We Do Not Lose Heart
Topic: Stand-alone Messages Passage: 2 Corinthians 4:1–4:18
“WE DO NOT LOSE HEART”
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
This morning, we’re going to be looking together at 2 Corinthians, chapter 4. But before we do, let’s commit our time in the Scriptures to the Lord. Will you pray with me?
As Your church, Father—a people purchased by the blood of Your dear Son for the glory of Your great name—we ask that You would be pleased to bless our time together in Your Word. Prepare our hearts and minds to receive what You have to say to us this day. We pray that we will be faithful to the original meaning of the passage before us, while permitting Your Holy Spirit to apply it directly to our present circumstances as a local gathering of believers, brought together by grace and kept together by our covenant with one another. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I want to be very honest and transparent with you today. If you are visiting with us, we want you to know that we are grateful that you are here, and we pray that the Lord will be pleased to speak to you through His Word this morning. At the same time, I must say at the outset that I will be speaking primarily to the Temple Hills Baptist Church family. It is not very often on a Sunday morning that I speak this personally with you. You may have noticed that we did not include a “pastoral prayer” in the order of service today. That was intentional because this message is that prayer. I hope that you will recognize it as such as we proceed.
Two Sunday mornings ago, as I stood before you and delivered the final message of our series on the life of Joseph, I was very nearly brought to tears. Comments and conversations over the past several months regarding the future of our church and the focus of our ministry had resulted in awkward circumstances and strained relationships between some of us. Not by nature a person of conflict or confrontation, I did my best to suppress my personal feelings for the sake of not letting matters get any worse than they were. I came to realize that was neither healthy nor wise. In fact, the situation had reached a place where I was emotionally and physically spent.
It all came to a head two weeks earlier at our March members’ meeting. Following that lengthy meeting, I withdrew into myself for several days. By God’s grace—and I don’t say that lightly—I did manage to make it through the Good Friday and Easter weekend before hitting the wall the following week. I had become so low—so emotionally stressed and discouraged, and sensing that on the part of some of you as well as myself—that I very nearly cancelled my trip to Louisville for the “Together for the Gospel” conference...an event to which I had eagerly looked forward for two years. Had not Terry persisted in persuading me that I needed to go—that I must go, if for no other reason than to simply “get away”—I probably would have stayed at home and spent that week wallowing in self-pity. The “joy of ministry” had slipped (or been taken) from me, and I realized that I was experiencing what an early Christian mystic had described as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” One thing was certain: I would have been in no position to preach the following Sunday.
I’m not certain that I have yet fully “recovered,” but God has shown Himself merciful and gracious to me, as He always does. Six hundred miles away from home at the “T4G” conference, the Lord revived my Spirit through challenging preaching, inspired and worshipful singing, personal time in His Word, and the counsel of a number of fellow-pastors who love me and were willing to speak into my life.
At the same time, I was further reminded of pastors and missionaries who had gone before me who had experienced similar seasons of despondency. Out of his own experience, Charles Spurgeon used to regularly caution his students to beware of such periods in their ministries and to take precautions—as far as was possible—to safeguard against them. That may surprise some of you. That is because you have to have been a pastor to understand what it means to be one. It is doubtful that there are many in the pew who can identify with incredible weight of ministry.
The Apostle Paul was well aware of the weightiness of ministry. In one place he spoke of “the daily pressure on (him) of (his) anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). It is quite possible that no minister of the Gospel ever faced as much opposition from outsiders or criticism from those within the church as did he. Constantly forced to defend his apostleship and never comfortable in doing so, he nevertheless recognized that he must—he absolutely must—persevere...not for his sake exclusively, but for the preservation of the Gospel and the protection of God’s people.
His strongest and most personal words in that regard were reserved for the Corinthian church...a church that had allowed the worldly culture to influence its manner of life and ministry. Repeatedly, Paul issued to the Christians there words of correction and challenge intended to remind them who they were and Who they belonged to. No church today likes to think of itself as a church like the one in Corinth, but the sad truth is that nearly every church—if it is self-aware—can find some measure of application in Paul’s apostolic counsel to that local assembly.
