For many, 2016 is a year to forget! We saw the passing of many greats in their fields. We saw one of the most divisive elections of recent memory. We saw terror attacks unfold in our own nation and across the globe. We saw violence and injustice erupt in our cities and streets. Not to mention the personal losses, challenges, and conflicts that touch closer to home.
I suspect thought that 2016 was tough for many in ministry as well. Perhaps by God’s grace this does not apply to you. However, odds are you faced some challenges and discouragement in ministry last year. Maybe it was not seeing fruit in the lives of those you lead, whether in personal growth or evangelistic witness. Perhaps it was not seeing the growth you desired in your own life. If you’re like me, you face the temptation to discouragement when you fail to balance ministry, family, and school in the way you desire. Maybe you’re not in vocational ministry, but you’ve been seeking to reach a co-worker or call a wayward Christian to repentance. In the process, you’ve hit roadblocks, faced resistance, and even rejection.
Ministry, whatever its form, is rarely easy. But we do not have to lose heart!
Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4. He begins and ends with a statement of confidence. It is not self-confidence; it is an expression of dependence. Paul proclaims, “We do not lose heart.” If anyone had reason to be discouraged it was Paul—afflicted, perplexed, crushed, persecuted, and struck down. Yet, he persevered in the work God had given him with an indestructible confidence. The reasons he provides for this confidence may be just what you need to hear entering the new year.
Four Reasons to Serve with Confidence in 2017
1. You are a steward of God’s new covenant ministry
Paul states, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lost heart.” To understand Paul’s point, we must understand it in the context of his defense of his ministry to the Corinthians. Paul contrasts his ministry—a new covenant ministry—with the old, Mosaic covenant. The latter has passed away in light of the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of the new covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). Paul points to the presence and work of the Spirit as evidence of this in his ministry among the Corinthians.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Why is being a steward of God’s new covenant ministry a reason to be confident? Consider what Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:22-32) promise regarding the new covenant. In short, God promises to so transform his people that they will have everything they need to walk in fellowship and obedience to Him.
- He will give them a new heart (Ezek. 36:26).
- He will indwell them by His Spirit (Ezek. 36:26).
- He will write His law on their hearts (Jer. 31:33).
- He will be their God (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:28).
- He will forgive and cleanse them of their sins Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25).
- We will be his people (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:28).
- We will know Him (Jer. 31:34).
- We will walk in obedience to Him (Ezek. 36:27).
Now consider that Jesus has fulfilled the new covenant in his sacrificial death and the sending of the Holy Spirit (Luke 22:20: John 3:5-6; 14:26). Paul is confident in blood of Christ, which establishes the new covenant (cf. Heb. 9:15), and its ongoing work through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:4-6). Every believer in Jesus Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and shares in this new covenant ministry. Because of this Paul can say we have received this ministry as a gift by the God’s mercy. In this new year, let’s be confident in the completed work of Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives and the lives of those we serve.
2. The gospel has the power to open the eyes of the blind.
Paul’s confidence in the new covenant ministry entrusted to him is demonstrated in his commitment to proclaim the gospel. Rather than losing heart, Paul affirms his commitment to not compromise the Word of God and to clearly proclaim it. This commitment is undergirded by his confidence in the power of the gospel.
Discouragement in ministry often leads to passivity. Not for Paul though. He understood why ministering the gospel to others was so hard. While there certainly may be areas in our lives we need to address, we cannot forget that the God of this world blinds the eyes of unbelievers from seeing the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). We should assume that many will be slow to hear and respond, but we should equally assume that God is able to break through hardest and darkest heart with the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
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. – 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
The gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Don’t tamper with the message or shrink back from sharing it. Notice also that Paul lives as a servant of others for Jesus’ sake. He not only proclaims Jesus, but he serves others like Jesus. The power of the gospel must inform how we share and how we live. Recommit yourself to knowing and dwelling on the gospel, so that you will display it faithfully in your life and proclaim it boldly regardless of the difficulties you may face in the new year.
3. The Holy Spirit will strengthen you to endure.
Paul was no stranger to trials. In fact, like Jesus, he shows us that the glory of the gospel is displayed in our weakness. Therefore, our weaknesses and obstacles do not have to be a hindrance to God using us in the new year. Rather, they may be the very means by which God chooses to display His power through us. The key is that we depend on the Spirit in our weakness. Far too often we depend upon ourselves to get through the challenges of ministry. All the while, we miss the perfect opportunity for the glory and power of God to show itself in and through our lives.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7
Paul’s strength is found in the Holy Spirit, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead (2 Cor. 4:14). It is the pattern of Jesus’ suffering and the promise of the resurrection that shapes his ministry. As he suffers, he knows that the life of Jesus will be displayed and held out to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:10-11). So much so, he can say, “For death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). It is Paul’s confidence in the resurrection power of God that motivates him to continue to preach for the good of others and the glory of God.
Are you weak going into 2017? Are you discouraged? Are you tempted to give up? Remember the power of God available through the work of His Spirit. Press into Him. Access to God’s power is as available to us as we are willing to humble ourselves before him in prayer. Remember that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will strengthen you to serve and share in the new year. Remember that the same power is able to work in those whom you serve as well.
4. The future glory that will be your makes it worth it.
In the present, Paul experiences the outward wasting away of the body and the light momentary affliction of trials and suffering. As Paul’s would tell the churches he helped found, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). However, Paul lets us in on the secret to persevering and serving with confidence. He viewed his present circumstances in light of future glory. He lived and served with an eternal perspective, which enabled him to see his trials as preparing him for the fullest enjoyment of God’s glory.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
We must share in Paul’s eternal perspective if we are to labor with confidence in the new year. This will mean engaging fulling in the process of being transformed and renewed day by day (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16). God gives us the strength we need to serve faithfully day by day as we fix our eyes on the things that are unseen and eternal—the glory that will be ours. We must evaluate our present circumstances in light of our future glory. We must see lost sinners and immature believes in light of this future glory. We must view our churches and ministries in light of this future glory. Perhaps your greatest need in the new year is a change of perspective. Instead of looking at the present difficulties of your life or ministry as obstacles, may you see them as the means by which God is displaying his glory in you and preparing you for the future glory that you will be yours.
Ministry can be tough! But we do not have to lost heart if we will but remember the completed work of Christ in establishing the new covenant, the power of the gospel, the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of our future glory.