Tuesday, March 29, 2011

insufficient messengers: the tension of gospel advancement

Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:16b-17

The work of the gospel is a humbling calling. Paul's entire point at this place in his epistle is to reiterate that God has to be doing the work of spreading His knowledge everywhere (see 2 Cor 2:14). God chooses to use human means to do so. But it is clearly God that does the work in us. We are not sufficient in and of ourselves. God is leading the triumphal procession of the gospel's advance and if we think we are leading the advance of the gospel, we have another thing coming.

The tragedy is that human egos can get caught up in the work of ministry. It was true in the first century. It is true today. Paul contrasted his own work (a self-supported passionate pursuit of God's call to preach the gospel among the Gentiles, always moving forward into places where it had not yet been preached) with the work of "so many" who were mere peddlers of God's Word, obviously motivated by self-interest or material gain. Paul warns that the gospel is preached by men with a different motivation. One that comes from God.

So there is this strange paradox that Paul deals with here. It is the tension of preaching the gospel. We are not sufficient to do so until God is doing the enabling, the commissioning, and supplying the message. When that awareness is in place, Paul says we are "men of sincerity"... moved and motivated by nothing other than the gospel itself and the compelling commission of God. Those thus consumed by the gospel "speak in Christ."

I have seen this same paradox today. Except the 21st century church has managed to reduce the ministry of the gospel down to three clear components for "successful" ministry: celebrity, curriculum, and culture. We make something of the men behind the ministry. And then the new celebrity status is driven to build the teaching (curriculum) that gets marketed and mass produced as "the answer" in the crazy Christian sub-culture. Pretty soon it can look nothing like what the scriptures teach. It is sad really. I have seen this church program machine churn out false teaching, false optimism, and pathetic self-motivated, gospel-shattering actions as the work of the kingdom. How sad! It is proof of our own insufficiency because we come up with something powerless, sugary and fluffy and tasty, but ultimately with nothing to feed and nourish the soul!

How we need to be committed to the pure preaching of the gospel! We need to repent of our exaltation of the messenger! We need to humbly commit to a life of preaching the gospel without the motivation of personal pride and materialistic success. Lord, give us again men of sincerity, for the sake of the gospel!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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