As you and I look at 2 Corinthians 4 together, I call your attention to how often he uses the first person plural pronoun—“we,” “us,” “our”—in this chapter...more than two dozen times. Speaking in this manner, Paul is writing not merely in a personal sense but in a corporate sense as well. This isn’t just about him or them, it’s about “us.” And because the unchanging Scriptures have been passed along from Paul’s generation to ours, this is about “us”—you and me—“us” together, the church at Temple Hills. Therefore, let us read and hear the Word of the Lord together, and allow it to speak to us today:
1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 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. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 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. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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 seen are eternal.
Both in verse 1 and again in verse 16 we find the phrase, “We do not lose heart.” It is that phrase (“ουκ εγκακουμεν”) that you and I need to center on this morning. Although most Bibles translate it the way we find it in the English Standard Version, others render it “we faint not” (KJV), “we do not give up” (CSB), or “we never give up” (NLT). Paul employs the same phrase in three other places (Galatians 6:9, Ephesians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13), and we also find it falling from Jesus’ lips in Luke 18:1 when He told His disciples, “They ought always to pray and not lose heart.”
To “not lose heart” means “to not lose courage.” Commenting on how the phrase is used in this chapter, John Calvin writes, “We do not fail in our duty, but fulfill it faithfully.” In other words, the minister does not shrink from his responsibilities but discharges them frankly and faithfully.
As for their part, those to whom the pastor ministers are charged in another place—namely Hebrews 13:17—to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you.” The weight of ministry is enormous, and it is easy to “lose heart.” Just how are you and I to keep that from happening?
Here in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul provides three incentives for us so that we do not “lose heart.” The first of these is seen in verses 1 through 6:
We do not lose heart because we have a glorious ministry (verses 1-6).
In the face of opposition, Paul was motivated to persevere by the power of the Gospel so that, through his ministry, it would accomplish the purpose God had ordained for it to do. Often in his epistles, and especially in this one, he chronicles the litany of obstacles he encountered to get God’s message of salvation and sanctification into the hearts and minds of those to whom he had been sent. In chapter 6 (verses 4 and 5), he speaks of having endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, (and) hunger”...any one of which would have kept the average Baptist home from church on a Sunday morning. Through them all, Paul persevered.
He gets more specific in chapter 11 (verses 23-27), testifying that he experienced “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times (he continues) I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, dangers from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure...” And on top of all that, he adds, “There is the daily pressure of me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
In that last phrase, Paul shares his motivation for ministry...at least in terms of its subjects. You see, Paul was a “churchman.” He loved the church of Jesus Christ, and was willing to give his life for it. Every pastor worthy of the title understands what he meant. That is because, according to verse 1, “this ministry (is given) by the mercy of God.” And what a glorious ministry it is!
It is “the mercy of God” that keeps the minister from giving up in the face of obstacles and opposition. In addition, it keeps him from being a deceiver and self-promoter, as the rest of this first section of chapter 4 points out. It is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” that keeps him going. There is no greater reward for the preacher than when the “veil” of unbelief and spiritual blindness are removed from people through the preaching of the Word and “the glory of Christ, who us the image of God” is revealed.
The ministry of the Gospel is not for the fainthearted. It can be difficult beyond words. Indeed, “the god of this world”—a no less formidable foe than Satan himself—constantly wars against every faithful pastor in the fulfillment of his mission. But persevere that man of God must. In the end, even though visible results may appear to be few, it is worth every heartache and headache that comes his way. Heaven will reveal it to be so. That is because it is a glorious ministry. Therefore, “we do not lose heart.”
Closely linked to that, in verses 7 through 12,
We do not lose heart because we have a valuable treasure (verses 7-12).
The last phrase of verse 6 gives the content of the “treasure” mentioned in verse 7. Referring to the acquisition of wisdom, the writer of Proverbs (2:4-5) has said, “If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”
In Matthew 13(:44), Jesus likened “the kingdom of heaven” to a “treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
On another occasion, some men approached one of our Lord’s disciples with a request: “Sir,” they said, “we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Those words are like “music” to a pastor’s ears, and he hears them far less frequently than his heart desires.
