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On Grind for Glory - GA

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Introduction

2 Corinthians 4:1–6 ESV
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.
Let me begin this message with a confession. Unbeknownst to most of you, I’m part of a growing group of PCA pastors who, over the last several years, have begun to network together around a certain concern. We communicate online throughout the year. And at General Assembly we always connect face-to-face around our common concern. This concern keeps us highly motivated and always seeking to expand our network.
The title of our network is the PCA Pastors CrossFit Group. To be a part of our group you have to be committed to the Word of God, the Westminster Standards, and to CrossFit. And if you don’t know what CrossFit is, any one of our network members would be glad to tell you. Our common concern is our physical health and well-being. We communicate online with each other about the workouts we do at our various CF gyms. We give each other high fives and thumbs up every time one of us reaches a personal best or a workout milestone. And our face-to-face time at GA is at least one group workout at a local CF gym in the GA city.
CF workouts can be excruciating. So, we network together to help each other keep on grinding on for our physical health. We want to be good stewards of our bodies, but it’s a grind! And here’s the deal. Even with our very best efforts towards physical health and nutrition, we’re only delaying the decay. The decay is inevitable. It’s unavoidable. No amount of exercise or healthy eating is actually going to change that. So, what’s necessary, in light of this truth is to have a longer term perspective. Our efforts to delay the inevitable are good, but if the decay can only be delayed and not stopped, it makes sense for us to have an eternal perspective as we live this life.
Down in v. 16 of this chapter Paul says, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Then, in the first verse of ch. 5 he says, “we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Why is it that Paul is reminding the Corinthians that our physical bodies waste away? How is it that he’s come to have our physical limitations at the forefront of his mind? It’s not because he can’t get his eating under control, and is putting on too much weight. What has brought home the reality of our bodies decaying for the apostle Paul is the affliction he’s having to endure because he’s following Jesus. He talks to them about his afflictions in ch. 1. He brings up his afflictions in ch. 2. He talks about his afflictions again down in v. 17 of this chapter when he says,
2 Corinthians 4:17–18 ESV
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 unseen are eternal.
2CO4.17
If you read ch. 6, what do you find out? He’s endured afflictions. For good measure, what does he bring up in ch. 7? You got it. He’s been afflicted at every turn he says. It’s not his diet that’s got the body on his mind. It’s that, for Jesus’ sake, he’s had to endure hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger ().
If you read ch. 6, what do you find out? He’s endured afflictions. For good measure, what does he bring up in ch. 7? You got it. He’s been afflicted at every turn he says. It’s not his diet that’s got the body on his mind. It’s that, for Jesus’ sake, he’s had to endure hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger ().
And chapter 4 of this letter is in fact bracketed by Paul’s declaration that he’s going to stay on his grind in spite of his afflictions because he has an eternal perspective. Here’s what I mean. In v. 1 he says, “For this reason…we don’t lose heart.” Then he repeats himself with the same words down in v. 16. “Therefore, we don’t lose heart.” What he’s saying, in these two statements that help us understand what he says in the middle is, “We don’t lose our motivation. We don’t lose our enthusiasm.” In other words, to put it positively, “we stay on our grind.” No matter how bleak and bad it is, we stay on our grind. Why Paul? Because, these things are light and momentary afflictions, and what they are doing is preparing an eternal weight of glory for us that is far beyond any comparison. We stay on grind for glory. He explains what this grind for glory looks like. I want to encourage us toward three things from the first six verses of this chapter: Grinding by Grace (vv. 1-2), Grinding Against the Darkness (vv. 3-4), Grinding in Hope (vv. 5-6).

