EQUAL TO THE TASK
September 26, 2004
I wonder if you are a person, like I am and like most of us are, who has at times come face to face with your own feeling of inadequacy for some task that was before you. Maybe you have an assignment that you are running out of time in getting done or a test that is coming up that you don’t feel quite knowledgeable enough to pass. Maybe you are someone with responsibilities at work which seem to require more talent and more ability than you feel like you possess. Maybe you have a bill coming up that you do not feel like you have the resources to take care of. Maybe there are relationships in your family or in your life which you struggle to be sufficient in wisdom and in understanding to deal with properly.
That feeling of “How am I going to be up to this task? How will I have the resources to meet this need?” is something the apostle Paul was well acquainted with when he wrote 2 Corinthians. There are present some critics in Corinth when he wrote this letter. But, more than anything, in chapters 2:14 through 7:4 of this book, Paul is dealing with his own ministry, his own service to God, the work he is involved in trying to do. He says in chapter 3 that it is “a ministry of the new covenant,” and in chapter 5 that it is “a ministry of reconciliation.” He is involved in trying to represent the new covenant and the message of reconciliation to people who are at times involved in their own interests, who are at odds with each other, and who have not cared what God’s will for them has been. So Paul says at the end of verse 16 of chapter 2, “Who is sufficient for these things?” The NIV says “Who is equal to this task?” Another version says “Who is competent for this work?” Paul looks at the job and sees that it is going to take somebody greater and with more ability than he personally has just as a human being. Who is sufficient for this? And then in 3:5-6 he answers his own question. It is a beautiful statement. “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.” There is the answer that we all look for. Who is sufficient? God is sufficient. He is not going to call us to do something or to assign us something in our lives which he will not be the sufficiency for, which he will not supply the strength for. Now how does God do that?
It is interesting that as Paul’s message to the Corinthians unfolds, it becomes apparent that God gives the sufficiency when you and I possess certain convictions about life and about how it is to be lived. With three great statements: 4:1 – “We do not lose heart;” 4:16 – “so we do not lose heart;” and 5:6 – “so we are always of good courage” -- with these statements Paul is going to lay down the convictions of a person who is drawing on God’s sufficiency. He is telling us that we will be able to meet the demands of our lives if we will maintain these three basic convictions of a godly person, of a believer in Jesus Christ. These three convictions are the means by which God communicates his sufficiency to us. They are in that way the sources of our strength and the way that we avoid losing heart or fainting.
BELIEVE THE GOSPEL
The first great conviction which Paul emphasizes is this: We believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now I told you it was a basic conviction. Paul’s ability to survive and thrive, his ability to meet the demands on him, his ability to accomplish the ministry given to him, his ability to withstand those who are troubling him, all come because he believes so strongly in the preciousness of the gospel. Throughout this whole context, Paul uses very sharp contrasts and very vivid illustrations to prove his point. And under this first idea, he uses the thought of “glory” or of “light” to illustrate the preciousness of the gospel. Notice at 4:6 he says, “The 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 Christ Jesus.” He is remembering there that time when the Creator looked at a universe without form and void and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He is talking about the glory and the wonder of physical light there. And he is saying that that same God has now said through his Son to ‘let there be light’ in this world of moral and spiritual darkness, that Jesus is the radiance of the Father’s glory, that the light of his glory has shined among us and that we have beheld his glory. He is the true light who enlightens every man, John 1:9 says. Paul is saying here that because we are so convinced that the gospel sheds light, that it brings life and immortality to light, as Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1, because we are so convinced of that, we don’t lose heart.
On the other hand, glory is also involved in this thought. In verse 4 he mentions the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” An alternative translation is “the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God.” The idea of glory is there. And Paul draws on in this passage something that happened in the life of Moses as he mediated the old covenant. In chapter 3 Paul has illustrated how Moses appeared before God at Mt. Sinai and how he was given the privilege of seeing just the hinder part of the Father’s glory (at the end of Exodus 33 and the beginning of Exodus 34). That glory was so powerful and it impacted Moses so much that his face showed some of that glory, and the people of Israel were so afraid that Moses actually had to wear a veil to cover his face.
In chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians Paul draws several contrasts to say, “If that old covenant was the source of that kind of glory, just imagine the glory of the gospel of Jesus!” After all, the old covenant was one of letter but not of spirit, according to 3:6. It was a ministry of death while the new covenant is a ministry of life. It was as ministry of condemnation, while the new covenant is a ministry of righteousness, chapter 3:9. That old covenant was being brought to an end with glory. So how much more will the one which is permanent have glory? chapter 3:11 asks. Do you get the idea here? Paul is convinced of the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus, and that helps him stand.
There is another side of this same thought. In chapter 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show the surpassing power that belongs to God and not to us.” Again, a wonderful picture is behind this thought of treasure in jars of clay. There are some who believe that the image is really the picture of those little frail clay vessels that were used for lamps in those days. Olive oil was put inside those shallow little lamps and then a wick was lighted and that provided light – light in that little clay vessel.
There are others who believe that this picture comes from the practice of Roman leaders of the time when they had conquered an area and captured all its treasures and valuables. They would come back to Rome in a triumphal procession. They would, of course, lead all the captives down through the street, but they would take the jewels and the precious things that they had stolen and display them in a clay jar as if to contrast the wonderful value of these jewels with this poor old clay jar which carried them. Paul says here, “I see myself that way. I may be a clay jar who is not very impressive looking and not very great or talented on my own, and I may feel insufficient or inadequate, but one thing I know is that the gospel which I am privileged to hold to and to teach is a treasure!” That sustains him and motivates him.
