The Roots of An Indomitable Spirit
2 Corinthians 4:1
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”
I am going to begin by reading from John Piper’s Adoniram Judson: How Few There Are Who Die So Hard (originally a sermon biography preached to pastors. The sermon is available at desiringgod.org and the manuscript is available to download as a booklet).
Judson was America’s first foreign missionary… Though warned not to go to Burma, he entered the country almost 200 years ago [now, just over 200 years ago] — in July of 1813 — and there invested the next 38 years of his life preaching Christ where he had not been named… And the cost was very high.
On June 28, 1810 Judson and others presented themselves to the Congregationalists for missionary service in the East. He met Ann that same day and fell in love. After knowing Ann Hasseltine for one month he declared his intention to become a suitor, and wrote to her father the following letter:
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
Her father, amazingly, said she could make up her own mind. She wrote to her friend Lydia Kimball:
I feel willing, and expect, if nothing in Providence prevents, to
spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have
about, come to the determination to give up all my comforts and
enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends,
and go where God, in his Providence, shall see fit to place me.
… Ann… married Judson on February 5, 1812 and left with him on the boat on February 19 (14 days later) at age 23, bore three children to Adoniram. All of them died. The first baby, nameless, was born dead just as they sailed from India to Burma. The second child, Roger Williams Judson, lived 17 months and died. The third, Maria Elizabeth Butterworth Judson, lived to be two, and outlived her mother by six months and then died. When her second child died, Ann Judson wrote:
Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our
earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen
land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error,
and to strip us of our only little all. O, may it not be vain that he
has done it. May we so improve it that he will stay his hand and
say ‘It is enough.’
Missionaries and Ministers
Adoniram Judson invested his life in making Christ known among the lost who had never heard the gospel. And the cost was very high. He gave up his life in this world.
As we jump back into our study of 2 Corinthians I want to make sure we understand that bringing the gospel of the glory of Christ to the lost and seeing them come to believe in Him and seeing them gathered into local churches where they can be built up in their faith, equipped for ministry and sent back out into the harvest to invest their own short lives in making Christ known – that work is not something that only an elite group of Christians do. It is not something only certain gifted leaders or gifted churches do. It is something everyone of us has a part in and every true local church should be about this work of making Christ known with our short lives. The gathering in and building up of Christ’s body is our work. Judson was not in some elite Christian – he was simply an obedient Christian.
This time we send together every week where we hear the preaching of God’s Word is not designed by God to terminate in our hearts. It is designed to equip us for the work of ministry. Every person in this room who has been born of God, who is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a minister and has a ministry to others both here and abroad.
Do you think about yourself as a minister of Christ in this world? Do you think about your life as an investment in Christ’s mission? That is why we are here. That is why you are here. This is our mission field. Are we dreaming about how to bring Christ to these people? Are we planning wisely and intentionally to make opportunities? Are we going to our community and making the message of the gospel known in words and deeds – that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the only Savior of men? This is our mission field. And because this is true, what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:1 has an application in each of our lives:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
We Do Not Lose Heart
With the words, ‘we do not lose heart’ in our minds, I want to consider the high cost of ministry. It is costly if we are obedient. If we are obedient there will be a temptation to lose heart. Allow me to illustrate the high cost of ministry by looking at Paul’s own life.
If we just stay in 2 Corinthians we learn for example that Paul had occasion to write to the church that he was so much a part of establishing out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears (2 Cor 2:4). If you invest your life helping others grow and have progress in the faith you can expect tears and hard conversations, anguish of heart.
We also learn here in 2 Corinthians that Paul experienced affliction in Asia to the point that he as so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life itself – he thought he was going to die (2 Cor 1:8-9). If you invest your life in bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to others for the gathering in and building up of His body you may very well be so utterly burdened beyond your own strength that you despair of life itself.
Paul said 2 Cor 4:9-10 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” The work of ministry is hard.
Paul lists among the things that commend him as a servant of God in 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 …endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. Have you ever been beaten for our faith? Have you ever gone without food for the sake of making Christ known? If we are going to be obedient to carrying on the work that Christ has entrusted to us we just might experience these things as well. Paul goes on to say that he has experienced both honor and dishonor, slander and praise, treated as an imposter, unrecognized, punished, poor (2 Cor 6:8-10). At times he was afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within (2 Cor 7:5).
