2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 10
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|We are servants of a new covenant, and today we’re going to see one of the things that the new covenant enables, which is authentic ministry. Servants of a New Covenant – Part 1|
Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 3. We’re going to start a new mini-series today. We’ve been looking at “The God of All Comfort;” we have looked at “When Your Walk Matches Your Talk;” and now we’re going to begin another mini-series. I’m going to entitle it “Servants of a New Covenant.” We are servants of a new covenant, and today we’re going to see one of the things that the new covenant enables, which is authentic ministry. We’re going to look at 2 Corinthians 3:1-3. We may read some other verses but we’ll have to come back to it.
I’ve always believed that if it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. Now, that’s a simple illustration. What makes that illustration complex is if you’ve never seen a duck before. Then that means nothing to you then, what I just said about what a duck is like. Let me give you an illustration, not about a duck; most people know what that is.
I was in South Africa and I wanted to give an illustration with my beaver dam story that I’ve told many places all over the world. And I didn’t know if they knew what a beaver was. And I said, “Do you know what a beaver is down here?” And one of them said, “A what?” They didn’t know what I was talking about. You can talk about a duck, and if you’ve seen a duck, you know what I’m talking about. I was talking about a beaver and they didn’t know what a beaver was.
You see, if we took that illustration and we put it in the context of “what is authentic ministry,” we’d have a much more difficult time trying to understand what it is. You know why? Because there are so many things being done in the name of Christ in the 21st century called “ministry” that it gets confusing. And what we have to do is to peel back layers after layers after layers to find out biblically what is authentic ministry. Like peeling an onion back; and sometimes the tears will flow when you start peeling it back. It’s kind of like an illustration of unwrapping something and finding out what it really is.
A police officer pulls over a speeding car. The officer says, “I clocked you at 80 mph, sir.” The driver says, “Gee, officer, I had it on cruise control at 60. Perhaps your radar gun needs calibrating.” Not looking up from her knitting, the wife says, “Don’t be silly, dear. You know that this car doesn’t have cruise control.” As the officer writes out the ticket, the driver looks over at his wife and growls, “Can’t you please keep your mouth shut for once?” The wife smiles demurely and says, “You should be thankful your radar detector went off when it did.” As the officer makes out the second ticket for the illegal radar detector unit, the man glowers at his wife and says through clenched teeth, “Woman, can’t you keep your mouth shut?” The officer frowns and says, “And I notice you’re not wearing your seatbelt, sir. That’s an automatic $75 fine.” The driver says, “Yes, well, you see officer, I had it on, but I took it off when you pulled me over so that I could get my license out of my back pocket.” The wife says, “Now, dear, you know very well that you didn’t have your seatbelt on, you never wear your seatbelt when you’re driving.” As the police officer was writing out the third ticket, the driver turns to his wife and barks, “Why don’t you please shut up?” The officer looks over at the woman and asks, “Does your husband always talk to you this way, ma’am?” I love this part. She says, “Only when he’s been drinking.” Talk about peeling the layers back.
When the Spirit of God pulls us over in life to examine whether or not our ministry is truly authentic, then what is it that might be discovered that we didn’t want anybody to see? For instance, Paul has just told us that with true ministry it is God, not man, that opens the doors of ministry. And since God opens those doors, no man can close them. What God initiates, God sustains. When Paul went down to Troas, God opened the ministry for him there. And in 2 Corinthians 2:12 he says, “Now, when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord.” But when he didn’t find Titus at Troas, even though a door for ministry had been opened, he left to go to Macedonia to check on him. And verse 13 says, “I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.”
You see Paul shows us that God is more concerned with a hurting brother than what we call ministry sometimes. It wasn’t an emotional whim that caused Paul to leave an open door of ministry and go looking for a brother who might be in trouble. Christ had led Paul to go after Titus. Now, how do we know that? From the text, how do we know that? I’ll tell you how: because Paul was a man that was chained to the chariot of the Lord Jesus Christ, so wherever Christ was leading, he didn’t tell Christ where to go, he was chained to His chariot.
