The Integrity of the Ministry
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 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.
I see integrity in the phrase “the open statement of the truth” in verse 2. Have you ever seen or been a part of an evangelistic campaign or strategy that seemed underhanded? Bait and switch? I remember college students in the dorms being asked to stand in lunch lines and ask people to fill out a survey on the quality of the food service for a chance to win a bike. Question 1. Is the food tasty? Question 2. Is the food consistently warm? Question 3. Is there an adequate variety in the menu? Question 4. Would you be interested in hearing about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
Have you ever seen evangelism that strikes you as disgraceful? I read a few years back of a church that actually hired a WWF consultant to teach the pastoral staff to wrestle so that they could have a big evangelistic “cagematch pastor smackdown” or something like it. Maybe I’m already getting old, but I think that’s disgraceful. I don’t question their love for the lost, but are we really willing to do anything to get them in the door? Shorter skirts on the worship team?
Have you ever heard preachers, in the name of evangelism, water down the word of God? Don’t preach the gospel as deliverance from the wrath to come, no one wants to hear that. Tell them instead that their great need is to learn to love themselves as much as Jesus loves them and be delivered from their low self-esteem. Then you’ll fill the church.
Paul renounces all such strategies and chooses instead the open statement of the truth to commend himself to everyone’s conscience, in the sight of God.
What makes well-meaning Christians succumb to the temptation to water down the word and to use disgraceful and underhanded strategies? Verse 1 leads me to think that Paul would say that they have lost heart. They have lost confidence in the life-transforming power of the gospel. It needs no bells and whistles. The open statement of the truth of the gospel can all by itself melt the heart of stone.
Some will object, we’ve tried that! People don’t seem to be interested, they don’t understand the gospel, so we’ve tried to make it more entertaining and dumb it down for them and then maybe some time later they’ll be ready for the meaty truths of the gospel.
But Paul is ready for this objection. He knows the experience of preaching the gospel and receiving a disinterested, even hostile response. But he says in verse 3 the reason is not to be found in any deficiency in the gospel, nor even a deficiency in the evangelistic strategy.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only 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.
The difficulty Christians have in communicating the gospel with unbelievers is, well, first of all that many Christians don’t even try. But if we do try to communicate the gospel with unbelievers and we have difficulty, the problem is not that we’re not speaking their post-modern language, it’s not that we’re not cool enough, it’s not that we’re not touching their felt needs and scratching where they itch. The reason why it is difficult, yea, impossible apart from God, to communicate the gospel to unbelievers is that they are spiritually blind. And no dog and pony show, no amount of slick programming is going to remove that blindness.
What will remove the blindness? Look at verses 5-6.
2 Corinthians 4:5-6 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.
Note the emphasis Paul puts here on proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s the means that God uses to cause the lights to come on for people. To remove the blindness. Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard by the word of Christ.
And so the tragedy of our generation is that although churches are being filled with unbelievers, they’re filling the seats by turning away from the one thing that can truly open their eyes to the glory of Christ, that is, the open statement of the truth of the gospel. And so the saints are exhausting themselves to keep all the programs running that keep the unbelievers coming, whereas they might see more real fruit if they poured all that energy into prayer and the simple preaching of the gospel.
We need to remember this principle, “What you win them with, you win them to.” If you win them with the preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord, then you win them to Jesus Christ as Lord. If you win them over with slick programming, you make them followers of slick programming and you better keep it coming! Or as A.W. Tozer put it, “if they come for the potato salad, you better make a lot of potato salad.”