The new creation changes the way believer’s view others, it changes their purpose, and lastly…
The new creation changes the character of a believer’s ministry.
Getting at the character of Paul’s ministry, the flavor of his ministry and Paul’s ethos as a minister is important for all Christians since every single believer is called to minister to others. If you study the life of Paul and try to use his life as a pattern to imitate, then you might be confused because Paul seems to contradict himself. At times, he seems to be all truth. Other times, he seems all grace. The pendulum keeps swinging to either extreme, it seems.
Was Paul a legalist? Where everything is black and white and there is no such thing as a gray area. Did Paul have a right answer in every circumstance? It’s my way or the highway approach to ministry. Well, no, I don’t think we would call Paul a legalist?
Then, is he permissive? A permissive person says, there is no black and white. Everything is a shade of gray. Everything is opinion and preference and so I will pray for you and you will pray for me and we will never confront sin in each other lives. And we will all live happy, God glorifying lives together but really apart. I don’t think we would call Paul a morally lax, permissive person.
If you look at 2 Cor 6:14-18, here Paul talks about Christians being in relationship with non-Christians. In this case, Paul brings out the hammer of truth. He doesn’t mince words. Listen to what he says in 2 Cor 6:14-17.
2 Cor 6
14 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said: I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 17 Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you.
Harsh words. I didn’t really want to talk about dating and marriage, but it’s here in the text and Paul lays out a pretty strong position so allow me to go on a little digression. For Paul, it was inconceivable that a truly born again Christian would even desire to date or marry a non-Christian. Why? Because a believer and a non-believer have nothing in common. It’s like God’s sanctuary vs. idols–they share nothing in common at all. Or light vs. darkness. There is no fellowship between them. Those two things can’t co-exist. Or Christ vs. Belial, who is a demon. Those two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Paul says it’s the same for a Christian and a non-Christian. Sure, you may get along and have similar interests and like the same foods and watch the same movies. But that’s all surface level. For a Christian, Jesus is supposed to be the most important person in your life. And for a non-believer, Jesus is clearly not the most important person. So if you want to really connect with a person of the opposite gender and you intend to marry this person and you differ about Christ, this means for the believer, you won’t be able to share the deepest thing that defines who you are with your spouse.
You can chit chat with co-workers, but with your best friend, you go much deeper. How much more with your spouse, who is supposed to be your best friend who completes you. Christians share a deep bond with one another because we can share about something in common, namely our love for Jesus, which is so central to who we are. And in a marriage context, the bond is deeper because there are no masks. There is no hiding. You see this person everyday and they see you everyday, warts and all.
Thus, if you live with a person and you can’t talk about the thing that matters to you most, your relationship with Jesus, with your spouse, whom you are supposed to be intimate with in every way, what will end up happening is the Christian will need to keep stuffing his relationship with Jesus and keep his faith private. He or she will have to keep this part of his life to himself or herself and not share anything of real significance with his spouse. And in most cases, over time, the Christian will eventually push Jesus away from the center of his heart because you got to live life as a couple and it’s too painful to be reminded daily that you are living with someone with whom you can’t share the most important thing that defines your life.
In the beginning of your relationship with a non-Christian, Jesus might have been downtown in your heart, he was central. Over time, as the relationship with a person who can’t share the same love for Jesus continues, Jesus will get pushed out to the suburbs of your heart, to the fringes. So that you can go on in your relationship with the non-believer. It happens all the time when two people who do not share the same love for Christ come together.
Regarding this issue, Paul is all truth. He is bringing down the hammer of truth. This is the same gentle and gracious Paul who tells the believers in Rome to not criticize fellow weaker believers because God has accepted them.
How do we reconcile the strong, confrontational, truthful Paul with the gentle, gracious, accepting Paul? I’ve thought about this and studied this for many years. Here is my perspective. When it comes to black and white sin, Paul is in your face truth. He will not allow the gospel message to be compromised. He did not tolerate leaders who led the sheep astray by teaching a distorted gospel or a diluted gospel. He did not allow sinful, unrepentant sin to persist in the community without addressing it. But Paul was not a raging, hot-tempered, self-righteous legalist who wielded the hammer all the time. When it was a matter of preference, or the issue was a gray area and the Scripture is silent about what to do in a particular situation, then Paul practiced grace, especially when he was dealing with people who were immature in their faith.
2 Cor 6
3 We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.
Jesus himself warned that we should handle the little ones with care. In fact, if we are the cause of one of his little ones to stumble, Jesus said, a millstone should be tied around our neck and we should be thrown into the sea. Basically, we should die. That’s how carefully we as ministers are to treat little ones in the flock.
In gray areas, Paul adjusted to whoever was in front of him. To the Jew, he became like a Jew, to win Jews. To the weak, he became weak, in order to win the weak. Paul became all things to all people, so that he may use every possible means to save some. Paul was a flexible minister. He wanted to save as many people are he could. Remember, at Corinth, Paul was trying to save Christians, not non-Christians. Even Christians can get lost and stumble and even lose their faith for a season.
