth sailing. Jesus said we should anticipate hardship, and when we look at the lives of the apostles, we discover that is exactly what they faced. In 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, however, we find Paul making a series of great declarations concerning the call to ministry—declarations that stand to encourage today’s pastors in their vital work:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“We do not lose heart.”
This short phrase is the only one to appear twice in this chapter—once in verse 1, and again in verse 16. In fact, it makes for an interesting study in the life of Paul to see just how often he makes similar assertions throughout his writings. In Romans 1:16, for example, he declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
Certain commentators say this is just an example of litotes, that there is no possibility of Paul ever being ashamed. I don’t think we have to say that at all. Paul was a regular man. He was certainly anointed by the Spirit of God, and as an apostle, he was part of an unrepeatable group of individuals at the founding of the church. Even so, I’m sure he knew what it was like to look into the Corinthian context, or to walk into Athens, and feel a sense of shame, a sense of despondency, a sense of discouragement. What was he going to say to all these high-minded intellectuals?
To lose heart is both a real temptation and an understandable tendency. Certainly there was much in Paul’s life that would have caused him to be disheartened; as he writes in an earlier chapter, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:8–9). When he says “We do not lose heart,” then, he’s not talking about some kind of arms-length theology; he is giving expression to his own convictions. Feeling overwhelmed, though, happened “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9).
While today’s pastors may not have gone down the same roads as Paul, we certainly know that there is a real temptation to lose heart. Pastoral ministry presents peculiar challenges. There are expectations we can’t fulfill. There are accusations that we can’t avoid. There are indifferences that we can’t overcome. You may be doing your best to preach the Bible, and yet you do not see the receptivity that you have read about in the biographies of the great heroes of the faith. Perhaps you’re wondering, “Is it my problem? Should I give up my methodology? What should I do?”
While I may not be able to answer that question, I can tell you this: the one thing you must not do is lose heart. As Paul reminds us, the lost are affected by a blindness that we ourselves cannot relieve: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). When we add to that reality our own personalities, our own personal challenges, and all the sins that so easily beset us, we see how important it is to take the Bible’s admonishment here and and strap ourselves to it.