Christian Enlargement

IN II CORINTHIANS 5:20 the Apostle Paul writes, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ.” In the first verse of the next chapter he observes, “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” (6:1) In verse 2 we read, “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

This is a quotation from the 49th chapter of Isaiah. We will quote verses 8 and 9: “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners [of death], Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves.”

While our privileges as co-workers with the Lord begin in the present life while we are following in Jesus’ footsteps of sacrifice, this statement in Isaiah, which Paul applies to these, shows that our work will continue into the future, and will then include even the awakening of those who are asleep in death. It is a blessed hope, and we rejoice in the assurance that the Lord will preserve his people who are now co-workers with him; that he will help them in their every time of need.

But, as Paul points out, we have a responsibility in this matter, and that is to give no offense in anything, “that the ministry be not blamed.” (vs. 3) The matter of offense here pertains primarily to our relationship with the Lord. We are to conduct ourselves and our ministry in a manner which will be approved by God, according to the standards laid down in his Word. We cannot, of course, do this perfectly, but we have the blessed assurance of the wonderful provision he has made for us through the blood of Christ whereby our imperfect works are made acceptable to him.

Certainly we cannot hope to receive the approval of the world—in the world we expect to have tribulation. The world hates us, even as it hated Jesus. True, we are not to give the world any just cause for hating us. Certainly Jesus did not, yet he had tribulation in the world, and indicated that this would also be true with us. However, to the extent that we receive the disapproval of the world, may it be for the same reason that Jesus did; namely, that we are faithful in letting the light of truth shine out for the blessing of those to whom the Lord may give a hearing ear.

“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God.” (vs. 4) From here on through verse 10 Paul mentions item after item involved in our being approved as ministers of God. In the same verse he lists four of these: “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses.” Being a minister of God, an ambassador for Christ, is not an easy task, and requires much patience. It requires patience to meet the daily problems which may confront us, and since it is a vocation which is a lifetime in length, it requires patient endurance lest we become weary in well-doing.

If we are faithful to the ministry we will encounter a certain number of “afflictions.” Paul did. He suffered “labors more abundant”; “stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”—II Cor. 11:23-27

Paul was indeed an example of an ambassador for Christ who, because of his faithfulness, suffered “afflictions,” “necessities,” and “distresses.” In the affluent and more tolerant world in which most of the brethren live today it may be difficult to imagine how so much tribulation could touch the life of one servant of God. One reason for it is Paul’s determination to be faithful to the cause for which he had been apprehended by God, and to which he had gladly dedicated his life.

The apostle continues enumerating his afflictions, showing that they were all related to his being an approved minister of God: “In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings.” Paul could have avoided all these simply by settling down in his home town of Tarsus. Perhaps he could have enjoyed to a point the wonderful vision of truth which the Lord had given him. But he knew that this was not why the Lord had called him, so he went forth into the ministry, not turning aside for anything, even though he knew many times that suffering and perhaps death awaited him. He was willing to suffer physical pain, to become weary of flesh, to go without sleep and food, that he might be faithful to the ministry to which he had been called.

Aspects of an Approved Ministry

Beginning with II Corinthians 6, verse 6, Paul sets forth various facets of an approved ministry. We not only need to endure patiently the many afflictions and distresses which come upon us in the world, and from our great Adversary, the Devil, but we are also to regulate our own lives in keeping with the Lord’s provisions for us, and in harmony with the righteous principles of his laws.

Paul says that we approve ourselves as ministers of Christ “by pureness.” We must shun those things which the Lord, through his Word, has declared to be impure. Here again we must be guided by the divine standards, not by the standards of the world. How ineffective our ministry would be, and how displeasing to the Lord, if we did not carry on our ambassadorship in the spirit of purity.

By knowledge,” Paul continues. How important it is that we have a clear knowledge of the One whom we serve as ambassadors; and not only that we know him, but understand the plans and purposes of his Heavenly Father who is the Author of the great plan which he executes. It is a mistake to suppose that a knowledge of the truth is not essential for those who are co-workers with God. How many there are who, not knowing the truth of the Father’s Word, think they are serving him by preaching eternal torture for the wicked, and the doctrine of the trinity.

By longsuffering.” It is not enough that we be faithful in this ministry today, and when circumstances are favorable. Our consecration is until death, and we are to be faithful to our covenant of sacrifice regardless of the hardships we may encounter. In terms of human tranquility and ease the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called is a costly one. Notice again in the earlier verses of this chapter how costly it was to Paul.

The Lord gave Paul strength and courage to endure the miseries which came upon him because of his faithfulness, and he testified that he could endure all things through Christ who gave him strength. And the same is true with us. Even though our trials may not be so severe as came upon Paul, still they are more than we could bear without the Lord’s help. But with his help we can endure and suffer “long,” yea, even unto death; and as we know, it is those who are faithful unto death who receive the crown of life.

