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My Dear Brother Pastors!
Our Lord’s Apostle writes,
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1).
Many issues can cause us to lose heart in the pastoral ministry, even (perhaps especially!) in this holy season. The devil seeks to divide us from one another in hopes he can divide some from Christ. Our sinful flesh in its pride seeks the place of honor at the expense of Christ. Brothers fail us, sometimes miserably. Our people won’t listen to us. The world doesn’t care about the Gospel. The culture is going to you know where in a you know what. The list of complaints can be as long as your arm! And they all involve sin.
Where are you right now? What are the burdens of your heart? How is Satan tempting you to lose heart? Where does your ministry tend to go off track? What are your secret sins? What do you see when you quietly and privately examine yourself?
One subtle deception common to every preacher is the impulse, when things are not going well, to go the way of the law. When people are not measuring up or things are not getting done, we are tempted to go back to the rules. We’ve got to find more principles to follow, guidelines for living the Christian life, instruction to take to heart, etc. – these are the watch words of this way of thinking.
But what does the law always do? Without fail? It will always accuse you, always show you your sin. No matter how you think you are using the law, it always shines the light of God’s perfection into the darkness of our sin. This, by the way, may be one of the reasons we are tempted to lose heart!
But Paul says we have this ministry by the mercy of God. It is not our doing, not our performance, but His mercy. As he writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us… We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, 10).
What does that mean? You are not the center. Christ is. You are not the driving force. Christ is. The Gospel’s power does not come from your cleverness, but from Christ. Without Him we are dead. Only in Him are we alive.
Let me simply encourage you, my brothers, in your preaching and teaching. Go over your sermons, your lessons. How many of them walk in the way of the law? How clearly do you bring your people the gifts of God in Christ? Preaching the law in a general sort of way is easy. Everyone does it. But preaching the law so as to kill that God can make alive in Christ – that’s difficult. And even more difficult is preaching the Gospel clearly so that it’s fresh, good news for your people. That’s because the Gospel is unlike anything else in the world.
God gives! It’s not our doing, but Christ. All our sins are laid on Him. All the issues that cause us to lose heart? He carried them to the cross. They drove Him into death for us. Killed Him so that we might live. And when God raised Him from the dead, He removed our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west. Jesus lives to say to you and me, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21). It’s all gift, His gift to us and His gift to our people through us.
Now go preach that! It’s God’s call and your privilege. Go give away the gifts of God to your people. The law accuses and lays burdens. Jesus has come to absorb the accusations and lift the burdens. You are His agents, His servants.
Make sure the heart and soul of every sermon is the life of God in Jesus Christ. “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” Let the people see and hear Jesus through you – not only Jesus the example, but most of all, Jesus the Savior. Jesus the Life Giver. Jesus our Peace. Jesus our Joy!
Know also that Jesus carries you. It doesn’t depend on you. It all hangs on Him. Now “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit…” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15a). He will provide you with everything you need to bring His Good News clearly. It’s all here in His Word.
That’s why, Paul says, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18). You handle the unseen, eternal things when you proclaim life in Jesus’ name, when you forgive sins, when you give away His body and blood.
All the stuff that goes the way of the law is temporary. What is eternal is the unseen work of God in the hearts and minds of believers when they hear the Good News of Jesus from your lips. What is eternal is the change that only God’s Spirit works to bring life by the Word of Jesus, the Word you bring.
So we end where we began. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart!” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Go preach it, my brothers! Preach Life in Jesus’ name – with passion and with joy! And remember, it’s for YOU, too!
You fellow preacher of the Living Christ!
First Vice President – LCMS