The task of the minister is to help others find “treasure,” that is to see—to truly see and savor—Jesus as life’s greatest “treasure.” And with that objective firmly planted in his heart by the Spirit of God, he will “not lose heart”...no matter how difficult the task becomes. Look again at how Paul describes his resolve in verses 8 and 9: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not given to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” “Go ahead,” Paul exclaims, “Hit me with your best shot. I will not lose heart! I refuse to give up! I will not quit!”
This “treasure” is so worth every conceivable sacrifice that Paul was willing to wear “the painful scars of the Gospel,” just as his Savior had done, in order that those to whom he preached would hear and respond, and pass from “death” into “life.” Contemporary theology considers that “extreme,” which may help explain that the average pastor’s tenure in his church (according to a recent study by Lifeway Research) is 3.8 years. That study suggests that many have already “lost” or are in the process of “losing heart.”
There is no more valuable “treasure” than Jesus Christ, who willingly offers Himself and His glorious salvation to all who will repent of their sins and embrace Him as Savior and Lord. Jesus is worth everything! No sacrifice on the part of the minister or those to whom he ministers is too great. It is He who gave you life to begin with, and He who gave His life that you may live forever. There is no price that is too much to pay in order to know Him and to follow Him.
It is, in fact, what Jesus demands of all those who would be His disciples. Those who are not “denying themselves daily” (cf. Luke 9:23-26), have not “counted the cost,” and are not “bearing their cross” (cf. Luke 14:25-33), will in time “lose heart.” Pastors who are able to keep their “hand to the plow” and not “look back” (cf. Luke 9:57-62) are able to persevere because they know that there is no greater “treasure” than Christ. It was He who, after all, said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If those words do not resonate with you, then you may want to take another look at the reality or superficiality of your commitment to Him. Jesus is worth it!
The third incentive to not give up the fight is found in verses 13 through 18.
We do not lose heart because we have a confident faith (verses 13-18).
In verses 13 through 15 the apostle explains that it was faith that drove him to fulfill the ministry to which the Lord had called him. Applying a statement from Psalm 116(:10), he verbalizes the testimony of every faithful pastor from his day until now: “We also believe, and so we speak.” He goes on to explain the content of that belief: “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” Because Jesus lives forever by the power of His resurrection, those who are His by faith will also live forever. And what is the minister’s purpose for tirelessly proclaiming that message? That “more and more people” respond in faith, thereby increasing “thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” God is honored when people hear of His greatness and respond to Him in faith. That is how family of faith grows.
Verse 16 begins the final section of this chapter in the same way that it began: “We do not lose heart.” This was more than an idealistic affirmation on the part of the apostle. Paul was a realist, just as every pastor who is in it for the “long haul” must be. Notice the series of contrasting statements found in these closing verses:
“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction (amazing that he would describe it that way in light of what he had gone through) is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (passing away), but the things that are seen are eternal.”
It is that mindset and heartfelt conviction that gives a pastor—as well as his church—the courage to persevere and to “not lose heart”...to not give up...to not give in...to not quit...to not faint.
So, what does this text say to us today? As this messages nears its conclusion, there are several admissions and admonitions that I need to leave with you. First, the admissions, and these will be primarily mine. Call them “confessions,” if you will.
- I admit to you that I have not been as assertive a pastor as I have needed to be. Shepherds have been called by God to lead the flock of God, and often I have “pointed and shown” the way rather than “leading” you to it. Even after twelve years as your pastor, I continue to learn with each passing week what that role entails. No two weeks in ministry are exactly the same. The pastorate is not a light responsibility, and it has been made more difficult by being this church’s lone elder for the past nine months. Hopefully, that situation is about to be remedied. Contrasting points of view among church members are at times unavoidable. As your pastor I need to do a better job stepping in and mediating conflicts between the members of this fellowship, as well to better explain both from Scripture and circumstances why we do ministry the way that we do. For now, I ask that you be as patient with me as the Lord has been pleased to be. By God’s grace I want to provide the confident leadership that this church deserves to have.
