The Christian ministry is often counterfeit. Christianity is portrayed as rules to be obeyed or tips to have a happy life. These ministries don’t mention sin and are characterized by minimal tears and low hopes.
We see what real Christian ministry should look like in 2 Corinthians 2:12-5:10. Remember the setting Paul was writing in. There were internal troubles in the Corinthian church, including unresponsive leaders. This section of the letter is a long digression of Paul’s ministry experience. Paul refers to himself 80 times in our text.
In his story, we can see parallels in our own lives. The nearest relevance is to full-time pastors, but Paul speaks to all about what true ministry looks like.
Our text points out 7 marks of real Christian ministry.
1. Real Christian Ministry is Successful. (2 Cor. 2:14-17)
Paul says his ministry is “from God,” “to God,” and he finds it appropriate to “thank God.” Paul defines success as faithfulness to the Gospel. He says the message of the Gospel is death to some and life to others (2:16). Different responses but the same message. Paul certainly longed of the salvation of sinners, but, ultimately, he was concerned about being faithful to preach the truth.
Christian, be confident God will fulfill His purposes for you in your life. You can share this Gospel with others. God guarantees the success of His Gospel by raising spiritually dead sinners to believe in Christ with a living faith.
Pastors, you are called by God to preach the word. Pursue serious ministry seriously because the God who commissioned you takes it seriously.
2. Real Christian Ministry is Fruitful. (2 Cor. 3:1-5)
There was tension in Corinth for Paul’s ministry to be verified. Paul gives the Corinthian’s conversions as his evidence and verification. God had called Paul to be a change agent in the Corinthian’s lives.
We know Paul is confident of this call from Acts 18:9-10 where. Christian, your heart is there to receive calls from God on your life. God calls us into an eternal relationship with Him. Thank God for those who were change agents in your life. Consider how you can be used to bring fruit.
Our competence comes from God and He causes our hearts to be fruitful.
3. Real Christian Ministry is Glorious. (2 Cor. 3:6-12)
Paul was bold in his witness because of his hope in the glories of the new covenant, the Gospel (3:12). You see, God made the world and everything in it, including you and me, and has called us to live according to His ways (the law). But we have sinned against our creator, doing what we want rather than what God wants. And, therefore, bringing His just wrath against us for our sin. But God in His great love for us sent His son Jesus Christ to earth to live the perfect life we could not live and to die in the place of all those who would repent (turn from) their sin and trust in Jesus’ work of substitution.
You need a perfect righteousness from Jesus to be in fellowship with a holy God, and this righteousness cannot come from yourself. The law accuses, but the spirit saves (3:9).
Jesus is this glory. It is His righteousness we need and it is His righteousness that is provided—a righteousness that lasts.
Therefore, Christian, be bold in evangelism. Ask someone to hold you accountable for sharing the Gospel. This is the message all Christian ministries bring. Be bold since we have such a glorious message.
4. Real Christian Ministry is Plain. (2 Cor. 3:13-4:4)
God’s glory is veiled to some (3:13-15) and revealed to others (3:16-4:2). A real Christian ministry doesn’t vary its message to illicit certain responses. We know that some hearts are blind, while others can receive God’s revelation. We are called to set forth the truth plainly.
Paul is contrasting himself with the false teachers in Corinth. Paul spoke the Gospel plainly, knowing God would accomplish it’s through His sovereign plan and purposes. It is the sovereignty of God that guarantees the success of our evangelism.
What if you feel you are blind? Learn about Christ who said, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Christian, how can you better set forth the truth plainly? Preach the Gospel and leave the results to God. It is our confidence in the electing love of God and His irresistible grace that gives us any hope of success in preaching the gospel. Essential to faithful ministry is the conviction that Christ will more than make up for lack of thanks, lack of accolades, or lack of "success"
5. Real Christian Ministry is Christ-centered. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)
Paul didn’t preach himself but Christ. If dark hearts were to be changed, Christ needed to be preached. The glory of God is found in Christ, His love, and His compassion.
Christian, speak about the Gospel that shows its truths are universally the case for all humanity, not just what is true for you.
Pastors, preach Christ and not yourself. If ministry success is measured by being liked by everyone, then Jesus' ministry was a failure. The Gospel brings us God's true favor. Not stuff, health, or success, but God himself. We want people to know more about Christ then about you.
I heard about an elderly woman in a Californian church who, if Christ were not being exalted in a sermon, would shout, “Get Him up”—as in get Christ up.
Lift Him up as Savior and Lord. This is what a Christian ministry should do.
6. Real Christian Ministry has Trials & Treasures. (2 Cor. 4:7-18)
Death, poverty, and persecutions are all realities in this life, but thank God we have hope in an eternal treasure.
What causes you to lose heart? Won’t the things you hope in in this life, fade away? Let your treasure be in the Gospel.
And remember: Our examples of enduring hardship are often more powerful than our stories of success and triumph. We are a people who suffer. God allowed Paul to suffer. Pray for the false Christianity to end that promotes a faith that promises to relieve suffering. Even Jesus Christ, the One we follow, suffered. But Christ was also raised, so we too will be raised!
How are your current troubles compared to the riches of Christ? What if you found out you only had a week left to live? How would you change your priorities? You do only have so long to live! You could be spending you life glorifying God! We are called to commend Christ in our words and our lives.
Christian, we will always suffer less then we deserve because of the cross. But God is trustworthy. Trust Him through trials knowing a treasure awaits.
7. Real Christian Ministry has a Heavenly Hope. (2 Cor. 5:1-10)
We are to keep our attention on our eternal home. The Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing heaven. This is why Paul and you and I live by faith and not sight. We labor in a fallen world. We please Him, because we desire to one day be with Him (Rev. 22:4).
We do see this idea of rewards at the final judgment, but they seem to be small matters compared to seeing and being with the living God.
Christian, how are you pleasing God? What causes you to please God? Find it and cultivate it.
Christian minister, commend knowing and serving God and not yourself. Inability to celebrate a peer's success is a symptom of deep idolatry. We must not be content with the success of "our" ministries. We must not be content until Christ reigns over every inch of this world.
Are these seven markers present in your ministry? Are you praying these for your local church?