Toward the end of this letter Paul compiles a list of hardships he experienced in ministry:
2 Cor 11:23-29
…with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak?
When you envision fruitful ministry here at Windham Bible Chapel what comes to mind? When you consider your own share in the work of the ministry are you counting the cost? Jesus said:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Illustration of Missionary Friend
Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing from a friend (54 years old), one who invested in me when I was in Jr.High. He has been ministering in the mountains of Honduras – bringing the gospel to those who had never heard of Christ before for the last 15 years or so. My friend lives among them and live like them. Dirt floors, two changes of clothes, hot water sometimes, electricity sometimes, bean and rice all the time.
What kinds of hardships are you willing to endure for the sake of Christ?
Ministry in this world will be hard – if we are faithful and obedient. The question is how do we not lose heart? Oh how prone we are to loose heart in the tasks that God gives us. We have so many blessing and still we grumble. We have such a strong Savior and still we tremble with fear. How do we fight against discouragement in the tasks that God has given us? How could Paul say, ‘we do not lose heart’ with so much hardship?
There is a very sad reality that I have seen among some believers who have labored or who are laboring in ‘ministry.’ They have become discouraged by hardship, slander, not being recognized for their labor – so that they give up and walk away or they become discouraged but they just keep push on, but in both cases they have not dealt with the roots of discouragement and what grows in their hearts is a spirit of bitterness and murmuring against people and really against God. A spirit of frustration with people (and God). A spirit of mistrust toward people (and God). Their hearts say: “Why would you let this happen to me – I’m trying to serve you?”
How do we fight against discouragement in ministry?
Paul gives us two reasons in this text that he does not lose heart. Let us mark these well as we consider the cost of ministry or perhaps as we are even now feeling the high cost of ministry.
Therefore, Having This Ministry
The first reason Paul gives here for why he does not lose heart is in fact the Nature of New Covenant ministry itself. He says, Therefore, having this ministry… we do not lose heart.
Note the words “therefore” and “this.” What Paul has been unpacking in the previous chapters is the nature of New Covenant ministry. It is in fact recognizing what ‘this ministry’ is – which is one of the things that will keep us from being discouraged.
I think so often we either don’t know or we forget the nature of Christ’s New Covenant and so we get our eyes off of Christ and off of God our Father and His very great promises and the power and wisdom and love that we received and have been commissioned to announce and minister to others. We have such a treasure to bring to the perishing – we have the words of eternal life. We have the thing they need more than anything else (and its not just those out there – the unsaved who need this, but hear in this body, we have in Christ what each one here needs more than anything else – for life and joy and nourishment and fruitfulness).
But so often we are like little children handling things that we don’t realize are of incredible, infinite value. If you hand Simeon (my two year old) a 100 dollar bill don’t expect him to take care of it or treasure it or invest it. He will probably rip it into pieces and leave it all over the house. He doesn’t realize the worth of what he has. He does’t realize the nature of the paper in his hand. Do we recognize the nature of the treasure in our hands? Let us remember the worth and quality of New Covenant Ministry.
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of the Spirit
Not the ministry of external and crushing law, but the ministry of internal Spirit residency. As we bring the word of Christ to others God Himself is active in causing people dead in trespasses and sins to be reborn into God’s own family and God Himself is active in putting His law within each one (Jeremiah 31) as He gives His Spirit to each one (Ezekiel 36).
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Life (3:6)
Not the ministry of the letter which kills, but the ministry of the Spirit who give life.
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Righteousness (3:9)
Not the ministry of condemnation (and that truly is a ministry: to be shown that you are guilty before God and condemned is a necessary ministry) – ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ Romans 8:1 and 4). Instead of condemnation, in Christ we get Justification. We are declared righteous by God by faith in Jesus Christ.
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Permanence (3:11)
It is not weak, temporary, or passing away. It is fully sufficient, perfect, and eternal.
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Freedom (3:17)
Not the ministry of slavery and dungeons and chains and whips, but joyful, glorious freedom where people actually do what they ought to do because they want to do it.
Which is closely related…
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Transformation (3:18)
In this New Covenant we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold the glory of Christ. This is the ministry of real transforming power.