Grinding by Grace

Paul says in v. 1, “Therefore, having this ministry as recipients of mercy we stay on our grind.” Usually when we find a “therefore” in the text we look at the verses before it to find out what it’s there for. But in this case, the answer is right here in this verse.
Therefore, Paul is saying, we don’t lose heart, we stay on our grind because we have something. It’s because we possess this ministry as recipients of mercy. That makes us ask a question. The question is, “What is this ministry you have Paul?” For the answer to that we look back in the text to find out what this ministry is.
He describes this ministry in three ways in ch. 3. He’s been dealing with are opponents who’ve come into the church and tried to invalidate Paul’s message. So he says, at the beginning of ch. 3, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves to you again? Do we need letters of recommendation to you, or from you?” Then he says in vv. 4-6, “The confidence we have through Christ toward God is that even though we’re not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, our sufficiency is from God. He has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.” The ministry he possesses is new covenant ministry. He’s not a minister of the old covenant, that he says is written on tablets of stone. He’s not a minister of the law because a change has come. Christ has come, and he has brought about the reality of a new covenant that gets written on people’s hearts (on the inside) not on tablets of stone. He says in 3:7 that the old covenant was a ministry of death. It condemned people. Even so, it came with incredible glory because it came from God. The new covenant ministry, he says in v. 8, is the ministry of the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit is poured out in this ministry. Therefore, it has even more glory than the old covenant. Not only that, the ministry he has is the new covenant ministry, which is the ministry of the Spirit, so it’s also the ministry of righteousness. Look at 3:9, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” This new covenant ministry is the ministry of the Spirit, who works to make people righteous in God’s sight.
He describes this ministry in three ways in ch. 3. He’s been dealing with are opponents who’ve come into the church and tried to invalidate Paul’s message. So he says, at the beginning of ch. 3, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves to you again? Do we need letters of recommendation to you, or from you?” Then he says in vv. 4-6, “The confidence we have through Christ toward God is that even though we’re not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, our sufficiency is from God. He has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.” The ministry he possesses is new covenant ministry. He’s not a minister of the old covenant, that he says is written on tablets of stone. He’s not a minister of the law because a change has come. Christ has come, and he has brought about the reality of a new covenant that gets written on people’s hearts (on the inside) not on tablets of stone. He says in 3:7 that the old covenant was a ministry of death. It condemned people. Even so, it came with incredible glory because it came from God. The new covenant ministry, he says in v. 8, is the ministry of the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit is poured out in this ministry. Therefore, it has even more glory than the old covenant. Not only that, the ministry he has is the new covenant ministry, which is the ministry of the Spirit, so it’s also the ministry of righteousness. Look at 3:9, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” This new covenant ministry is the ministry of the Spirit, who works to make people righteous in God’s sight.
in three ways in ch. 3. In this letter to the Corinthians, one of the things he’s dealing with are opponents who’ve come into the church and tried to invalidate Paul’s message. So he says, at the beginning of ch. 3, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves to you again? Do we need letters of recommendation to you, or from you?” Then he says in vv. 4-6, “The confidence we have through Christ toward God is that even though we’re not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, our sufficiency is from God. He has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.” The ministry he possesses is new covenant ministry. He’s not a minister of the old covenant, that he says is written on tablets of stone. He’s not a minister of the law because a change has come. Christ has come, and he has brought about the reality of a new covenant that gets written on people’s hearts (on the inside) not on tablets of stone. He says in 3:7 that the old covenant was a ministry of death. It condemned people. Even so, it came with incredible glory because it came from God. The new covenant ministry, he says in v. 8, is the ministry of the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit is poured out in this ministry. Therefore, it has even more glory than the old covenant. Not only that, the ministry he has is the new covenant ministry, which is the ministry of the Spirit, so it’s also the ministry of righteousness. Look at 3:9, “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” This new covenant ministry is the ministry of the Spirit, who works to make people righteous in God’s sight.