Verse 14 says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” Now, Paul uses a powerful imagery here from the Roman culture. And what he was doing was describing his own submission to the lordship of Christ in his life. “Chained to His chariot” was a beautiful picture of that imagery. He’s talking about a triumphant processional of a conquering general. And when that conquering general would come through town, with that gold embroidered robe with flowers and the four horses that were drawing it and the branch in his hand and the baton in the other, but chained to his chariot were the generals of battle that he had conquered. And Paul’s analogy is, Christ is that conquering general and the believers who are allowing Him in their life to speak through and say to them what He wants to say, to conquer their lives daily to where they are totally captive to Him, those are the ones chained to His chariot of victory.
If we’re willing to let Christ conquer every area of our sinful self, then we walk in His victory wherever we go, whether it be through an open door of ministry or if God leads us away, it’s Him leading us away and we walk in victory wherever we are. When Paul left the open door at Troas, he knew that if God had opened that door that it would be open when he came back. No man could close that door.
And Paul goes on to show that the person that is chained to the chariot, there’s a sweet fragrance that comes from their life that speaks of Christ. Wherever he goes people see that’s a man under the lordship of Christ. Verses 15-16 says, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” We could put it this way: Paul says some are going to like it and some aren’t going to like it when we are slaves to Christ, when we’re slaves of His righteousness as he says in Romans; when we’re chained to His chariot. Some will, some won’t; and he says, “So be it.” In fact, he’s so overwhelmed with that he says, “Who is adequate for these things.”
But one thing will be for certain: the ministry of the one who is conquered by Christ and who is chained to His chariot will be unmistakably authentic and people will see it. It will stand out in stark contrast against those who like the false teachers of Paul’s day preached a different message, preached a whole different message of what man can do for God, rather than what God can do through man. By the way, you know who I think these false teachers are that have been coming against him? It doesn’t specifically outline it, but some of the things that Paul says, particularly in our text today; I think they are those Judaizers that chased him everywhere he went. Couldn’t stomach the message of grace because it was all about them and not about Christ. And I believe they followed him everywhere he would go.
But in verse 17 he makes a statement to contrast his ministry and theirs, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” What a beautiful text. And then this leads us beautifully into what we’re going to look at today. You see, they didn’t have chapters and verses. It was just one letter. It just continues to flow. What is it about authentic ministry that is such a marked difference to that of a person working in their flesh? What is the difference? What is the significance? What is the contrast of what Jesus does through a person and what a person might be able to do for Him?
You see, the marked difference is transformed lives that are the result of that. Not the life of the individual; he’s captive to Christ. It’s what Christ reaches through the people that God touches and changes their hearts. You see, authentic ministry will not necessarily be seen in numbers. It could be, but it’s not seen in that. It’s seen in lives that are changed. Lives that are changed from the inside out. No man can do that. Only God can transform a human life.
The proof of authentic ministry
And so we want to look today at ministers of the new covenant and how that enables us to be authentic in ministry. There’s something about the new covenant that will come up in our message that you’ll see, that enables a brand new way of looking at things. A brand new way of doing things. First of all, the proof of authentic ministry.
Now, before I read the verse, let me tell you the history. In ancient times the standard way a person or his ministry was approved was a letter of recommendation or letters of recommendation from sister churches that were sent that he took along with him and that gave him credibility in what he did. Just like today men—now listen carefully to what I’m saying—men had a way of judging men as to whether or not their ministry was authentic. Paul had evidently been criticized by these false teachers and evidently when he went to Corinth and that church began; remember he didn’t go to start a church. God opened that door also. He went to make tents and he met Aquila and Priscilla who were also tentmakers and the church was burst out of simple obedience to God.
But when he went he didn’t have a letter of recommendation. Mainly, I guess, because that wasn’t what he went for. But, knowing Paul, he didn’t take one anyway. And the church started and these false teachers capitalized on that and said, “You know what? He’s not authentic. He didn’t bring a letter of recommendation.” They must have said to everybody, continued to say, this man and his ministry are just not valid. They don’t measure to the standards by which we measure ministry.
