by Mike Ratliff
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 competent 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 ESV)
Over the last several weeks I have been on quite a “ride” emotionally, physically and especially spiritually. I began a series of articles that have been quite unpopular with certain people who have issues with preaching the gospel and law together as well as how genuine Christians are called to walk in repentance until they are taken home to be with the Lord forever. The focus has been on the eternal at the expense of the temporal and the flesh. We have looked at the necessity of living lives in which we deliberately seek to work with God in mortifying our sin.
A little over a week ago I was awakened early in the morning with severe pain all through my abdomen. Everything hurt, especially my shoulder joints, ribs, and spine. My eyes were as red as a fire truck. My face was swollen and covered in red splotches. These same splotches covered my shoulders. All I could think of was that that tick I had found several weeks earlier had given me some tick-borne disease. Since it was the weekend, I waited until Monday to go to the doctor. When he saw my face and how much pain I was in, he prescribed antibiotics and ordered several blood tests. He warned me that I might not like what they would find.
I find it very interesting that since that day God has had me concentrate almost exclusively on the gospel. Isn’t it interesting how there is such a stigma attached to preaching the gospel as did those great Puritan preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield? We know that if we preach it that way or teach it that way, right from God’s Word, that there will be scoffers who will do all they can to silence us. However, these are tests my brethren to see if our fear of men carries a greater weight in our hearts than our love and fear of God. Are we going to seek the easy, calm and popular way of handling the gospel in order to “get along with everyone” or are we going to treat the gospel like the good news it is. To do the latter requires that we also give the bad news along with the good. Much like that dreaded phone call from my doctor’s office.
I got that call a little while ago. It was both good and bad news. I don’t have any tick-borne disease. That was very good news indeed, but then I began to wonder what could be wrong within that has caused all this pain. The nurse told me that the blood tests showed an elevated enzyme level that indicates a liver issue. I am scheduled for an ultra-sound next week for my liver. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated my brethren. However, as I reflect on how God has taken me through this emotional ride that it matters very little who has a problem with the truth from His Word. We must never cease proclaiming the truth, refusing to compromise as we do not lose heart no matter how severe the trial or from where it originates.
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 only 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. (2 Corinthians 4:1-4 ESV)
1δια τουτο εχοντες την διακονιαν ταυτην καθως ηλεηθημεν ουκ εγκακουμεν 2αλλα απειπαμεθα τα κρυπτα της αισχυνης μη περιπατουντες εν πανουργια μηδε δολουντες τον λογον του θεου αλλα τη φανερωσει της αληθειας συνιστανοντες εαυτους προς πασαν συνειδησιν ανθρωπων ενωπιον του θεου 3ει δε και εστιν κεκαλυμμενον το ευαγγελιον ημων εν τοις απολλυμενοις εστιν κεκαλυμμενον 4εν οις ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου ετυφλωσεν τα νοηματα των απιστων εις το μη αυγασαι τον φωτισμον του ευαγγελιου της δοξης του χριστου ος εστιν εικων του θεου (2 Corinthians 4:1-4 WHNU)
Genuine ministers of the Word of God, preachers and teachers and theologians, are so “by the mercy” [ηλεηθημεν] of God, not by any acts or manipulations of man. Paul says that because of this, he does “not lose heart” [ουκ εγκακουμεν]. Isn’t it interesting that the gifting of the ministry to Paul was an act of mercy? This implies something totally undeserved given to one wholly unworthy. This understanding by the Apostle Paul cemented within His heart to never become discouraged, to lose heart, no matter what his circumstances devolved into. At every turn Paul found those in opposition to the gospel and his ministry. He was not only verbally abused, but beaten, imprisoned, slandered, hated, et cetera. That makes my few health problems and dealing with self-appointed naysayers seem like pretty light stuff. However, what Paul is teaching here is necessary for us to grasp. His ministry was entirely above board. He was not guilty of changing the gospel to appeal to the flesh, which would have made his road quite a bit easier. In fact, he admits that the way He preached the gospel insured that it was veiled to some. Some will reject it out of hand because they are insulted or offended by its exclusivity and demand for a life of discipleship and repentance as necessary in order to claim Christ as both Lord and Saviour. Many I deal with in this are of the mind that if the gospel is rejected then something is wrong. Could it be that the god of his world has blinded the minds of these unbelievers, to keep them from seeing 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 ESV)
As we minister in whatever capacity God has gifted us, we must proclaim His truth His way, while completely avoiding self-promotion. This is why marketing techniques and any form of manipulation to try to get the results we want is not of God. We are to preach Jesus and Him crucified and we are to simply be His servants for His sake alone. As we give the gospel to this lost and dying world, we are actually shining the light of the gospel into the darkness. The gospel illumines how Christ’s death on the cross makes it possible for God’s people to be in His presence, having been transformed by God’s presence and not destroyed by it.. Like Paul we are to preach the crucified Christ as Lord, and then we must live out the gospel in the service of our hearers or readers.
No matter what happens with my medical tests, I will continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified until God takes me home. I will never stop living out the crucified life, embodying it by the grace of God until He takes this ministry from me, all by His grace.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23 ESV)
Soli Deo Gloria!