This is the ministry he’s talking about in v. 1 of ch. 4. This is the ministry he possesses. The thing that enables him to keep going, the thing that enables him to stay on his grind, is that he’s clear on the fact that he possesses this ministry by grace. The ministry has come to him by the grace of God, not because he was somehow deserving or sufficient for it. He says in v. 1, “we have this ministry as recipients of mercy.” We’re not deserving recipients. We don’t make the ministry happen, the Spirit does. We don’t make people righteous, the Spirit does.
This is all driven by the grace of God. We can be lulled into thinking that what Paul is saying here is no big deal. But at the very beginning of this letter he tells the Corinthians, “we want you to be aware of the afflictions we experienced in Asia. We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt like we had received the sentence of death. But this was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.”
Family, we possess the glorious ministry of righteousness as recipients of mercy. Here’s the connection. He has to tell them this because these Corinthian Christians had cultural values of their society that clashed with the new values they were given in Christ. And when he grinds by grace to push back against the cultural values that clashed with the new values in Christ it included an embrace of vulnerability that exposed him to being misunderstood and attacked.
What we do, he says, instead of losing our motivation, is (in v. 2) we renounce disgraceful and underhanded ways. What he’s saying there is, we don’t have ulterior motives. We don’t have some hidden and shameful agenda when we engage people with this ministry. We’re an open book. We’re not trying to trick people into the kingdom of God. We refuse to live our lives by cunning or craftiness. We refuse to tamper with God’s word. Instead of trying to be cunning and slick, by the open disclosure of the truth, we are commending ourselves to each and every person’s conscience in the sight of God.
We’re about to start our Assembly’s business. And this year we’ve got issues on the docket that reflect our grappling with the implications of faithfully pursuing the ministry of righteousness as it clashes with the values of our broader culture. May God bless us as we grind by grace through these issues to be open books; to reject craftiness and cunning. Even, brothers and sisters, to believe that those with whom we disagree are doing the same. May we engage from a heart that believes that our disagreements don’t come from a hidden and shameful agenda especially because we’re willing to be open books.
Two brothers I have deep respect and admiration for, David Coffin and Randy Nabors offered prayers for our Assembly in recent days. I think their prayers get at what it looks like for us to grind by grace in our time together.
David Coffin:
Pray also that the Commissioners will engage in debate with a sense of fair play, integrity and charity, and that they will be so moved by the Spirit of God, as to put aside selfishness, pride or party spirit, in order to glorify Christ in His Church and edify His people; pray that in times of work, worship & fellowship, the bonds of love & unity among our Elders would be strengthened.
fair play, integrity and charity, and that they will be so moved by the Spirit
of God, as to put aside selfishness, pride or party spirit, in order to glorify
Christ in His Church and edify His people; pray that in times of work,
worship & fellowship, the bonds of love & unity among our Elders would
be strengthened; pray that Pastors who come in discouragement would be
heartened & encouraged to be faithful in their labor.
Randy:
We confess every single one of our leaders and elders are only saints because you died to redeem us, our sins give us no inherent right to sit at your table. Deliver us Oh God from triumphalism, from arrogance, from condescension toward one another and toward those brothers and sisters in Christ who in conscience disagree with us. Clothe us in the humility and meekness of Jesus, fill our hearts with sincere love for the brothers, give us compassion and your zeal for those who are lost, broken, and captured by their sins. Give us the words of the Gospel to reach them. Deliver us from any form of Pharisaism so that instead of standing before you seeking to justify ourselves we would continue to cry out for mercy, and give mercy to others as you desire it above any sacrifices we might bring.
I know that none of you in here intend to make the ministry God has called you to about you. I know that none of you intend to grind forward in ministry solely by your gifts and not by grace. But each of you is gifted and called by God to his kingdom service. And it’s easy, especially when fatigued and tired to do ministry in a way that leans on the gifts while neglecting the gift giver. (My trial sermon…) Grinding by grace takes you off of the throne in your own mind and heart. This is the kind of transformation that everyone needs. In fact, it’s the kind of transformation that the world needs. So, we’re not peddlers of the word of God. We don’t tamper with the word, we’re about the open disclosure of the truth because we don’t want anybody to be deceived about what it means to follow Jesus.
See, grinding by grace takes me off of the throne in my own mind and heart. So, we’re not peddlers of the word of God. We don’t tamper with the word, we’re about the open disclosure of the truth because we don’t want anybody to be deceived.