Let’s examine ourselves for a minute here with this point. Are we sufficient to do what we need to do? Well, do we believe that the gospel of Jesus is a treasure? Do we believe it is a source of light and glorious hope? Are we, like Paul, ready to stand for that gospel, not be ashamed of it because it is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes? (Rom. 1:15-16) Can we hear Paul’s charge to Timothy and not be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus? (2 Tim. 1) We are sufficient if we are convinced that the gospel is a precious treasure.
LOOK FOR HEAVEN
The second great conviction that is a source of our sufficiency is this statement: we are looking for heaven. We believe in the gospel but we look for heaven. Again, in 4:16 notice that Paul says a second time, “so we do not lose heart.” And what he begins to discuss is our feeling about our recognizing that this physical body is frail and temporary and is subject to weakness and death. In fact, Paul says in 5:2 that we groan, being burdened. Some people believe that that actually refers to a longing so deep that it can only be expressed by a groan or a sigh. Other people believe that this idea of groaning is illustrative of fervent prayer that is poured out from the depths of one’s being to God. But either way, the thought is that we see our situation, and we long for something better.
Look at the way Paul shows this point through contrast. In 5:1 there is the contrast between a tent and a building, a house not made with hands. Look at the contrast between the fleeting and temporary and the permanent. I remember being at a campground on Table Rock Lake a few years ago with a friend. We camped out there. We were sitting out on the point one summer afternoon and an Ozark thunderstorm came up. There were some people who had set up a tent on the point. It was a tent that had rods in it that made a dome and had a bottom to it. They left that morning in a boat after putting all their belongings in the tent and zipping it up. When that thunderstorm came up and the wind blew, that tent with everything in it was blown end over end across the water. A tent is temporary, but a building or a house from God is something far more secure and lasting than that.
Notice the contrast in verse 1 between an earthly home and a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. Then notice in verse 4 the contrast between being clothed and being naked. The view that these people held was that when someone died, that person’s spirit was unclothed and that person lived without a body. We want to be clothed. And then notice that he said we want this mortal to be swallowed up by life. Always in the Old Testament, the thought is that death and Hades swallows up everybody. Paul reverses that metaphor and says, “We want to be swallowed by life. We want this mortal to be clothed with immortality. That is what we long for. That is our hope.”
Through the gospel we have heard of eternal life laid up for us in heaven. (Col. 1:5) We have a blessed hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7) That is our hope. Therefore, our perspective is changed. We have a different perspective. And, notice again the contrast in 4:16 and following. This outward man may be wasting away. Everyday it may get a little older and a little weaker, but our inward man is being renewed. These afflictions are slight, but there is an eternal weight of glory. These troubles are momentary, Paul says, but our life is eternal. These things around us belong to what is seen and, therefore, temporal. But what we look for belongs to the unseen and is therefore eternal. Do you see what Paul is saying? If I am a person who longs for a home that lasts, and if that affects how I look at things now, then I begin to receive that sense of sufficiency and strength that I will need to do what God has given me to do.
AIM TO PLEASE THE LORD
We believe in the gospel. We hope for heaven. And the third great conviction that is the source of our life and our sufficiency is that we want to please Jesus. In 5:6 where Paul says, “We are always of good courage,” he talks about how we want to be at home with the Lord and how we walk by faith and not by sight. Then he says, “Yes, we are of good courage and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (Vs. 8-9) To please him! That is our aim or our goal.
Have you ever been watching a football game and see a guy get turned around and head off toward the wrong goal? The Christian knows where his goal is. He wants more than anything to please the Lord. That idea of pleasing the Lord means, according to Ephesians 5:10, he will want to test or discern the things that he does, whether they are pleasing to the Lord. A Christian is not motivated by “can I get by with this? Will I be lost if I do this?” That is not the question. The question is “Will it please and honor my Lord?” In Romans 12:2 it says that the living sacrifice is one who does what is good and perfect and acceptable to the Lord – acceptable or pleasing to him.
Now why is that so much our aim? There are two reasons, and they are the same two things that will motivate a person to want to please somebody else in any relationship. Why do you want to please someone close to you? There are two motivations. The first one is respect. In 2 Cor. 5:10 Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in his body, whether good or evil.” Paul is saying that we make it our aim to please the Lord because we will answer to him. The judgment will be universal. We all will answer to him. The judgment is certain. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. And the judgment will be realistic. We will give answers for the things we have actually done in our bodies, whether good or evil. No wonder we make it our aim to please him.
The first reason is respect. The second reason is affection – love. In 5:14 Paul says, “For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The idea is that if he loved me that much and I know it, it has to have an impact on me. It closes me in. It constrains me. It leaves me no choice but to want to please him and to want to love him back.
I heard the other day on the radio of a man in Florida whose place had been right in the path of these storms, one after another. And last week he finally put up a sign in front of his property: “1- Charlie; 2 – Frances; 3 – Ivan; 4 Sale!” You can see what he was thinking. He had had about enough. That is not necessary for those of us who are trying to finish our course and to fulfill our ministry and our service in Christ Jesus. The Lord offers freely to us the sufficiency that it takes to live faithfully for him. In Rev. 22 it says that anyone who is a thirst may come and take the water of life freely. I appeal to you by three great convictions. Do you believe in the gospel of Jesus? Are you looking for a home in heaven? Do you want to please Jesus? If you do and you haven’t done something about that yet, do so this morning right now while we stand and sing together.