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October 1979 · Vol. 8 No. 4 · pp. 28–32 

In Praise of the Gospel Ministry: A Meditation on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

David Ewert

The Mennonite historian, C. H. Smith writes in his autobiography, Mennonite Country Boy, that he had seen his father weep on only two occasions in his life: once at the grave of a loved one, the other when he was chosen by his congregation to be a minister. And so it was boldly written upon his youthful mind that death and the ministry must be the two greatest tragedies of this life.

The apostle Paul felt rather differently about his calling to be a minister of the Gospel. “I thank him who enabled me, Christ Jesus my Lord, that he counted me faithful by appointing me to the ministry” (1 Tim. 1:12). And in Ephesians he breaks out in amazement: “To me the least of all saints is this grace given that I should preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:7-8). There was much in his ministry that might have soured him on his calling: wearisome travels, hunger and thirst, beatings and imprisonment. But even in his prison letters he continues to glory in his ministry of the Gospel.

I should like to expand on some of Paul’s thoughts, expressed in our text, in which he glories in his calling. And I am suggesting that a suitable theme might be: In Praise of the Gospel Ministry.

As we follow Paul in his reflections on this glorious ministry we notice, first of all, its spiritual foundation: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God. . . .”


Paul never thought of his ministry as something he had sought after. Nor was it a calling which had been given to him because of his {29} superior goodness or even because of his great native abilities. Of course, without his facility in Greek he could not have been God’s ambassador to the Hellenistic world; without his rabbinic training he would not have found the synagogue doors open to him wherever he went; and without his knowledge of the Old Testament his message would not have been colored so deeply by Hebraic thought.

But after making allowance for all these strands that came to be woven together in a man of extraordinary abilities, the spiritual foundation of his ministry is primary and is to be found in the forgiveness and pardon granted to him on the Damascus Road by the grace of God. When recalling some of the terrible things he had done against the church, he added, “But I received mercy . . . and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me” (1 Tim. 1:12ff.).

Churches and boards and schools may have all kinds of requirements which they would want their ministers to meet—and these all may be legitimate—but unless we can say with Paul that we have this ministry “because we received mercy,” our ministry has no foundation; it lacks underpinnings.

Frederick Franzen, founder of The Evangelical Alliance Mission, thought if a man could play a guitar and lead a soul to Christ he was adequately equipped to be a minister of the Gospel. Others insist that a college or seminary degree is necessary. There never will be complete agreement on what constitutes adequate training for the ministry. Some of the greatest ministers of the Gospel were self-educated. But, training aside, what will sustain us in the Gospel ministry is the knowledge that God’s grace laid hold of us when he called us to be his servants.

It was because he had received mercy, Paul goes on to explain, that he did not grow weary in his ministry. The verb egkakeo means literally “to go bad inside” and so to give way, collapse, give up, “throw in the towel.” To lose heart is a temptation that comes to all of us. Paul met this temptation by falling back on the unshakable conviction that he had been called because of the mercy of God.

There is probably no calling which offers so many opportunities of service, so many challenges, so many burdens to be lifted, so many sorrowing people to be comforted, so many eager youth to train, so many souls to be led to Christ, as does the gospel ministry. And so undoubtedly, there will come to all of you the temptation to grow weary. But as the devotional writer Frederick Boreham counsels, “Don’t call the moving van too quickly.” Remember, we have this ministry by the mercy of God.

In the second verse, Paul points out that there are ethical constraints in the way we carry out this ministry which we receive by grace. {30}


Let me suggest two, using my own words to express what Paul seems to be saying here:

Integrity. “We have renounced hidden things of shame. . . .” It is not quite clear what Paul means by that, whether it refers to sins done in secret or whether he has underhanded methods in mind. From what follows immediately it would seem that the latter is more in focus than the former: “We do not walk about in craftiness, falsifying the word of God.” The Greek word for craftiness is panourgia and means readiness to do anything to achieve one’s ends. Paul says that he has renounced once and for all such cunning in dealing with others. He wants to be known as a man of integrity.

One area in which deceitfulness is particularly reprehensible is in the handling of the Word of God. Whether Paul has the Old Testament in mind, or the Gospel message, or both, is not stated; but what God has said must not be tampered with. No doubt Paul had been charged with tampering with the Word of God, and this is his defence. Even today that charge is very quickly made when someone brings out a truth that the hearers have not encountered before, or puts a traditional interpretation in question, or even when a truth is focused on a problem which some would rather not talk about. No doubt you also will have to face that charge.

