Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians


A Message Becomes a Ministry Open to All

2 Corinthians 4:1-5 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul has shown the superiority of the New Covenant as opposed to the Mosaic Covenant. There was a certain glory in the First but a transcending glory in the Second by virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit from Pentecost on. It is not with "veiled" face as Moses but with "unveiled" face as in Christ, all of us are being transformed by beholding in faith the glory of Christ. It is a process that results in a surpassing glory that remains.  This beholding in faith of the finished work of Christ introduces the believer to holiness of heart and life. Our best efforts and service are ineffectual. Sanctification is a gift of grace realized on the basis of faith alone.

Paul will now move from the inward work of grace in the life of the believer to ministry in Jesus' name. By no mean is this life of ministry limited only to an apostle or even to the ordained worker.  It is a ministry which includes every believer. Paul now opens his own heart in full spiritual transparency; he begins his longest dissertation on the Ministry, the Motives, the Message and Manner of life of the believer in 2 Corinthians 4-7.  We will triumph in union with Christ.

The glorious ministry granted to the believer is backed by two powerful realities never to be under estimated. This ministry of the surpassing glory of the Spirit of the Lord (3:18) is followed by the abundance of mercy once for all shown to the believer in conversion.  Paul himself could never forget that mercy which arrested him en route to Damascus. "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man. But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief . . . However for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those  who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life" (1Timothy 1:12-13,16).

The surpassing efficacy of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the unforgettable mercy shown to us in salvation should remove all fear and reason for discouragement.  To grow weary and faint in ministry is then a sin of ingratitude.  Paul rejects out of hand such a response ever.  God alone knows the power of discouragement in the life of the believer.  How important that we grasp these two powerful reasons for courage and faith! But Paul in the midst of severe trials says: "We do not lose heart" (4:1)

Rejection of Evil and Transparency of Life -- the Mark of the Believer   2 Corinthians 4: 2-4

Paul had earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:18 stressed the simplicity of sanctification as a constant beholding of the glory of Christ enabling the Holy Spirit to transform us from glory to glory in the image of Christ. At first flush it would seem so effortless. But such a faith frees the Holy Spirit to do his inner work of metamorphosis. But looking in faith on the Crucified produces in us a repudiation of every evil work.

Notice how Paul describes the believer's reaction to evil. "But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (4: 2).  This could be described today as "zero tolerance" of any manipulation of the truth for our personal gain or advantage.  How many today make merchandise of the gospel for gain, fame, fortune and the exercise of power! But before we judge others, have we asked God to truly search our hearts? (Cf. Psalm 19:12-14; 139:23.24)

I remember so vividly singing this hymn in my teenage years in a little holiness mission in Winnipeg:

Search me, O God! my actions try,/And let my life appear;

As seen by Thine all-searching eye, /To mine my ways make clear.

Search all my sense, and know my heart, /Who only canst make known,

And let the deep, the hidden part/to me be fully shown.

Throw light into the darkened cells/Where passion reigns within;

Quicken my conscience till it feels/the loathsomeness of sin.

Search all my thoughts, the secret springs, /The motives that control;

 The chambers where polluted things/Hold empire o'er my soul.

Search, till Thy fiery glance has cast/Its holy light through all;

And I by grace am brought at last/Before Thy face to fall.

Thus prostrate I shall learn of Thee/What now I feebly prove,

That God alone in Christ/Can be unutterable love. [1]

Our openly transparent lives should commend us to every man's conscience, even if his or her blinded mind may reject the truth. We "as in a mirror beholding the glory of Christ" (3:18) should be walking demonstrations of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul goes beyond this comparison to say that if there is anything "veiled" or hidden, it is because the god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of those who are perishing (4: 3). In other words we should never ever be an occasion for stumbling to any unbeliever - a high standard indeed but attainable as we walk with the Crucified.

Paul then makes an overt allusion to the creation when God said: "Let there be light and there was light" (4:4; Genesis 1:3). Such is the entrance of his word into a believing heart.  Paul's insight is that conversion is a creative act of God in mercy and he is always open to the expression of simple faith in his Son. God thus engages in triumph the very god of this world in his redemptive work.

Paul now places in order the priority for the believer. "For we do not preach (literally-herald) ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (4:5). Grace and I beginning ministry just after marriage in September 1950 took this text as our life long ministry text.  We have sought be God's grace to make this our motto--not herald or present ourselves but the Crucified and him alone. This has carried us through 62 years of service.  If you note carefully the text: you cannot preach yourself. Few indeed would take the text: Johnson 3: 16 in overt form. But how often we do it in spirit and gesture! But the text allows us to preach ourselves but only as "your servants for Jesus' sake."

"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say,'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

[1] F. Bottome, Songs of Victory, # 190 Third Edition , 1922