New Covenant Ministry is The Ministry of Surpassing, Exceeding Glory (3:9,10)
What we have in Christ is a ministry that so far out shines what came before that what came before has come to have no glory at all. The weight and worth of what we have to share with the world is of such infinite value that it dwarfs every human institution and endeavor like the Sun dwarfs a snowflake. You think football or baseball is significant? You think Hollywood is significant? You think America is signifiant? You think the banking systems of the World are significant? You think nations and people waring with one another is significant? These are but vapor before the blazing significants of Christ and the New Covenant in His blood.
And we are called to be ministers of this glorious New Covenant. What we have been given to minister to others is treasure beyond measure. But there is another reason Paul gives here about why he does not lose heart.
By The Mercy of God
Notice that Paul says,“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” So the second reason Paul does not lose heart is that he had received this ministry by the mercy of God.
Paul is saying that in fact the very task that he has received of bringing the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus to lost and hostile souls, which involved in his case being slandered, abandoned, shipwrecked, beaten, in riots, hungry and being stoned and whipped and imprisoned – he saw all this as a result of the mercy of God.
Mercy – being shown compassion, pity, kindness. How in the world is any of that mercy? Oh how we need to get this. Are we able to say with Paul that we do not lose heart because we have received this ministry by the mercy of God? I think if we cannot say this (and mean it deep in our hearts) than we will be continually discouraged. I am convinced that at the root of much of our discouragement and discontent is the belief that we deserve better than what God is giving us.
Paul understood that whatever he received from the hand of the Lord was not in fact what he deserved, because what he deserved was death and judgement. Paul tells us that …Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).
Paul knew that anything short of being cast away into everlasting judgement was sheer mercy. Do we know that? You do not deserve health. You do not deserve financial security. You do not deserve friends or praise or promotion. We deserve judgement. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
How can we look down on our fellow sinners with contempt? Because we think we are better than they are.
How can we refuse to forgive one another and bear with one another? Because we think we are not as vile as they are or as weak or as foolish. We have forgotten that our own infinite debt against our God has been forgiven.
Do we recognize the depths of our own need from mercy?
And do we recognize that by faith in Christ alone we have indeed received that mercy in full?
All your sin has been removed from you and dealt with in Christ. If you are a believer all His righteousness has been counted to you. You are a beloved heir with Christ by faith. “Oh, the deep deep love of Jesus. vast unmeasured, boundless, free!” The great battle in the Christian life is the battle of faith – to believe that what God has promised is true. To believe passages like:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
If we are discouraged and tempted to lose heart, could it be that we have failed to realize the nature of the treasure with which we have been entrusted? Or could it be that we have failed to grasp that everything we are now receiving as Christians flows from the Father of Mercies – could it be that you have failed to recognize that in Christ every last thing you will encounter today God is working for good.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Diagnosing our Doubt
Consider with me for just a moment the options, as we try to diagnose the roots of our discouragement. If we believe that God is sovereign over all things as the Scriptures declare, we are not discouraged because God is weak.
…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
…all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
I think most of us believe God is able – that He is sovereign over all that happens in our lives.
I think too, that most of us believe God is wise as the Scriptures declare,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
So we believe that God is strong, He is able to do all His will. We believe He is wise and His plans never fail. Right? But if we believe these things about God and yet we are still discouraged all that is left is whether or not we believe that God actually and unwaveringly cares for us. The question I think we wrestle with is this: is God really for me at all times and in all circumstances? Even in this most painful circumstance?
If we really believed that God was sovereign, wise, and always and only determined to do us good, how could we lose heart?
Paul did not lose heart because he was convinced that he had received his ministry by the mercy of God.
Do we understand that this is also true of us? God has not given you task that He has not made perfect provision for. God has not and will not send us to fail.
Everything we have (including every suffering in the cause of Christ) we have by the mercy of God!
Strengthening the Roots
“If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” – Adoniram Judson
Psalm 37:23 -24
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
How do we fight discouragement as we pursue investing our lives in the ministry God has or us? We must wash our minds/hearts continually with the nature of the New Covenant and with the truth that God is and only is giving us mercy. Do you have a time everyday to get alone with God your Savior and thank Him for who He is and for such a great salvation? God is faithful – His word to us in Christ Jesus is only “Yes!” I am for you. In Christ Jeremiah 29:11 applies to each one here: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The roots of determination and faithfulness in Gospel ministry are a confidence that what we are doing for Christ’s sake is really valuable because we are ministers of infinite treasure; it really matters and God our Father is showing us mercy in all things.