Grinding Against the Darkness

The reason that this grind has to be by grace is because it’s a grind against the darkness. Notice what he says at the end of v. 2, “we are commending ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” We are not discriminating about who we extend this transforming grace to. In the Greek text the word “every” is in the position of emphasis. He’s saying, we commend ourselves to every possible variety of the human conscience, Corinthian and non-Corinthian, Christian and non-Christian. And this has to be by grace because not everybody’s going to receive it. We’re going to lay the gospel out plainly, he says, so that everyone can judge for themselves, but not everybody’s going to judge rightly.
These are hard words in vv. 3-4. “But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to prevent them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” These are hard words to hear, but they're not difficult words to grasp. Darkness is real. Evil is real. Sometimes we experience the depth and darkness of evil. We experience the trauma of it. The apostle speaks in terms of two ages. The present age and the age to come. The age to come is the age of glory when everything wrong will be made right, and it will be clear to all that Jesus is Lord and God, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess it. But in the present age, Satan still has influence. So we encounter evil. We encounter evil people. We encounter evil systems and structures that oppress and destroy people.
The Bible takes the devil seriously. It’s often people who don’t. We could ask, “What is the chief end of Satan?” The answer would be, “To deny God his rightful glory by preventing people from enjoying him forever.” Paul is saying, this grind for glory is a grind against the darkness because Satan is real.
It is a grind against the darkness because there is a veil over the minds of those who don’t believe. And those who don’t believe don’t realize that they have a veil over their minds. They don’t realize that, spiritually speaking, they cannot see. What’s so hard about this is that this unbelief has consequences. Paul says, if our gospel is veiled, if this ministry of the Spirit, this ministry that brings righteousness, this ministry that fixes you spiritually can’t be seen by you, you are perishing. He’s used this language of veiled and unveiled already in ch. 3. Speaking of his fellow Jews, he says in 3:14, “their minds were hardened. To this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away…when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” Now he’s expanding the description to every person who doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But notice this with me please. The truth that Paul is expressing here reflects a certain disposition towards those who can be described as unbelievers. Nobody gets to say “the devil made me do it.” Everyone is responsible for their own sin and unbelief. But because the god of this age works to blind minds, the grind against the darkness is not primarily a grind against people. It’s a grind against him with a desire the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ break through the darkness and overcome the blindness. The disposition towards those who don’t believe is one of love, not hatred. What we hate are the works of the devil. Our steadfast refusal to tamper with God’s word presses us forward to a love that might look strange. I love the way Rosaria Butterfield expresses this in her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radical Hospitality in a Post-Christian World.
She says, what we desire is to see strangers becomes neighbors, neighbors become friends and friends become family. This requires a radically ordinary hospitality that provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do. Engaging in radically ordinary hospitality means we know that only hypocrites and cowards let their words be stronger than their relationships; making sneaky raids into culture on social media; or behaving like moralizing social prigs in the neighborhood. Radically ordinary hospitality shows this skeptical post-Christian world what authentic Christianity looks like.
Much of what we will engage in this week is a grind against the darkness. May God give us the grace as we resist the works of the devil to do it in such a way that also communicates a desire to build strong relationships with those who think differently that we do, even if their minds are blinded to the glorious gospel of Christ; to communicate in a way that demonstrates a desire for our relationships to be as strong as our words.

Grinding in Hope

Here’s what makes this possible. We can grind for God’s glory in this way, grinding against the darkness, because we grind in hope. Darkness actually doesn’t get to have the final say. Darkness doesn’t get to win the day. Paul basically says to the Corinthians in v. 5, “I am your slave for Jesus’ sake.” Because of what Jesus has done for me, and because of the ministry that he has given me, I am your slave. Because he is a slave of Jesus Christ, he is a slave of the Corinthians. What he keeps communicating to them, what he keeps proclaiming to them is Jesus Christ as Lord. He’s making a distinction between himself and those who are trying to discredit him among the Corinthians. They’re trying to make much of themselves, he’s saying. But here’s the mark of true ministry. The minister who makes much of himself is no minister at all. The minister who makes the ministry about him, who doesn’t pursue this combination of the open proclamation of the truth of God’s word along with the humble commitment to serving the people, is discredited as a minister.
Here’s the point. Paul can continue to grind against the darkness, yes because he grinds by grace, but also because he grinds in hope. He commits himself to them like a slave. Realize that these aren’t folk who’ve got their acts together. These are people who are struggling to live out the implications of the gospel. These are people who have all kinds of issues, who are living like Christ has made no difference to them. Why would he commit himself to them? It’s because he grinds in hope. His statement of hope is v. 6. “The God who said, ‘light will shine out of darkness,’ he has shone in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” From the very beginning, God has been a specialist in bringing light into the darkness. I proclaim Christ as Lord because he has shined a light into the darkest reaches of my heart, and I therefore know that he can shine his light into the darkest reaches of your hearts too. Isaiah was right when he said to the people that one day the Lord would be their everlasting light, and their God would be their glory. It’s happened for me, and because of God’s mercy I now see that glory in the face of Jesus Christ. I keep going. I keep grinding. I don’t lose my motivation for ministry because I’m driven by that same hope manifesting itself among you Corinthians. I believe that it’s happening.
Why do we continue to press forward? Why do we commit ourselves to extending the grace of Jesus Christ to as many people as we can, including ourselves? It is because of this singular reality. God has shone in our hearts to illuminate them with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Our eyes have been opened by grace, and we live in the hope that he will use us to open the eyes of others to see this same glorious Jesus we’ve come to love.
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