.Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday morning, March 6th, 1960
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." 2nd Corinthians 4:1
It is perhaps just about 1,900 years ago since Paul wrote this letter to the Church which had been founded as the result of his ministry in Corinth, of which you may read in Acts 18. It had been no easy place in which to preach the Gospel; for, as everywhere, the hearts of the people were set upon sin, and few welcomed a message that implied such a great change in life. Those who had responded, in many cases had wavered just as they do today and their deliverance from the world had been incomplete. All this may be deduced from reading the first epistle. Paul, as always, however, meets the people in their need with truth, vast deep and ample. He impresses upon them that Christians are redeemed in order to be useful. Even Christ Himself came not to be ministered unto but to minister. The moment any person becomes a Christian the thought of ministry is put into their hearts.
Ministry is the keynote of the Christian Church. Before ministry can be exercised, however, it must be educated. There are some naive ideas in Christian circles that ought to be exposed. Some think that it is a good thing for young convert to be given a job, especially a class in the Sunday school, as being likely to keep their interest. Almost invariably the device fails, as indeed it deserves to. Some think that ministry can be undertaken without any preparation whatsoever.
Indeed one not infrequently finds a supposedly Christian worker so busy in
Christian work that he cannot find time for prayer either alone or with God's
people. Yet we put people in charge of children in such circumstances! Even
in ministerial training there is an obvious tendency to be concerned that students
should know what others think about truth rather than to give the attention
it deserves to the Word of God direct. However, following a simple rule, we
shall notice that the first word in the text is "therefore" and this
means that the text is based on what precedes it in the previous chapter. The
first credential of anybody undertaking Christian service is that he should
have had an experience of "This Ministry."
It is a personal experience, which can perhaps be conveniently summed up in
1) THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE BELIEVER
At regeneration, amongst others, there is an ethical change. For the first time conscience is alerted not by the social and other standards with which the convert has been familiar, but by the Spirit of God. If he does not know the inward transactions of the spirit that have resulted: the communication of sonship, eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit, then he will think his Christianity to be a matter of better principles than he had before. No doubt pious exercises in which he has never previously been engaged, abstentions from certain things he understands to be taboo, such as alcoholic drinks, drugs, worldly amusements and a Sabbatarian endurance of the first day of the week, all of which combine to make him thoroughly miserable. This is a common experience and provides one explanation of backsliding by many, often accompanied by keen disappointment that exhilaration experienced at some enthusiastic evangelistic meeting has so quickly subsided.
Paul, however, insists on a possible ministry that the new convert should begin to experience. As in a mirror he may behold the Lord of glory! For Paul, this, we may think, had been a mystical experience as he continually reflected on the vision he had known on the Damascus road. The face of the Lord he had then seen was never obliterated from his recollection. It had not only provided an apostolic qualification but very much more; it had been to him an unveiling of the Essence of Reality that stamped its impress on all the values of life. Henceforth he knew that the more he contemplated that glorious unveiling, seeing as in a mirror, the Lord of glory, he was transformed into the image of the One upon Whose glory he gazed. It is interesting to note that Paul did not gaze on a crucifix!
For us in the common way of discipleship, we look into the Scriptures and see how clearly they unveil the Lord. Even as He said, the Holy Spirit applies the image to our own hearts and lives that the glory we see in Jesus becomes an integral part of our own being even as by the Holy Spirit. We are often criticised for our view of the Scriptures but it is surely a deep and profound experience when, having, through those Scriptures, seen Jesus Crucified for us, we are permitted to see in them Jesus the Lord of Glory, the Centre of our wonder, adoration and praise!
Let it be added that the believer never sees or is conscious of this inner likeness to the Lord. Indeed he feels more and more his unlikeness and unworthiness, but one of the blessings of seeing the Lord in the mirror of the Word is that he can the more clearly see the likeness of Christ in others and is moved towards them in increasing esteem and love.
And as if to complete the picture, the Apostle contrasts the believer's experience with that of Moses at Sinai. Moses' face shone as he came down from the mount but the longer he stayed in the camp, the less was the glory of the Presence manifested in his features. It was passing away but the glory of the Lord, as it is perceived by the believer, continually increases as daily he sees more and more in the mirror of the Word the Lord in His glory.
