“Seeing We Have this Ministry”

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” —II Corinthians 4:1

A Study of II Corinthians, Chapters 3-6

THIS second epistle to the Corinthians was written perhaps a year after the first epistle. In addition to the moral laxity and other problems dealt with in the first epistle, a new problem had arisen to confront the apostle which was of an entirely different character. Jewish Christians, called Judaizers, came to Corinth carrying glowing letters of recommendation and apparently claiming the right to exercise authoritative leadership in the churches. The circumstances seem to indicate that they came deliberately for the purpose of undermining the influence of the Apostle Paul. In this they had remarkable success. The intruders evidently had considerable ability, and perhaps they were able to enlist the support of some who had borne the brunt of Paul’s criticism.

As a result of the activities of the Judaizers, a wave of distrust had swept through the church. Some said Paul was not sincere, others questioned his apostolic authority, and still others stated that his trials and difficulties were evidence that the Lord was not blessing him in his ministry. Apparently they did not understand the certainty and necessity of suffering in the Christian life.

The Apostle Paul, starting with the 1st verse of the 3rd chapter of II Corinthians, begins a refutation of the charges made against him, and in doing so he also explains in detail the nature and purpose of his ministry. From Paul’s description of his ministry we have laid bare before us the nature and responsibilities of our own ministry in the Gospel. It is from our consideration of these things that we can benefit from this study.

In II Corinthians 3:1 Paul asks: “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?” Here the apostle refers to the glowing letters of commendation brought to the Corinthians by the Judaizers. The point of the question seems to be to draw attention to their former relationship, which required nothing but their mutual love for the Lord and their fellowship in the Gospel.

Then in verse 2 we read, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” The Revised Version reads: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”—vss. 2,3

Paul’s best argument in proving the authority of his ministry was the Corinthian brethren themselves. They had the truth, God’s law was engraved on the fleshly tables of their hearts, and Paul was the agent used by God to accomplish this work, not through his own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit operating in his life. This represented an endorsement of Paul’s ministry by God himself, and it carried incomparably more authority than the epistles written in ink by his antagonists; and likewise it was superior to the epistle of the Law Covenant, which was written in stone—picturing its coldness, exactness, and unyielding nature. The Law Covenant also failed to write God’s law in the hearts of his people, which disqualified its epistle.

Because the phrase “fleshy tables of the heart” is used here, and similar language is used in Jeremiah 31:32, some have concluded that the apostle is saying that the work of writing God’s law in the fleshly tables of the heart of the church is accomplished under the New Covenant. But the apostle is not discussing covenants in this verse. He is comparing epistles, or messages. The message of the Spirit is that those under its influence manifest the spirit of God’s laws—love, mercy, kindness, long-suffering, etc. The message of the Law Covenant is expressed in the medium used—stone. It is cold, unyielding, exacting. The apostle states that this message, because of man’s inherent imperfection, was unto death.

In verses 4 and 5 the apostle acknowledges that the great work done in the Corinthian brethren was not by his efforts, but only by the power and the authority of the Heavenly Father. “And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”

In the following verses (6-16) the apostle proves the superiority of the Abrahamic Covenant (Sarah feature), which he calls the ministration of the spirit, over the Law Covenant, which he calls the ministration of the letter. Verse 6 reads, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament [covenant]; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The thought is that not only did the Heavenly Father give them authority as apostles to preach the Gospel, but he also made them able (Strong’s Concordance, to make able, qualify) ministers of the new Covenant. In other words, they were in the process of being made able, or qualified, as ministers of the New Covenant.

In the typical arrangement, when the Law Covenant was being inaugurated at Mount Sinai, Moses had been appointed by God to be its minister. And yet before the covenant was inaugurated and made effective to the people, Moses was instructed by God for forty days and forty nights up in the mount. He was being qualified as the minister of the Law Covenant. The Apostle Paul is in effect saying that this pictured the Gospel Age as far as the church is concerned, that he and the other body members were to be qualified, or prepared, to be the ministers of the New Covenant.

In verses 7 and 8 he continues the comparison: “But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?”