Verse 1 then, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? Paul says, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?” Now, by saying that, Paul is referring to what he just said in verse 17. Remember, verse 17, he shows a contrast of two different styles of ministry. Two different messages are proclaimed. He says in verse 17, let me read it again, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”
Now he had shown a huge contrast to the false teachers and so he comes back and the false teachers would say, “There he goes again. He didn’t have a letter of commendation so he has to make these kinds of statements to give credibility to his ministry.” The word again indicates that this has probably been done before and he’s been accused of it before. So the word “commend” then is the word sunistao, and it has the idea of “to prove something or to establish or to confirm something.” It’s used nine times in 2 Corinthians, which shows you the depth of the problem that Paul was facing because these people were saying his ministry is invalid, his message is invalid and he is invalid. He doesn’t have the proper credentials.
You see, ministry that is of man—now listen carefully—must be approved and measured by man, or to man it’s not acceptable. Boy, not much has changed today, has it? This past week I got an email from a church in another state and they told me they were looking for a pastor and they gave me some qualifications. They had a little deal that was all printed out and it was just this past week. And it said on it, you must have a Master of Divinity degree or higher, must be of older age and have experienced a church of over a thousand for at least ten years. Must have that kind of experience. And it went on and on and on, and when I was studying this passage I thought to myself, not one time in that whole list of requirements, why didn’t it says this: he must be a man who has been conquered by Christ. He must be a man who is chained to God’s chariot. He must be a man that has transformed lives in the past that would give him credibility. Didn’t have a thing to say about that. Didn’t have a thing to say about that. Didn’t even have a thing to say about when he was saved or anything else; when he was called. Man has his own way.
You see, a piece of paper, nicely framed—you know, they make some beautiful frames today—that just makes that piece of paper look even more valuable. And he has a degree on it: PhD, DD, fiddle-dee-dee, whatever degree you want to put on it. A nice piece of paper and a whole list of well-known, credible references do not qualify a person for ministry biblically. But oh, listen, in our society, oh yes, it would there. This is what Paul refers to when he says, ‘Or do we need some letters of commendation to you or from you? Is this what you’re saying to me? Is this what you think I’m doing?’
Being criticized for not having proper credentials in man’s eyes was nothing new to Paul. We studied the book of Galatians together, and in chapter 1 they criticized him of not being an apostle, not having the stamp of approval from the apostles in Jerusalem. And he says, “You know what? You’re exactly right. I didn’t go up there for three years.” I love Paul. He said, “I didn’t go up there for three years. And when I did go up there I didn’t go to get a little degree that made me credible as an apostle from the apostles. I went up to see Cephas,” which is Simon Peter, the Aramaic name for Simon Peter. And he said, “While I was there, old James came over. Boy, it was good to see James, but I didn’t go to get credibility from them. That’s not what I did.” Then in chapter 2:1 it says fourteen years later he goes up, but this time he doesn’t go up to get an approval from them. He goes up to check them out to make sure they understand the message of grace by taking Titus and Barnabas with him.
This followed Paul wherever he went. What do men think about ministry? That is never the question. The question is, what does God think of my ministry? We live in a different day but there is nothing new under the sun. Mankind has his own ways of approving ministry. Do you know what mainly it is? Numbers and nickels. If you get the numbers it must be right and the people that are running the big churches, and you say, “Wayne, we are a big church.” Hey, I’m talking about big churches. We’re little compared to some of these. And the people that have all the other stuff, they must be right, let’s let them be our authority and that’s the day we live in because man does not know how to adequately approve what ministry is.
So Paul answers his own question; it’s rhetorical. Verse 2, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” I love what he says. He says it’s ridiculous that you would say we need certified letters of recommendation; because of your transformed lives, believers in Corinth, you are our letter of recommendation. Paul says without Christ living in and through us, without being chained to His chariot, without being conquered to His will daily in our life, our ministry would be invalid. And he says no matter how many letters we could bring and no matter how many degrees we could put on the wall, our references would be vain. But, he says, if our ministry was not valid, then you as a church in Corinth would cease to exist: you wouldn’t even be there today. You are our letter of commendation.