On the one hand, Paul was truthful in matters of blatant, unrepentant sin. If Paul called a person to repent and they didn’t repent and they fell away from God because they had hardened their heart toward God due to sin in their life and their stubborn refusal to own up to it, then Paul would have a clear conscience, and so should we.
But when it came to the gray areas of life, esp. when he was dealing with those who were not yet mature in faith, Paul was gracious. Because our words are powerful. If Paul spoke strongly about a gray area and the Christian who is not yet mature hears those strong words and stumbles as a result, then 2 Cor 6:3, the ministry would be blamed or God would be discredited. If Paul was the cause of a little one stumbling over a debatable issue, then guess what? God would hold Paul responsible. Ministering to others is scary business.
If you recall, the false teachers commended themselves by holding up letters of recommendation and by hoarding money at Corinth that had been promised to the mission field and by keeping the flock in bondage under a heavy load of Jewish traditions and rules. Even to the point of striking someone at Corinth in the face and overall causing many sheep to suffer because of the leader’s self-centeredness and blindness. Listen to how Paul, in contrast, commends his ministry and this will give you a feel for the character of Paul as a minister.
2 Cor 6
4 But as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything… [HOW?} by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, 5 by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, 6 by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the message of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left, 8 through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true; 9 as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look—we live; as being disciplined yet not killed; 10 as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything.
Character comes out when you are tested. Here, Paul shows what came out when he was tested. These verses are so helpful in giving us insight into Paul’s ministry, the character of his ministry, the flavor of his ministry, the ethos of his ministry. When you read this letter, 2 Corinthians, you almost get the sense that Paul is really, really insecure and so he is devastated by the Corinthians abandoning him as their leader and following someone else. We mustn’t forget–this whole letter was written to win the Corinthians, not back to Paul, but back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was not an insecure leader who needed a great number of people to follow him.
How do we know that Paul did not take their rejection personally? Verses 6 and verse 8. Verse 6 – he had “sincere love.” Paul was the recipient of both “slander and good report.” Some ministers are great ministers as long as you give them good reports. As long as you are loyal. As long as you tell them how great they are and how lucky you are to have them as your leader. But as soon as the sheep slanders the leader, oh boy, the claws come out and the gloves come off. The leader turns on you. If you’ve been in church long enough, you know that many church splits are nasty. It makes you wonder, I thought we were all Christian. How can we part like this?
All the love that the leader had for you turns into hatred. Instantly. This is not sincere love. Sincere love means I love you no matter what you do to me. My kids, they can mess up and do bad things to me 100 times, 1000 times, and I would still love them. My love for them is sincere. It’s genuine. But if I stop loving somebody because they don’t treat me well or they slander me, then this shows I didn’t really love them. My love was insincere.
In ministry, our methodology matters. It’s not enough to say, I preach the gospel. As long as Christ is preached, I’m fine as a minister. Not true. The ends do not justify the means. The fact that Christ is preached does not justify the means through which we administer the gospel. If I preach the gospel and you are bound by me and you suffer because of my leadership, then something in my methodology is off. If I am slandered and I fight back with greater slandering remarks against you, then my love is not sincere. It was conditional love, it was, I will love you as long as you love me, or I will treat you nicely as long as you are loyal to me. That’s not love. Love is, I will love you no matter what you do to me.
A true minister says, I will never be the cause of your suffering. If you are suffering because of sin, then I will call you to repentance because I am seeking your redemption. But if it is a gray area, a true minister says, let me take on suffering for your sake. This is the character of Paul’s ministry. Isn’t this how Christ loved the church? While the church was unlovely, while we were still enemies of God, Jesus died on a cross and suffered. Though he was completely sinless, he became sin for us and suffered the death we deserved. For us to be a true minister of the gospel, this kind of selfless, sacrificial, sincere love that is willing to suffer on behalf of the person whom we love and suffer BECAUSE OF the people we love has to come through. As ministers, we will be rejected, we will be criticized, we will be slandered. This comes with the territory. This is the same kind of suffering Jesus had to go through. As followers of Christ, our greatest suffering will come from people we try to love but who reject us.
As ministers, take comfort from Paul’s words to the Romans 12:17-21. READ.
Based on these 2 chapters, the new creation changes 3 things in the life of a believer. First, the new creation changes the way they view others. No longer seeing them through fleshly eyes. Through eyes of race or competition or appearance. But seeing others with spiritual eyes. Second, the new creation changes their purpose. Before you met Christ, you lived for yourself. Now that you are saved, you live for the One who died and was raised. You live to persuade people, ministering to them and pleading with them to be reconciled to God. Lastly, the new creation changes the character of their ministry. We are not domineering. Nor are we doormats. We are truthful when it comes to black and white sin. We are gracious in the gray areas. Overall, we do not cause others to suffer. Rather, we suffer for the sake of the people whom we love, and often, we suffer as a direct result of the slander and dishonor and mistreatment of the very people we are trying to love.
Who can live like this? Only those who have experienced the new creation in their hearts.