We recognize that this illustration is taken from Exodus 34:27-35. The account relates how Moses, while on the mount, beheld something of the glory of the Lord while receiving instructions concerning the Law Covenant. This was a holy transaction, for the Law and the commandment were holy. (Rom. 7:12) It was an expression of God’s perfect law and was a measure of a perfect man’s ability to keep it. Any man who could keep its precepts perfectly was promised life.—Matt. 19:17

The glory of the Law Covenant was demonstrated by the fact that after Moses had been in the mount receiving the Law from God his face shone. In fact, it was so brilliant that when Moses presented himself to Aaron and the children of Israel they were afraid and refused to come near to him. So Moses put a veil over his face, and the children of Israel came unto him, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken to him in the mount. But when Moses returned to the mount, he took the veil off until he came out; then he covered his face again with the veil.

In verses 9 and 11 we read: “For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. … For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” In other words, if the glory of the Law Covenant caused Moses’ face to shine—and this was done away, how much more glorious will the ministration of the spirit be because it will give life.

Then in verses 12-14 the apostle states: “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ.” The thought is that after the children of Israel once saw the glory of the Law Covenant reflected in Moses’ face, their eyes were blinded (the face of Moses remained covered) and they were unable to see that his glory faded and, in fact, was done away in Christ. How accurately this reflected the condition of the Israelites in Paul’s day, and even in our own!

But in verses 16 and 17 we are given encouragement that this condition will change: “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The time when this blindness shall be removed is noted by the Apostle Paul in another place: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so ail Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. 11:25,26) And so, in God’s due time, at the end of the Gospel Age, the veil of blindness will be lifted from the Israelites’ eyes, and they will come into the blessed provisions of the New Covenant and be saved.

A Ministry of Glory

In verse 18 we are told, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Here the apostle is comparing our ministry with that of Moses. We, too, are figuratively in the mount with open, or unveiled, faces. We have this privilege of always being in God’s presence and of beholding his glory. We perceive his glory as though we are looking in a mirror. The mirror, or glass, that we are privileged to look into is his Word. In it we see his glorious character manifested in all of his beneficent purposes; and we see his Son, our Lord, who is the image of the Father and who is set before us as a pattern. And we, as we endeavor to walk in the footsteps of the Son, are changed from glory to glory; that is, we grow into his likeness by steps. All of this is accomplished, not through any ability or power of our own but only through the power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives.

The Ministry Is Honest

By honesty, the apostle has in mind the complete elimination of hypocrisy and guile from his Christian ministry. In II Corinthians 4:2 he states: “We have renounced the deeds that men hid for very shame; we neither practice cunning nor distort the word of God; only by declaring the truth openly do we recommend ourselves, and then it is to the common conscience of our fellowmen and in the sight of God.” (NEB translation)

It is hard for us to realize the temptation to compromise the truth that plagued the brethren at this time. This was at the time of a change in dispensation from the Jewish Age to the Gospel Age, and therefore there were strong feelings and prejudices concerning the Law that had to be dealt with. In many instances it was easier to compromise than to suffer the persecution that would result from a firm stand for the truth. The apostle, in Galatians 6:12,13, gives an example of some who compromised to avoid persecution: “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the Law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.”

The Apostle Paul set us a wonderful example in this by stating the truth in its purity, regardless of circumstances or persecutions that might result from such a stand.

A Ministry of Light

The wonderful revealment of the hidden things of God is the strongest evidence of the authority and genuineness of our ministry. The Apostle Paul states in II Corinthians 4:6,7: “For the same God who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine,’ has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure, and this proves that such transcendent power does not come from us, but is God’s alone.” (NEB translation) It is a sobering thought to realize that the same power that was used in the creation not only of the world, but of the universe, is exercised on our behalf. In some miraculous way this same power of God has given our minds the ability to perceive and appreciate spiritual things. And it follows that because of this God-given ability we are able to discern, and have a knowledge of, the glory of God. These things are a mystery and are hidden from the world. The apostle, in I Corinthians 2:14, states: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Our Lord, when speaking to the disciples, emphasized the special privilege of this gift: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”—Matt. 13:16,17

It is in our fallen and weak bodies of flesh that this wonderful gift of enlightenment resides. And it is because of it that we are able to discern something of God’s character and what his will for us is now during the Gospel Age. It is on the basis of this knowledge that we are enabled to exercise real faith in God’s promises and his overruling providences in our lives. This is so necessary, in view of God’s arrangement that the prospective members of the body of Christ must suffer and die, as our Lord did, in order that they might be qualified for a heavenly position in the kingdom.

