What does God-glorifying and Christ-centered gospel ministry look like? Who better to consult than the apostle Paul, who was used mightily of God for the advancement of the gospel among the nations in the 1st Century. There are of course many passages in Scripture that we could consult for our answer to this question. However, I want to take a specific look at a passage that I believe to be of central importance when it comes to defining a biblically sound gospel ministry. This passage is Second Corinthians 4:1-6. The text reads as follows:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
My purpose here is not to provide a full-blown commentary on this passage, as desirable as that may be. Instead, I want to draw out a handful of truths regarding a God-glorifying and Christ-centered gospel ministry from this text. While “this ministry” Paul speaks of has direct reference to his ministerial calling among the Gentiles, the truths he espouses in relation to his ministry nonetheless apply to the pastoral office, missionaries, and lay-Christians sharing the gospel with friends and neighbors. So, here are the principles derived from the text:
- A recognition that gospel ministry is a gift of God (v. 1). A call to the gospel ministry is a merciful calling; it is not earned. We have not appointed ourselves. Whether this principle is understood in a more particular context, such as the pastoral office, or more generally, such as the calling that all have as Christians to be faithful witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth remains that God has been merciful to us (cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). This recognition of God’s mercy upon us is to guide us in our endeavors. Having this understanding will guard our hearts from becoming boastful. It will also free us from worry, to “not lose heart,” knowing that God has a purpose in this calling.
- A commitment to integrity in proclaiming the full counsel of God’s word (v. 2). We must not cave into the ungodly mores (customs and conventions) of our society. We must not water down the gospel for the sake of numbers or the respect of the world. Rather, in boldness and sincerity, we are to hold out the word of truth to the lost world around us, remaining faithful to the God who called us and watches over us. The word of God is just that, the word of God, not our word. Neither compromise in our actions nor in our teaching can be tolerated (cf. 2:17).
- A recognition of the spiritual depravity of man and that we can’t force people to believe in the gospel (vv. 3-4). Though we desire to see sinners come to repentance and faith, it is not ultimately in our hands. We are to expect hostility from many. We are to expect that many who encounter the gospel through our witness will never come to see and savor the glory of Christ. Part and parcel of the spiritual depravity of man is the blinding influence of Satan (“the god of this world”). Elsewhere, Paul says man is enslaved to the Devil and does his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Satan blinds them from seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In verse 6 we see how God sovereignly overcomes this. Having this understanding of the spiritual depravity of man will prevent us from using man-made schemes in our ministry, as if man-made schemes can overcome such spiritual depravity. Failing to recognize this reality, as well as God’s sovereignty in verse 6, typically leads to a watered-down version of the gospel that’s accompanied with a “decisionalism” or “pray-the-prayer” mindset. In short, Paul went about his gospel ministry realistically, recognizing that the gospel is veiled to many. This, however, did not hinder him from preaching the gospel because of what follows.
- A commitment to preaching Christ Jesus as Lord (v.5). This truth is closely linked to verse 4, where Paul speaks of the glory of Christ as the image of God. Christ is the gospel. Central to this point is the lordship of Christ. This lordship of Christ was certainly one of the primary motivations in Paul’s gospel ministry. Because Christ is Lord, he is worthy of worship (Phil. 2:5-11; cf. Matt. 28:17). Because Christ is Lord, the success of gospel ministry is guaranteed (Rom. 14:9; cf. Matt. 28:18-20). Our message must always be centered on Christ. We must have a Christ-fixation. What is more, we must not refrain from proclaiming Christ to be what he is—Lord (cf. Acts 10:36)! The lordship of Jesus is not an option for people; it’s a reality, regardless of whether or not they humble themselves before him. The lordship of Jesus Christ is the theological backbone to our calling men and women to repentance and faith.
- A recognition that the salvation of lost souls is by the sovereign grace of God (v. 6). When a person is saved, they come to the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In his person and redemptive work, Christ is the manifestation of the glory of God. This light is something that you and I cannot cause to shine in the hearts of spiritually dead sinners (that includes ourselves!). Only our sovereign God can perform such a work (just as only God can create the universe; Gen. 1:1-3). This power is not of ourselves, but it is the power of God working through the word of God. We are simply called to be faithful in proclaiming that word, as has already been observed. Like the third point, this also guards us from using man-made schemes in our ministry. Like the fourth point, it encourages us in the gospel ministry, knowing that our labor will not be in vain. God will certainly accomplish through us in time what he has purposed from eternity.
There is of course much more that could be said, but I believe these are five essential truths from our text that are descriptive of God-glorifying and Christ-centered gospel ministry. If we take these truths to heart and meditate upon them I truly believe our ministerial labor will have a mighty impact on the world around us, and all to the glory of our gracious and merciful God.