So that it is "we all" who share in this ministry, or may do if we so desire. It is not an experience reserved for monks in a monastery, or reserved for the hierarchy. It is for each and every believer who enters into something of the truth of the things that God has prepared for them that love Him, not only in the world to come but also in the present humdrum daily life of kitchen and workshop. As we enter into this ministry we have the preliminary qualification for service in the Name of the Lord.
2) THE TRANSLUCENT BELIEVER
Translucence is the transmission of light without being transparent. Having received the ministry of transformation into Christlikeness, the disciple is prepared for service. He may not know the classical languages, he may be far indeed from being abreast of modem thought. Helpful as these may be, however, he will have graduated in the heavenly way and his experience will bring him to the inevitable conclusion that while it is important what he thinks of the Bible it is also important to know the truth of the Bible, as it unveils the truth about himself! Thousands of Christians assume that it is their opinion about the Scriptures that matters, and it is! But not in the way they think!! The man in whom is the ministry of the transfiguring glory will renounce the hidden things of dishonesty. He will not desire to make the Scriptures mean what they do not mean. This is a temptation to all Christians. We are all prone to emphasise the inspiration of the dot and comma if the view we approve is thereby endorsed. On the other hand we tend to overlook Scriptures that conflict with our tradition, outlook, purpose and plan. Only in the power that is integrated in the transcendent glory of Christ can any believer renounce the hidden things of dishonesty. Only so can he cease to handle the Word of God deceitfully.
Most of us can see how friends in other Denominations are doing this, but oh, for the spirit of transfiguration wherein we earnestly desire to see if and to what extent we ourselves are handling this Word of God deceitfully! Am I using the Scriptures to endorse what I like but ignoring them when they do not seem to serve my purpose? No Christian is using the Word rightly until the light of the glory of Jesus shines forth and captures his whole being with a passion to handle the Word of God in a way which is righteous in the sight of God and, as He sees into our hearts, is without deceit.
World darkness is the challenge of our time as of every time. In Genesis, God said: "Let light be" and "Light was." That stygian darkness is in every son of Adam. One day the Spirit brooded over the darkness of our chaos and exclaimed, concerning us: "Let light be" and we saw Jesus! In that sublime moment, as it was perpetuated into hours and days, we saw Him Who is the glory of God. He who was the Second Adam of the New Creation, the Marvellous Man to be seen in His sublime glory in the oneness of the Cross, of resurrection, ascension and enthronement in heaven. We had entered experimentally into a discernment of the essential frontier between darkness and light and from that moment we were potential bearers of the light.
Such a Christian will be regarded as narrow and bigoted but he has seen the light and now, like a lighthouse, will begin to be a bearer of light. For him, Jesus is the Light of the world, and he has no light on the darkness of the world save Jesus. Other Christian workers will attempt to deal with world darkness in other ways. They will possibly see all good men as moving from twilight indubitably to midday glory. These Christians will be heartily co-operating with all in the twilight in order to scatter the gloom and mist that, of course, in any event is only temporary. He, however, will have seen Jesus, the Light of the world, and the more he sees Him, the more clearly will he discern the world darkness that is around him, stygian and Satanic. He sees that no light can possibly come from God except as God speaks, and men see Jesus, and Jesus only.
Gone is the idea that the Church must understand the modern outlook, adapt itself to what the people think about religion as if light was in the world and darkness amongst the people of God! The world is in darkness, a darkness that can be felt, a darkness that is inescapable until men see the light in Jesus. Therefore the transfigured believer who has submitted to God's dealing with all the personal darkness of his own being will himself be light in the world. He will like the candle, be a light unto all that are in his house. Men prefer darkness to light, because their deeds are evil, but his business will be quite simple. The glory of Jesus will shine from him. The power of truth and light will be upon him and wherever he goes, whether he is welcomed or rejected, he will be the Light of God in the circumstance in which he is found. So that as men and women react to what he is and declares, so they will either step out into the light in Christ or plunge the more deeply into the darkness. Anybody who has any spiritual discernment whatsoever can see that at this time the Christ of glory is of no importance whatsoever to most of the people of England. For some indeed, even here in our own country, He is dimly apprehended even as a Name, and, in consequence, the darkness of human society and in world outlook gets denser. When men refuse the Light in Jesus they choose the only alternative world darkness!