A Ministry of Suffering

The apostle continues with the thought that, because we have this treasure of enlightenment in earthen vessels, the power manifested will obviously be of God and not of us. The apostle then proceeds to describe his experiences in walking in the footsteps of Jesus. It would not be possible for a mere man to withstand these assaults of the Adversary; it is only by the power of God operating in the minds of his people that this is possible.

Recounting his experiences, the apostle states (vss. 8-11): “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

The apostle related these experiences to his ministry in the Gospel and indicated that it was this same activity in the truth that brought about our Lord’s suffering and eventually his death on the cross. In verse 13 he states: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” The quotation is from Psalm 116:10, which is a prophecy concerning Jesus. The verse reads as follows: “I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted.” It was our Lord’s commission to preach the Gospel and serve the kingdom interests.—Isa. 61:1-3

Because of the opposition of the forces of darkness, Jesus conducted his ministry under very difficult and trying circumstances. Satan is stated to be the prince of darkness, and his rule over the earth is a rule of darkness. Our Lord, as must all of his followers, had to battle this power of darkness, for the darkness hateth the light. In Ephesians 6:12 we read, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Jesus was greatly afflicted. But the Apostle Paul states that it was by these experiences that he learned obedience.—Heb. 5:8

In II Corinthians 4:13 the Apostle Paul draws a comparison between the experiences of Jesus and his own experiences. His trials and tribulations resulted from preaching the Word and serving the brethren and the kingdom interests. This correlation between preaching the Word and trials and tribulations was well-known to the apostles, as it is to all the footstep followers of Jesus. The Apostle Peter says, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” (I Pet. 4:12) The Apostle Paul states: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and jointheirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:16,17) In other words, as we attempt to walk in the footsteps of Jesus we can be certain that the Heavenly father will give us the opportunity to suffer with Christ in order that we might be prepared for a place in the kingdom.

These trials and testings, however severe they may be, should not give occasion for weakness or a slackening of the pace of our running the race, for, says the apostle in verse 17, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” If we can visualize the glory of the kingdom and the privileges that we will have if faithful, the time of testing and trials is but a moment as compared with an eternity of blessing.

A Ministry of Hope

The opening word of the 1st verse of the 5th chapter of II Corinthians is “for,” which implies that what follows is a reason for the conclusion reached in the previous verses. And so it is. In verse 18 of the 4th chapter the apostle states: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” He states elsewhere: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”—Rom. 8:24,25

The hope that is set before the true footstep followers of Jesus is that if they are faithful they will be exalted to the divine nature and will be associated with Jesus in serving the beneficent purposes of the Heavenly Father for eternity. The earthly tabernacle of flesh, which is the present home of the new creation, has been yielded to the Heavenly Father as part of our Lord’s sacrifice. It is destined to return to the dust of the earth just as the body of flesh of our Lord was returned to the elements of the earth to take Adam’s place in death. The fact that the footstep followers of Jesus are counted in as part of his sacrifice does not add anything to the value of the total, but it is, by grace, part of God’s arrangement.

In contemplating the suffering associated with our Christian walk and evaluating this with the hope of the future, there is really no comparison, as the hopes for the future so far outweigh the things of the present. Even if the suffering of the present should cost us our life, the apostle says: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” (II Cor. 5:1-5) The Heavenly Father has given us assurance of the reality of our hope by giving us “the earnest” of the Spirit.

A Ministry of Deeply Stirring Motives

In verses 14 and 15 of this same 5th chapter of II Corinthians, the apostle points out the central point of truth of God’s plan, which, when understood and appreciated, almost compels a grateful response. And this response is a dedication of one’s life to the service of such a benevolent benefactor. “For the love of Christ constraineth [compels] us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