You see, when God is using a man that has been to the cross, a man that has let Jesus conquer that man in every area of his flesh, when he comes to that point and the fragrance of Christ flows out of him, it touches people’s lives and it changes them from within. And that is the proof of authentic ministry in any century that we live. That’s what Paul is saying. That’s what he’s saying. I’ve heard it said that a man’s ministry is more important after he leaves then while he’s there. Because if it’s centered on Jesus, when that man leaves it will continue right on to be centered on Jesus. That’s what ministry is.
We live in such an interesting day; everybody is looking for a formula. Everybody is looking for a quick fix. Listen, it’s Jesus or it’s nothing. And if I’m not going to get right with Him, if I’m not going to let Him conquer me in every area of my flesh, if I’m not going to be chained to His chariot, I can forget what He says ministry is. But I can fit like a glove in what man says ministry is all about. It’s two exactly different paradigms here he’s talking about.
The Person of authentic ministry
So the proof of authentic ministry is transformed lives of the people Christ has touched because of the fragrance of Jesus that has been able to flow through one’s life. But the second thing is the Person of authentic ministry. The Person who initiates, the Person who sustains authentic ministry is Christ Himself.
It’s Jesus finally being able to be Jesus in us. In verse 3 he says, “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ,” you’re our letter of recommendation, but you are a letter of Christ, “cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.” Christ living in Paul, and through Paul changed these people from within, and He wrote them as Paul’s letter of recommendation. That’s what it was. Paul says, ‘being manifested that you are a letter of Christ.”
The word “being manifested” is phaneroo. It’s the word that means not just to be visible, but to be conspicuously visible. That double “o” on the end of the verb means not just something that is visible, it’s put on display. It’s conspicuously visible.
Have you ever written in invisible ink? I didn’t know much about it. I just had it on my mind yesterday and I got on the internet and found out. You know what? That’s neat stuff. You can get the kind that washes off, too. But you can also get the permanent kind. I didn’t know you could do that. You know how you read invisible ink? Because if it’s invisible, how are you going to read it? You take a black light and you shine that black light on that invisible ink and suddenly you can read it. It comes alive. You can clearly see what it says. Boy, when I saw that, you can see the illustrations going through my brain.
The apostle Paul takes the false ministry of these false teachers and he puts it up as a back drop and he shines a black light on it and when that black light is turned on, the black light of that false ministry, suddenly people can see clearly what his ministry is all about. It’s amazing; you really can’t tell the difference until you put them side by side. That’s what Paul is saying. That invisible ink that is written can only be seen up against the contrast of something that is false to people who don’t understand it’s the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the ink to the Corinthian church. When Paul’s ministry is put up against the black ministry of the false teachers there it just showed up. It just came alive. People could see the difference and could read what was clear.
Christ working through Paul had touched the hearts of the Corinthians and the Holy Spirit had written them as a letter that proved his ministry. And he said it was read by all. Everybody knew it. Verse 3, “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us.” That little phrase “cared for by us” is the phrase diakoneo hupo hemon. Now that’s a different word. That word “cared for” is more of a “servant caring,” and it doesn’t refer to the relationship of a servant to a master, it refers to the work itself. It refers to the service that is actually done.
The apostle Paul says, “You want from me a letter of commendation? You don’t even realize that you wouldn’t be a church if it hadn’t have been for Christ working through me which is what authentic ministry is. All the pain, all the time that has been spent, all the letters that we have written, all the evidences of the fact that Christ was working through us in your behalf and you still want a letter of commendation?” Paul now is going to begin to explain why the ministry he had results in transformed lives. And folks, he’s going to begin to introduce the new covenant.
Now the new covenant enables the authentic ministry. In verse 3 he says, “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of human hearts.” And if you know anything about the Old Testament, that ought to come alive with you. The phrase “not on tablets of stone” refers to the law and the Ten Commandments. When Moses came off of Mt. Sinai and he had those big tablets in his hands and there were Ten Commandments, God had written on those stones. The law was God’s standard, not just for Israel, but for all men. But here’s the downside: no man could live up to it. That’s why it says about Jesus when He came He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it: dotted every “i,” crossed every “t.” He is the fulfillment of the law, the One who gave the law came to fulfill it and now lives in us and when we obey Him, love is produced, and love is the fulfillment of the whole law.