- I further admit to you that I have not been as attentive to you as I have needed to be. By that I mean to say that, despite our love and concern for one another, our inherent differences have at times created invisible and unintended barriers between us that limit our ability to fully listen to, understand, and appreciate one another. I have been guilty of that, and it provides no comfort for me that you may admit to being guilty of it as well. I need to do better, but I need your help. Differences of valid opinion—ranging from racial, political, and theological perspectives—can be either healthy or divisive, depending on how we reveal them and respond to them with one another. I truly hope that we will be able to give each other the freedom to share our diverse perspectives while continuing to love and serve one another. Know that my disagreement with you does not equate with “disrespect.” At that same time, because I am your pastor, I am the one who must “give an account” to the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:17) for the sheep in my care and the decisions that are ultimately made.
- Finally, I admit to you that I have been more anxious about the opinions of men than I ought to have been. This fault on my part is more subtle and less obvious...even to me. In my heart of hearts I long to serve God and to honor Him in everything that I say and do. I truly do. But on occasion, I inadvertently find myself seeking the approval of others more than the approval of God. I have done that with you at times, remaining silent when I should have spoken up. I say to my shame. It is much easier to speak courageously in public than it is one-on-one. I blame it on a lack of self-confidence or a low self-image on my part. How encouraging it has been for me to be reminded in recent days that the Lord delights in using “jars of clay” like me from which to dispense his valuable “treasure.” Every divinely-called pastor of every local church has been called to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (cf. Acts 20:27) to his people...withholding nothing, because it is the Word of God that gives and sustains life and protects your soul from the world, the flesh, and the devil. I pray that the Lord will give me grace to be faithful to do that—both from this pulpit, as well as over coffee or lunch—so that He alone, and not any man, may be glorified.
A few of you have admitted to me recently that you are feeling a sense of discouragement when you look around and see empty seats once occupied by those who have served this body so faithfully in recent years. No one has felt the loss of elder leadership more than I have, but it has surely impacted us all. As with most small churches, a few have been called upon to bear the load of ministry, and those individuals are growing tired and are in need of relief. Recent discussions about the future of this ministry have added to the tension and pressure that we all feel. Hopefully, I am not alone in wanting to “recalibrate” in order to consider what we are , what we have been doing, and begin doing ministry together more effectively. As the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation point out, no local church is indispensable. In fact, we need to recognize that our future as “an outpost for the Kingdom of God” is always dependent upon our faithful obedience to the decree of the King whom we serve.
Given the opportunity, no doubt you would be able to add to the list of my shortcomings as I have just stated them. But let’s turn the spotlight of you for a moment and allow me to leave several admonitions with you in the form of personal challenges. I trust that you will receive them with the same spirit of love with which they are given.
- In the first place, let me encourage you to sharpen your spiritual disciplines in the manner of more consistently reading and meditating on God’s Word, praying more meaningfully, worshiping more faithfully, evangelizing more intentionally, serving more sacrificially, and giving more generously. Coming to church on Sunday mornings will never make up for the failure to cultivate your personal spiritual life throughout the week. Are you spending time each day in silence and solitude before God, tuned into the sound of His gentle whisper (cf. 1 Kings 19:12) in your heart? If not, don’t expect that you hear from Him clearly on Sunday mornings. Where do you need to improve in your spiritual disciplines? Where can I help you? You need to let me know.
- Secondly, it is equally important that you faithfully show up for services. The Scriptures exhort us to not neglect gathering together (cf. Hebrews 10:25), and you and I have even covenanted with one another to do so. That goes beyond the 11:00 worship hour. Our Sundays begin with 9:45 Bible study...but given the attendance in recent weeks, very few appear to know it. We also meet the first and third Sunday evenings at 5:00, as well as on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. Many of you seem to believe that these gatherings are “optional,” when in reality they are essential to the ongoing spiritual life of this church...not to mention your spiritual health. While it is recognized that you may not be able to be present “every time the doors are open,” I encourage you to evaluate your priorities at those times when the church gathers. “Reasons” and “excuses” may appear valid at the moment, but I urge you to lay yourself before the all-seeing “eye of God” in this matter. The reality is, your church family needs you...and you need the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ as we study the Scriptures and discuss them together. And, if I may be direct, I—as your pastor—need you. I need your encouragement. I need to know and to see that my investment in you is bearing fruit.