Here we have, in a beautifully concise statement, the philosophy of the ransom. Adam, being perfect but disobedient to God’s law, received the divine punishment for sin—death. This sentence was real, and it meant that Adam was destined to return to the elements of the earth and to oblivion. (Gen. 2:16,17; 2:7; 3:19) This sentence applied not only to Adam but to all his children. (Rom. 5:12) The only hope for Adam and his offspring rested in the love, wisdom, and power of God. Before Adam (and those condemned in him) could be released from condemnation, God’s justice required a perfect man (as Adam was perfect) to take Adam’s place in the dust of the earth. But there were no perfect men, all having inherited Adam’s imperfections. Jesus, who in his pre-human existence was the Logos—a great spirit being and the first creation of God—consented to have his life principle transferred to Mary, and the babe Jesus was born. (John 1:14) Jesus, as a man, was perfect. This was possible because God, and not Adam, was his Father. (Heb. 7:26) This perfect man Jesus could take the perfect man Adam’s place in the dust of the earth, thus releasing Adam and all his progeny from the sentence of death.—Heb. 2:9

The great love that was manifested in this wonderfully unselfish act on the part of both the Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus should be a motivating force in the lives of the footstep followers of Jesus. But even this was not all, for the love and wisdom and power of God have made further provisions for the sons and daughters of Adam.

We realize that even with the adamic condemnation lifted from humanity, man with his imperfections would still not be able to obey God’s perfect laws for any length of time, and eventually all would be under condemnation again. This condition would be worse than before, since there is only the one sacrifice for sins. So God in his wisdom provided for a period of instruction for the sons and daughters of Adam, and this period is the thousand years of Christ’s kingdom. It is during this period that mankind will be brought back to a condition of perfection under the tutelage of Christ and his church.

But in order for this arrangement to come into existence it was necessary for Jesus to be raised from the dead so that he might be the Mediator of the New Covenant under which this great work will be accomplished. (Heb. 8:1-6; Acts 3:19-26) This truth was acknowledged by the Apostle Paul in the last two words of the 15th verse of II Corinthians 5 when he stated, “But unto him which died for them, and rose again.” His resurrection was just as important as his death in the final accomplishment of the divine purpose.

And so, in understanding and appreciating these things, the apostle says that all should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them. These are the deeply moving motives that underlie the true Christian’s endeavor to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

A Ministry of Reconciliation

In verses 17 to 20 we read: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

We, as prospective members of the body of Christ, have been anointed to preach the Gospel, as was our Lord. (Isa. 61:1-3) And it is through the Gospel that the reconciliation of the human race to God will be accomplished, first the called-out ones—that is, the prospective members of the church—during the Gospel Age, and after that the rest of mankind. (Acts 15:14-18) When we really fully comprehend the apostle’s words in our text—that first God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, that Jesus was given the responsibility of the great work of reconciliation, but since his death and exaltation this responsibility has been given to the footstep followers of Jesus—we realize that if we were endeavoring to fulfill this commission in our own strength this would be impossible.

Our position is that of representatives of the One who was originally sent. But we are fortified by the power of the Holy Spirit and authority of God. The apostle states that we are ambassadors for Christ, and it is as though God beseeches individuals by us to be reconciled unto God. This work is on behalf of the church in the Gospel Age, but it will be extended in the kingdom to the whole world of mankind.

God has made this entire arrangement possible by providing Jesus to be a sin offering for us, so that we might be justified by the application of his atoning blood. When we are justified, the Heavenly Father can deal with us and use us in his service.—II Cor. 5:21

A Ministry of Cooperation

In the 6th chapter of II Corinthians the apostle concludes his description of the ministry of the Spirit. In the 1st verse he states, “We then, as workers together with him [God], beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” As workers together with God, we are cooperating in the outworking of his plans and purposes. His will and his thoughts, as divulged to us in his Word, have become our will and our thoughts. All of our means and strength are devoted to the accomplishment of his grand design. If this be not so, then it could be that we have received this wonderful favor of God in vain.

The apostle then bolsters his plea for zeal and faithfulness by quoting from a prophecy concerning the church. (vs. 2) “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation [the Gospel Age] have I helped thee.” (Isa. 49:8) The apostle indicates that this prophecy was being fulfilled then and would be all down through the Gospel Age. This great salvation will never be offered again, and therefore it behooves us to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Then the apostle sets forth some rules of conduct that should guide the footstep followers of Jesus “that the ministry be not blamed.” (vss. 3-10) “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in affliction, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”

Then the apostle concludes his plea for acceptance by the brethren at Corinth with these words: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. … Great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.”—II Cor. 7:1-4

And so the great Apostle Paul, in presenting such a masterful defense of his own ministry, has helped us at this end of the age to define our own. May the Lord help us to appreciate both the great privilege and the responsibility of our part in the ministry.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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