By kindness.” The true minister of God and of Christ must be kind. To testify to the Gospel in any other spirit than the spirit of kindness would render our ministry very ineffective so far as those to whom we witness are concerned, and very displeasing to the Lord. The Gospel of Christ beautifully reflects the loving-kindness of our God, and how out of place it would be to present it in an unkind manner.

By the Holy Spirit.” It is by the Holy Spirit of anointing that we are authorized to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom. It was written of Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” etc.—Isa. 61:1,2

This same anointing has come upon us as members of his body. It is this anointing that constitutes us ambassadors for Christ, and ministers of reconciliation. Since we carry on the ministry by the authority of the Holy Spirit, it is implied that the ministry will be conducted in keeping with the Spirit of the Lord; that is, humbly, patiently, and lovingly. No other attitude would be pleasing to the Lord and result in a ministry approved by him.

By love unfeigned.” Love, an unselfish desire to bless and help others, must be the motive for a ministry approved by God. Paul says, an “unfeigned love”; that is, a love that is sincere. It would be possible to deceive our brethren, or any to whom we minister, as to our sincerity, but not the Lord. He knows whether or not there is any element of selfish or worldly ambition in the sacrifices we make to promulgate the glad tidings. Paul stated it correctly when he said that even though we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, it profiteth us nothing.—I Cor. 13:1

By the Word of truth.” We are not to preach our own opinions, or the opinions of others. The Word of truth, the Bible, contains the Gospel of Christ which we are to proclaim. We should be able to prove what we proclaim by a “thus saith the Lord.” Otherwise our preaching would be in vain. The truth of God’s Word as it is centered in Christ Jesus our Lord is the “word of reconciliation.” It is by this Word that people are drawn to the Lord, and it is under the influence of this Word that they are led to dedicate themselves to the divine service.

By the power of God.” A ministry of the truth which is conducted solely by the power of oratory, or the influence of numbers, or on the basis of human prestige, is not acceptable to God. The power of God—his Holy Spirit—also works through the hearts and lives of those who, so far as their natural talents are concerned, can speak only, as it were, with a lisping, stammering tongue. Where his servants humble themselves and allow his power to work in and through them, their ministry is approved, regardless of what the immediate, tangible results may be.

God is also able to work through those who are more talented, if they keep humble before him. In the Early Church there were “Apollos” and others who seemingly were gifted in presenting the message; and there have been such individuals throughout the age, and we rejoice to realize that the Lord’s blessing was upon them. But the rank and file of the Lord’s consecrated people have been of average ability, and we rejoice that the Lord has blessed our ministry also. How wonderful it is to realize that his strength is made perfect in our weakness!

By the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” In Ephesians 6:13-17 Paul urges us to put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil in the evil day. And he identifies the various parts of this armor. It is all symbolic, of course. He speaks of the girdle of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness. He says that we should have our “feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.” “Above all,” he admonishes, “taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

Another item of the Christian’s armor mentioned by Paul is the helmet—“And take the helmet of salvation.” Since the helmet was worn on the head, it suggests our knowledge of the truth—the things we know about God and his glorious design for the recovery of the lost race from sin and death. Another point we should by all means know is that “all things work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) This knowledge is essential in order to conduct a ministry which requires so much patience and longsuffering.

The last item of the armor mentioned by Paul is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Every part of the armor represents one application or another of the truth of God’s Word. The sword is chiefly an offensive weapon—but we are not to slay others with it. Chiefly, it should be turned toward our own imperfections, and when used in the ministry of reconciliation it should be with the thought that through imparting a knowledge of the truth our enemies may perchance appreciate it and become friends. The sword of the Spirit is directed against error, not personalities, and when used properly as it should be in our ministry of reconciliation, it will help to reveal the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love.

In All Circumstances

Beginning with verse 8 Paul points out various situations in which we will find ourselves, and admonishes preparation to meet them in the spirit of the Gospel which we proclaim: “By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers and yet true. As unknown, yet well known.” There is, on occasion, some honor attached to the ministry. Even some in the world appreciate the message up to a point, and respect those who present it to them. But the true ambassador will not become puffed up in these experiences; neither will he be discouraged when his message is rejected, and he finds himself looked upon with dishonor. Both the evil reports and the good reports will be accepted as of the Lord.

When Paul speaks of our being “deceivers, yet true,” he is not implying that followers of the master will actually practice deceit. The truth itself is looked upon by those in darkness as being deceitful and untrue. We may well be referred to as “false prophets,” yet in reality, if we are conducting a ministry which is based upon the Word of the Lord, it will be true, for it is the Gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.