But, you see, that law was the standard that condemns every man. There’s no man that can attain to what the law demands. The stone tables upon which the law was written is the perfect picture of the hardness of men’s hearts, to whom it was given. In fact, in the promise of the New Covenant, the New Covenant that you’re under and the New Covenant that the apostle Paul was under, Ezekiel prophesying that says to Israel in Ezekiel 36:26, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
You see, because of the condition of man’s heart, the law only produced dead works. It didn’t come from the heart. It could only produce a change in behavior; it could not produce a change in the heart. The law could in no way produce what it demanded. As a matter of fact, Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far away from Me.” See in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, has come to live in us: that’s the promise, that’s the mark of the New Covenant. He has changed us from within; He has given us a brand new heart. Listen to what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:3-4. He says, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world.” God gave us a new heart. We have partaken of the divine nature of God. Our heart now is His heart. He beats within us. It’s His passion, it’s His burden. That’s what effects authentic ministry.
If you want to go back to the Old Testament, then you can have religion and performance and you can change your behavior and you can have all the dead works you want, but when you come to Christ, He that fulfilled the law comes to live in you and gives you a new heart. You become and I become partakers of His divine nature. Christ has given us a heart of flesh. Now you understand the difference in stone and flesh. Flesh is pliable; flesh can yield; flesh is tender. That’s the difference.
When Christ comes to live in one’s heart, that individual has just entered into the promises of the New Covenant, the covenant of grace. And when he chooses to daily allow Christ to continue to conquer him, and he lives chained to His chariot, his ministry is not of the old, his ministry is of the new. And what happens is, it is seen not in numbers and not in nickels and not in noses. It is seen in transformed lives of human beings that no man, no man could have ever done in a million years. The covenant of grace: it’s no longer up to man as it was in the old. Now it’s up to Christ who lives in man in the new. Christ living in us, changes lives through us. We don’t; He does. And the changed lives become evidence of authentic ministry, which is the result of living in the New Covenant.
Law or religion can change behavior. Law or religion can change performance. But only Christ can change the heart. He is our reference. Paul said, “You mean I need a letter of recommendation to you? You wouldn’t even be there if God hadn’t done something through me to change and transform your life.” Here is our reference: The changed lives of those to whom He’s ministered through us with the sweet fragrance of His presence, they become our letters of recommendation. Our adequacy is in Him.
What layers is God peeling off in your life? What is He peeling off today? What is it that maybe you didn’t want anybody else to see but He’s peeling it off like an onion, one at a time? Why would He do that? Because He so loves us. I’ve seen what He’s done in my life.
In verses 5-6, and we won’t be able to get to today, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves.” Oh, I’ve been so excited to get to these verses I could hardly stand it. I’ve never preached through 2 Corinthians. You want to know the Christ-life, you want to know the New Covenant message I’ve been trying to preach for years? It’s about to come out in ways in which you can’t miss it. You can’t miss what he’s about to do here. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves,” boy, wouldn’t you like to take that to the table of those people who are evaluating other people’s ministry, “but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” We’re going to look next week at the adequacy of the ministry. Today it’s authentic ministry, but next week we’re going to look at the adequacy. It’s only in Christ.
Let me ask you a question today. Are you willing to admit what you’re not apart from Him? I find this to be the most difficult thing I have to deal with in my life. Are you willing to look at the sickness of flesh? Are you willing to look at the deceptive things of flesh? Are you willing to let God just peel back layer after layer? If you are, let me tell you this on the authority of God’s Word, the same confidence Paul has I have it this morning. If you’re willing to let Him do that, the best days of your life are ahead in ministry.
I remember when God got a hold of me. I cried for three days. I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe all the stuff He was showing me about myself. You know, it’s a bittersweet message, isn’t it? It’s like full of pain, but it’s so sweet on the other side.