However, such a charge will not stick to those who try honestly and sincerely to interpret what God has said. What is more serious is when we twist the words of Scripture in deference to current views or popular opinions. We tamper with the Word of God when we take words and phrases out of context in order to establish some theory or notion of ours. And we tamper with the Word of God when we handle it selectively, elevating some truths and neglecting others. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had proclaimed the “whole counsel of God.”

Admittedly, our understanding of what God has said is partial, and we are all fallible interpreters; we change as our understanding increases, and so have to confess that our interpretations are subject to correction. However, we want to have the witness of our consciences, assuring us that we have handled it with integrity.

Openness. “But by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Passion and prejudice are not safe judges of our work; reason cannot always be trusted; even conscience is not infallible, for it may be misinformed. And so Paul appeals to every kind of conscience, to friend and foe and to the dull and perceptive, confident that all will admit that he is free from deceit. But Paul appeals not only to the consciences of men and {31} women but to God himself; for he does his work “before the eyes of God,” who knows everything about him. By the manifestation of the truth we commend ourselves, says Paul, both to others and to God.


“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled unto those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world 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.” Though Paul is overwhelmed at the thought that God should have called him by his grace to be his messenger, he is realist enough to know that the ministry is not a bed of roses. The prophets of old, Jesus himself, and also his apostles had to face hostile hearers, many of whom rejected the good news from God.

The message we proclaim may fail to find its mark for various reasons. It may be obscured by our lack of understanding or by our faulty way of presenting it. But that is not Paul’s concern at this point. He is reminding us that to be ministers of the Gospel is to be engaged in a warfare with satanic powers. The god of this world blinds people’s eyes to the light of the Gospel and hardens their consciences so that, like the seed in the parable, the word falls upon hard or rocky soil.

From these painful limitations Paul moves on to describe for us the right attitude one should have as a minister of the Gospel who has been called by God’s mercy.


“For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Our servanthood is seen, for instance, in the fact that we do not devise our own message. We are stewards of God’s revelation given to us. To be sure we have to structure our sermons, but the message itself is a given. P.T. Forsyth, a British theologian at the turn of this century, put it thus: “We are in trust of a final revelation and whatever new thing awaits us, it must be a fresh ray from an old faith and a fresh shoot from an old creed.” We are not lords of the Gospel.

Our servanthood should also be manifest in the spirit in which we do our work. “We preach not ourselves.” That probably does not mean that we never say anything about ourselves although I would suggest that we keep that to a minimum also. Paul probably is referring to those self-serving interests which can so easily mar a person’s ministry. When C.S. Lewis became a Christian he became introspective and he wrote to a friend about the terrible things he was discovering in his heart, “And will you believe it,” he writes, “one out of every three is a thought of self-admiration. . . . It’s like fighting the hydra . . . There {32} seems to be no end to it. . . . I am an instrument strung, but preferring to play itself, because it thinks it knows the tune better than the Musician.”

That we also are to consider “ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake,” does not mean servility, for in another passage Paul warns against becoming the slaves of men. Nor does it mean timidity, for if God calls us to lead, to teach, and to proclaim, we need not be obsequious under the guise of humility. We differ in personality, we have our strengths and our weaknesses; but in the long run people will discover whether we are servants for Jesus’ sake, or not.

Finally Paul has a word to say about the glorious message which we have to proclaim.


“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Here Paul compares the light which broke forth at God’s command in the first creation to the light which now bursts forth in the Gospel. Paul knew from personal experience what it meant to be dazzled by the light from heaven, and he probably refers to that when he says that God has “shined in our hearts.” Because God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, we now have the privilege to proclaim the saving acts of this God.

By proclaiming the Gospel we spread “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Because God’s glory was seen in the face of Jesus Christ, we now know what God is like; we can see him in the person of Jesus Christ, and that is good news.

It is unspeakably sad when men and women come to church with God only knows what cares and sorrows and disappointments to be offered the weak tea of pseudo-psychological nostrums instead of the glorious word of God which offers us pardon and hope and life. And so let us not listen to the foolish talk which suggests that for this twentieth century the preaching of the Word is an anachronism. For, writes James Stewart of Edinburgh, “as long as God sets his image on the soul and men are restless till they have rest in him, so long will the preacher’s task persist, and his voice be heard through all the clamor of the world.”

And so we would charge with words of Paul to Timothy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,. and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. . . . Always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Dr. David Ewert is Professor of New Testament at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California. This meditation was adapted from his address to the seminarians at a June 2, 1979, farewell chapel.

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