As unknown, yet well-known.” The Lord’s people, as a rule, are not well-known, but often, through circumstances brought about by their faithfulness in the ministry, for a time may stand out in the eyes of their neighbors. But the true Christian will accept both these situations with the constant desire that, regardless of what people may think of him, the Lord’s name may be glorified. And how we all rejoice to know that in God’s due time the knowledge of his glory will indeed fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea!

As dying, and, behold, we live.” We are dying with Christ, sacrificially, yet we live because Christ lives in us, and by faith we rejoice in the hope of living with him in the kingdom, and sharing in the great future work of blessing all the families of the earth.

As chastened, and not killed.” As we conduct our share ir. the ministry of reconciliation, we are being trained for the future and glorious work of the kingdom. God may well use our trials in connection with the present ministry to thus chasten or train us, but we will not be “killed” by these, for we will realize that they are among the “all things” which are working together for our good.

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” In this chaotic world of suffering and death the true, tenderhearted Christian is sure to be sorrowful. He cannot be lighthearted and gay, and permit himself to be carried away with the so-called pleasures of the world. Besides, his experiences as an ambassador of Christ are bound to make him sorrowful. However, shining above these conditions which might tend to discourage him and make him sad, are the promises of God, and these become a source of joy to him which the world can neither give nor take away, so he is always rejoicing, not in himself, or in his surroundings, but in the Lord.

As poor, yet making many rich.” The Lord’s people are all “poor” in the sense that they have laid their all on the altar of sacrifice. But if they are actually sacrificing their lives in the Lord’s service they are sure to be making others rich—not in the riches of his world, but rich in their knowledge of God and of his plans; rich in the assurance that in the divine plan there is an assurance of health, happiness, and life eternal for all mankind. If these accept the invitation to the high calling, then they will partake of that legacy of joy which Christ left for his followers, and that will make them rich indeed.

As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” As followers of the Master, and as his ambassadors, we should realize that nothing which we seem to possess really belongs to us. The worldly goods which the world treasures so much have all been laid upon the altar of sacrifice. But how rich we are in the spiritual things of God; his promises, his assurance of care and guidance, the place he has provided for us in the heavenly phase of the messianic kingdom. How endless are the riches belonging to them, who through their covenant of sacrifice, now have nothing. No wonder Paul refers to these heavenly riches as “all things.”

In II Corinthians 5:13,14, Paul writes, “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: … that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” Paul explains, concerning those who have given all to serve the Lord, that all things have become new. Their new vocation is to be ambassadors of Christ, ministers of reconciliation, co-workers with the Lord in a ministry which will not be complete until the promised New Covenant is made with the world in the age to come.

Enlarged Heart

In the various items of truth with which he follows up this great truth concerning the church’s place in the plan of God, Paul presents some of the many details involved in living wholly for the Lord and devoting our all to his service, and doing it in a way that the “ministry” will have divine approval. It would seem that as Paul went over these truths one by one he became almost overwhelmed with their grandeur, and exclaimed, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.”—ch. 6:11

Paul had labored hard with the brethren at Corinth. Unlike the brethren at Philippi, for whom he had no words of condemnation, there was much to be desired among the Corinthian brethren. In his first epistle to them he reminds them of their carnality as reflected in the divisions among them which were based upon personalities—some claiming to be the follower of one, and some of another. In addition, there was moral laxity in the church which Paul condemned, and instructed them to remedy.

In his second letter there is evidence that much improvement had been achieved. Perhaps Paul had some of this in mind when he wrote, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is opened unto you, our heart is enlarged.” How glad Paul was to be able to speak to the brethren at Corinth of their having made good spiritual progress! It was for these that his heart was enlarged.

This very attitude on Paul’s part reveals his own maturity as a Christian. Whatever the Corinthian brethren had been in the past, he loved them, and in his heart a great joy welled up as he instructed them in the ways of the Lord more perfectly and fully. Sometimes we may be slow to show such enthusiasm toward brethren who in the past, perhaps, had a wrong viewpoint on some point of truth, or some other defect which was displeasing to us. But may we follow Paul’s example, who was genuinely joyful when his brethren showed progress in the narrow way.

Phillips’ translation of verse 12 reads, “Any stiffness between us must be on your side, for we assure you there is none on ours.” And then, in verse 13, “(I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.” And how the details of an approved ministry as presented by Paul must have tended to enlarge their own hearts, as they did Paul’s. The great truths of the Word, revealing the wisdom and love of God, should enlarge the hearts of all who are laying down their lives in his service, and cause them to rejoice at every evidence of spiritual progress in the lives of their brethren in Christ.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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