In these posts, we’ve been looking at what effective, biblical ministry should look like. Specifically, we’ve been looking at what ministry looks like in relationship to the culture around. To do this, we’ve been looking at Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:1-18. We’ve seen that we can and should have an honorable ministry despite ridicule, a confident ministry despite rejection, a powerful ministry despite weakness, and in this final post we want to see that we can and should have a hopeful ministry despite suffering.
Paul begins this final section of verses (4:13-18) by quoting from Psalm 116. He says, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak” (4:13). Psalm 116 was written by David, giving thanks to God for the deliverance he received from his enemies. And in the midst of that Psalm, David says that even as he spoke out to the Lord about his affliction, he believed the Lord would save him. Likewise, Paul says he believes that God will deliver him from his sufferings.
But what kind of deliverance is Paul looking for? After all, he didn’t escape sufferings—we just read about all the things he went through! What is he talking about? He tells us in the next verse. He says, I could believe in the Lord’s deliverance, even as I spoke of Christ “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (4:14). The deliverance Paul is looking for is not some escape from suffering, but a final deliverance on the last day. He’s looking forward to the resurrection he will one day experience, just as Christ himself was raised from the dead. And because that is what he has hope in, he can say, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:15-16).
Paul is saying that though his physical body is wasting away—it’s breaking-down and dying like all bodies do, God is renewing his soul, preparing him for eternity. Every affliction, every amount of suffering is simply a work in his life to grow him spiritually. Furthermore, he says “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (4:17-18).
Paul says, in the midst of all this stuff going on around him in this life, he’s got one eye on the future. He knows that one day, just as Christ was raised up, so too will he be raised up from the dead, ever to die again. And it’s that prospect of future glory with Christ himself that allows him to not lose heart. Paul is looking ahead to an eternity of glorious fellowship with God in a body that will never get sick, never grow old, never fall apart; he sees the work of suffering in his life that is being used to spread the glory of Christ so that others having the darkness lifted from their eyes, and they are coming to believe in him, and he says, ‘I can do this. I can endure this. Because this is nothing compared to what God is doing.’ Here is a man who’s been shipwrecked, mocked, beaten several times, gone hungry, been locked in prison and he says, ‘it’s worth it.’ Why? It’s only because of the gospel of Christ.
Recently, our communities groups read about John G. Paton. He was a missionary to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific. As he was preparing to go, several people told him not to. He was young, he was bright, and they thought it was a waste to send him to islands full of cannibals. Yet, he would not be deterred from taking the gospel here. Finally, in exasperation, one elderly man yelled out, “”The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” Paton simply replied, “Mr. Dixon, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether my body is eaten by cannibals or by worms.” Despite the prospect of suffering, we can have a ministry filled with hope, because we have seen what the future holds in Christ.
What does your life look like? What kind of ministry for Christ do you have? Do you understand the place of weakness of suffering? Or have you fallen into the trap of believing the success are only those who have perfect lives that always stay together, never falling apart? Have you come realize that when we are weak, God shows himself to be strong?