3) THE TRANSFIXED BELIEVER
Reviewing all this the apostle observes: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." Vessels may be damaged. It depends on their composition. They can be broken, or they may develop a defect. Those who have seen the light and are transmitting it may fail, as indeed, at times, we all do. One of the supreme defects in Christians is the tendency to think of ourselves. To come to a place where we cease to think about ourselves in any way is indeed a spiritual achievement most rare. We can even be secretly proud because we are convinced we are humble; such is the subtlety of the human heart. To meet this peril of the earthen vessel, God has to take steps for the preserving of the glory of the truth in Christ.
Disciplines from God are not easily accepted. We have to get past the petulant stage of asking why and to learn to be patient with God. We think that our righteous impatience is aroused by the wickedness and selfishness of others, but we have to learn that in no circumstances whatsoever must we be impatient with God, and this, to our sorrow is sometimes a besetting sin. So Paul observes experimentally that he is pressed, but he is most thankful to be able to say he is not crushed! He is indeed persecuted by man but he is not deserted of God. He is brought down like a bird on the wing but he is still able to get cover and escape. So he declares, in these and other experiences, he perceives that he is carrying about in his own body the killing of Jesus Our Lord suffered on the Cross the violence of man because He was obedient to the Father. All obedience to God produces in some measure the same result. All the persecution involved, the suffering so difficult to endure, is but permitted to bring to the surface the killing, the putting to death within of so much that still has some correspondence with world darkness.
The suffering is searching but the process of the killing is wonderful, for as with our Lord it means the Easter Day of Resurrection. "Death," says the apostle, "worketh in us, but life in you." It is an astounding truth. Death does its work as the child of God submits to the disciplines that come to him in the way of his Christian obedience. The answer to the mystery of his experiences will be the emergence of resurrection life in those to whom he ministers. This may explain those mysteries of life which not infrequently lead the child of God into depression, uncertainty, failure and sorrow. If we are on the Cross-in the will of God,- then God has purposes in our lives, painful as the issues may be, that will mean resurrection life in others!
Finally the apostle refers his readers to the "god of this world;" for the world does not worship God and His Christ, but its own god. How potent he is! Wherever the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shines forth the god of this world seeks to blind the minds of hearers to the truth so enshrined. The light that is shining in and through the believer crucified with Christ will have opened to him the supernatural realities of the heavenlies. He will be aware of the principalities and powers, the rulers of world darkness and the spirits of wickedness that within the supernatural are nevertheless, and indeed all the more, persistent and active in concealing the one truth by which man in darkness can be delivered: the truth of Jesus, the one and the only Light of the world.
This helps him to understand how the Gospel is always viewed with prejudice by those who know not the Christ or know the Jesus of the flesh only. He sees that the progress of truth in things material and scientific is altogether different from pressing into truth in things spiritual. Before a soul can step out of darkness into light he must suffer the pressure of the blinding of the god of this world. Some believer in the light must pray for him that he will be delivered.
For the enlightened believer, however, the struggle of the truth centred in Jesus, the Light of the world, is a wrestling not to be estimated until it is experienced. This wrestling with the powers of hell, precedent to the shining of the Light in the mind of an unbeliever, is indeed a torture. It is so easy to be a teacher of truth, presenting a creed and asking people to believe. It is so vastly different to struggle, to wrestle, to suffer, to travail in order to bring forth one into whose mind and heart the light of Christ is shining to their eternal salvation.
This is the ministry God has in mind for all His believing children.
This is the ministry the world does not want and Satan is resolved to oppose
with all the supernatural strength of the realm of darkness. It is the one ministry
that counts, and as the believer looks into the mirror and sees the Lord of
the glory his prayer will ever be,
"Let there be Light."
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