CJ Mahaney’s opening session on 2 Corinthians 4 (all notes are paraphrased):
Because this conference exists to serve pastors, each of us who have the priveliege to address you have to choose what we believe will bless you . . . and I pray that this would be helpful to you.
Through his profound letter, we come to know Paul in a profound way . . . so let us consider what we can learn from a portion, found in 2 Cor. 4:1-18.
There is much for the Pastor in 2 Corinthians, but in the fourth chapter in particular, Paul shows us the temptation to lose heart and Paul’s resolve to not lose heart. Paul was a man who was familiar with the temptation to lose heart . . . but in this chapter we’re not just reminded of the temptation to lose heart, but of Paul’s resolve to not lose heart.
But what informed Paul’s resolve and what can we learn to inform our resolve?
This is a predictable temptation for pastors—it’s one that you can predict every Monday. We’re evaluating our Sunday service and our Sunday sermon and that evaluation tends to be unfavorable and it’s often aided by well-meaning or not-so-well-meaning church members who offer their own unfavorable evaluations.
The temptation to lose heart is a common one, and one in particular for pastors. There’s no pastor who is exempt from this temptation—and I can’t help but wonder how many here feel this temptation or the effects of this temptation. You may continue to appear fruitful and skillful, but you’re no longer joyful.
If this is you, I believe this conference is a gift from God for you. . . . I pray that this will minster to you and you will feel God draw near to you and you could come home discernibly different.
Let’s not waste this conference—it is a gift from God and I do not want anyone to waste it. Listen humbly to each and every message. Listen humbly and not critically. Use the time in meals to review what you found particularly helpful in each message. Begin by identifying evidences of grace in each and every message and communicate to others how each message was helpful to your soul. Let’s not gather together to simply critique one another. No, we come as those who are aware of the temptation to lose heart. We need the grace of God, to respond to it . . . If it is not well with your soul, then communicate it to the appropriate individual at the appropriate time. Acknowledge that. For some of you, grace is just a humbling acknowledgement away.
So what does a pastor do when he is tempted to lose heart? In chapter four, Paul contemplates three ways he resolves to never lose heart:
The call to Christian ministry (v. 1-6)
Paul’s awareness of his call strengthened his call and his resolve to not lose heart. His ministry was to preach the gospel . . . and this helped him in his resolve to not lose heart when faced with opposition. Though Paul’s call was certainly unique, we too have been called to proclaim the gospel, where the glory of God has been uniquely displayed. We have been called to proclaim the gospel to those who have been blinded by the god of this world, the same god who dispelled darkness in creation, will dispel the darkness from their heart. He will give sight to the blind.
Pastoral ministry is about an ongoing confrontation with the god of this world, with hardness of heart, with blindness, but we do not lose heart because we have this ministry, we have this message that brings light, that transforms heart, that changes lives. And we must resist any temptation to tamper with this message. Those who tamper with this message underestimate this message. We are not innovators, we are proclaimers.
Paul was amazed by the message of the gospel. He lived in constant awareness of his fitness for the task. Are you aware of the mercy of God? Have you grown acclimated to it? Are you amazed by this message?
Also keep in view your congregation. Too easily pastors become preoccupied with the besetting sins of the congregation and to forget their conversion. To not keep in view this creative act of God where they turned from their sins and toward Christ. Brothers, may we never lose a sense of wonder that you, me, we have been called to pastoral ministry. May we never lose a sense of wonder and marvel at the fruit of wonder. If you keep this ministry in view you won’t lose heart.
The context and conditions of Christian Ministry (v. 7-12)
Paul was under no illusions about the context of his ministry. He understood that his call was not only to proclaim but to suffer and to serve. He references personal weakness in v. 7, and references some of the personal examples of suffering in v. 8-9. In a fallen world, this glorious ministry by definition involves trials and suffering and persecution. These categories apply to us as well. This is what you have to look forward to. Too often, pastors begin ministry confident in the gospel, but unprepared for verses seven through 12. You need a theology of suffering in place before you hit verses 8 and 9. Younger pastors, when you speak with older pastors, let these categories inform your questions. Let them inform your study of other pastors. Ask how have you experienced trials, with affliction, with being bewildered? Every pastor is familiar in varying degrees with these things.
But perhaps the one we’re most familiar with—being struck down. Maybe a friend from your pre-conversion days, or a staff member who misrepresents you. You are struck down. But perhaps the most common form is depression. Lectures to My Students should be required reading for all pastors—so get it and turn to the section on the “fainting fits” of the preacher.
Listen, when you’re in pastoral ministry, you’re going to encounter these—and you’re most likely going to encounter them all at the same time. These harsh realities have a divine design. They are all purposeful. They are all an opportunity for God to display his power and glorify himself in our weakness. In the midst of affliction and persecution and bewilderness and being struck down, we discover that he is wonderfully at work—and our congregation does as well! Your congregations are studying you, they are studying your life and they are seeing how you endure suffering and to see that you do not lose heart.
But the accent in these verses is not on these verses, it is on the grace of God. “…perplexed but not…” Paul is certainly acknowledging the harsh realities but he is celebrating the grace of God that sustains us in the midst of these harsh realities and this should bring great joy to our souls. Ultimately, it’s not about Paul, it’s about God. It’s not that Paul was unusually strong in his constitution, it’s about the power of God in him that sustained him. Every pastor has “but not” written over his life.
His heart was strengthened by the hope of Christian ministry (16-18)
In ministry, enduring is rooted in an eternal perspective. The absence of an eternal perspective results in losing heart. Paul had this eternal perspective. He studied the unseen, paid careful attention to the future and found this work of renewal . . . but was also aware that he was wasting away. Here’s the difference the eternal perspective makes: Paul concludes that there’s no comparison. He is experiencing present suffering, he is wasting away, but as he peers into the future, he finds there is no comparison with future glory. If you make the comparison of your local quarry with the Grand Canyon, there is no comparison.
This isn’t my impulse. My normal comparison is, “Well, your situation could be worse…” And I hope that comparison will be helpful, but Paul didn’t work with that kind of comparison. He didn’t work with that approach. The approach he worked with changed his comparison. How’d you like to spend time with him? It just seems that there’d be no whining allowed. We don’t have anything that could compare. If what he experienced he calls, “light and momentary,” what is yours?
Where’d he get this perspective? Verse 18: As he looked, he kept the glories of the unseen in front of him. The older you get, the more you need to get this. We need to look more to the unseen than to the seen. To become more aware of the sustaining power of God in our lives and that our momentary afflictions cannot be compared with the glories that await us—and then you are prepared to preach, to counsel, even in the midst of trial, affliction—and you don’t lose heart.