- The third area in which I would admonish you is that you share the Gospel with others. What that implies is that you embrace the Gospel and know how to tell it to others. It is this to which you and I have been called. Jesus has compelled us to “make disciples” (cf. Matthew 28:19), and He has given us everything we need—including His personal presence —to equip us to get the job done. Are you being and bearing a consistent witness for Christ? Are you living a holy life, one distinct from those around you? Do others with whom you work and live even know that you are His follower? I pray that they are able to recognize that you have been called out of the world by the sovereign grace of God to represent Him in your “little corner of the world.” Who is on your list of cell phone contacts that you should be inviting to our services? This church will never grow on Sundays and these seats will never be filled until each one of us gets busy about making Christ known the rest of the week.
- And finally, help shoulder the load by volunteering to using your ability and availability to meet the various needs of this local body. Be proactive in this regard because, like most churches, we have too few people attempting to fill too many roles. God bless them, but we need more who are willing to “get off the bench and into the game.” We should not expect others to do for us what we could be doing for one another. Our building and grounds are always in need of maintenance and upkeep. Our children’s workers are desperately in need of a break. We need musicians who will employ their talents in leading us in worship. We could use more individuals being trained so that our ESL program will grow. As for giving, are you being a faithful steward of your financial resources, investing in the work of the ministry here? The truth is, there isn’t a single aspect of this church’s ministry that cannot be improved as we work together. I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you about how you may become more committed to and involved in the work of serving the Lord in this place. Consider this your personal invitation.
Over its 65-year history, Temple Hills Baptist Church has experienced a significant number of “peaks and valleys.” I am by nature not an optimistic person. But fortunately, I serve a God who is. Because of Him, I feel confident that the Lord is not finished with us yet, and that potentially fruitful days of ministry for God’s glory yet await us. But that will not happen apart from your commitment—first to Jesus Christ, the One who died in your place in order to give you eternal life—and then to your investment in ministry of this local body. Jesus is worth every investment and sacrifice we can make for His glory. The challenge before us is both personal and corporate. With Paul, may you and I be able to say, “We do not lose heart.”
There is just one more thing I need to add. As one week passes into the next, the years quickly accumulate. I preached my first sermon from this pulpit more than eighteen years ago, and have served as this church’s pastor for the past eleven. Next month, Lord willing, I will celebrate another birthday. God has blessed me with reasonably good health and a remarkably supportive wife. Both of us love you dearly. At the same time we know that the day will come when we will no longer be with you. Terry and I had our first real conversation about that during the Christmas-New Year’s holiday. If you are not already aware, one of the most pressing needs of this church is for qualified elder leadership to be in place so that when the time comes to hand off the baton to the next pastor, that transition can be smooth and Christ-honoring.
Now, lest any of you hear me saying that I am contemplating stepping aside as your pastor any time soon, let me assure you that is not the case. I am not a quitter, especially when the stakes are as high as they are. When I was finishing college more than forty years ago, the Lord laid upon my heart Paul’s words to Archippus, found in Colossians 4:17. They have, more than any other single text, kept me focused in ministry. I quote it from the New American Standard Bible, because that is how I first learned it: “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” Let me say categorically, I do not believe that I have yet “fulfilled” my ministry here.
And neither have you.
By God’s grace, I hope to continue serving you for at least the next few years. The day to hand off this ministry to your next pastor will inevitably come...perhaps sooner than any of us expects. Jesus may return before that happens...let us hope so. Whichever is the case, it is both my desire and my goal that when that day comes this church will be alive and well...healthy in every respect.
My prayer for this local body is that we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, linking arms with one another in the great work to which the Lord has called us. He Himself has said, “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).