The treasure of gospel ministry. 4:1-6
In our passage for study, Paul continues the defence of his ministry and in so doing, gives us a further insight into the gospel. It is clear that some associated with the Corinthian church see little truth in his teachings. As far as they are concerned, his gospel, "in which Christ's glory shines", is ineffective. To this charge Paul defends himself.
v1 "Because the gospel is the good news of the glory of God", which message God kindly gave Paul the honour to proclaim to the Gentiles, Paul could not, nor would not, fail in his duty to proclaim the whole message, undiluted and undefiled.
v2 "We use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God. We speak the plain truth", Phillips. When it comes to communicating the gospel, Paul is into telling it the way it is; no sugar coating, no managed release of information to win converts, no diluting the message. Any person, sensitive to the will of God, not only recognizes gospel truth, but the worth of the preacher.
v3. Yet sadly, it is true that there are many, heading for damnation, who do not respond to the gospel, as if its message is hidden from them. Obviously, Paul's critics questioned the worth of his gospel message, given the poor response it achieved. Yet, the truth of the gospel is what is essential, not the number of so-called conversions.
v4. The reason why many unbelievers fail to recognize the truth of the gospel is that their minds are dulled by the powers of darkness that infest this age. Of course, if they were to seek after God they would find him in Jesus, but by floating through life they cannot recognize, in the gospel message, the divine truth that radiates from the person of Jesus. In particular, they see no truth in Christ's glorious resurrection and its consequences, namely, that because Christ lives they can live eternally.
v5. Paul can honestly declare that his preaching focuses on Jesus Christ, not himself. Paul says of himself that he is but their servant on account of his relationship with Christ, chosen to reveal God's divine message to broken humanity. He is but the messenger, not the message. The message concerns Jesus, Jesus the messiah "as Lord", the risen messiah who is now ruler of heaven and earth.
v6. God commanded light to shine at the creation and he has commanded the light of his knowledge to shine on Paul and the other apostles. Paul claims that God has infused him with divine truth. As for the content of this truth, it is the divine revelation of God's glory evident in the person of Jesus Christ, a glory particularly evident in Christ's resurrection, ascension and present reign.
Making the gospel known
In this defence of his ministry, Paul tells us something of the content of the gospel and of its operation.
In the content department Paul preaches "Jesus Christ", making two particular points about Jesus: First, "the glory of Christ." The message concerning Jesus radiates divine glory, that is, it focuses on Christ in all his glory. This divine glory is evident in his resurrection. Second, Jesus is "Lord." When I arrived at my last ministry posting I hung a banner out the front, "under new management, same Boss." C.K. Barrett put it this way, Jesus "is now the merciful ruler of the world and victor over all evil powers."
In the operation department, Paul says something about the way people respond to the gospel and the actual business of communicating it:
First, when it comes to responding to the gospel, there are those who just do not hear it. Paul makes the point that the powers of darkness deaden the understanding of unbelievers. The truth is this, unless we actively seek the living God then the gospel will sound like foolishness to us; we will not hear it.
Second, when it comes to communicating the gospel message, Paul makes two point, one negative and one positive:
On the negative side, Paul's words are beautifully paraphrased by J.B. Phillips, "we use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God." How easy it is to add to the gospel to make it work better - down-sell it with a "health, wealth and happiness" line, or use market research techniques to determine the optimum target audience. Oh dear!
On the positive side, again Phillips' paraphrase says it all, "we speak the plain truth" - "by the open statement of the truth", NRSV. Paul had a clear message from God and he saw no need to rework it. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation", not marketing techniques.
For all of us who, in some way, have the privilege of sharing in the communication of the gospel, we do well to remember that we are, as Paul put it, "your servants for Jesus' sake." We have the privilege of being specially set apart by God to communicate his message of grace. Because of this, the last thing we need to do is fiddle with the message.
1. Identify the elements of the gospel message found in this passage.
2. Discuss the issue of using techniques in gospel communication.
3. Is contextualizing the message a questionable technique? Discuss.
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