Anyone who seeks to represent and serve Christ in the midst of a fallen world shall discover that it’s difficult, to say the least. There are countless circumstances that tend to cause God’s people to lose heart and to experience the following: frustration, anger, discouragement, disappointment, distress, and depression. (I’ve felt them all.) In the midst of these universal feelings, a gospel-centered life and ministry provide the means to triumph in trials. Let’s discover the keys to triumph as we explore 2 Cor. 2:14-4:17.
1. Remain Grateful (2:14-16)
In the midst of the struggle, Paul urges us to remain grateful and embrace an attitude of gratitude. Paul concluded his first letter to the Corinthians with the same admonition: “Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). The fragrance of Christ is upon His people. And that fragrance is a pleasing aroma to God’s people but an offensive odor to the world. The same fragrance is perceived differently, like the fragrance of incense in a Roman victory parade. To the Romans, it’s a pleasing aroma; to the defeated, the odor of suffering. So too, the conflict in the present Church age between God’s people and the world is real and tends to discourage and distract from the wonderful reality that we are triumphant in Christ and diffuse His fragrance. So, although we should remain grateful, it can be very challenging. This is why Paul asks the poignant question: “Who is sufficient for these things?”
2. Be Christ-Sufficient (3:4-9)
Paul reveals the key is being Christ-sufficient rather than self-sufficient. He answers the question Who is sufficient? The one who has a new covenant or gospel-centered ministry/life. Here, Paul contrasts the new (kainos) as different in nature and quality from the former, not merely successive in time.
The former covenant refers to the Mosaic law. It’s a standard that displays God’s moral ideals, establishes a code as an ideal for a community of God’s people to thrive, and reveals our inability to meet the standard(s), thus revealing our due judgment and need for a Savior. The former focuses on man’s works or performance. A performance-based perspective on life is almost certain to produce either a sense of pride or utter defeat and discouragement.
In contrast, the new covenant or Gospel focuses on Christ’s work! God’s grace through faith in Christ. Where the law says “do,” the Spirit declares “done.” Where the law and performance-based life produce separation from God and the sense of death, the gospel and Spirit give life! Where the law produces condemnation, the gospel is exceedingly better because it produces righteousness. You’re accepted in Christ!
In every realm, i.e., personal, marriage, family, career, calling, and community, we thrive when relationships are based on the gospel (what Christ has done) rather than performance (what we or others must do).
3. Have a Gospel-Centered Life That Triumphs (4:1-11)
Don’t lose heart (4:1): Since we’ve been called to a gospel-centered life and ministry, and are recipients of God’s mercy, we don’t lose heart. Discouragement is one of Satan’s primary tools to render us inoperative for Christ. In the midst of struggles with the world, the flesh, and among the family of God, DON’T LOSE HEART! Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t be discouraged! You’re Christ’s, He is good, and He has it all under control. You’re His child, and He will ensure that, in the end, you triumph. So, continue to represent!
Don’t compromise the word of God (4:2): Resist the temptation for an easier way. Following God’s commands, and avoiding liberalism and legalism, is only possible as we are yielded to the Spirit of God and the word of God. Avoid manipulating or deceiving yourself or anyone else.
Honor God and His word, seek to do what’s right, and trust God with the results. Proclaim the gospel without compromise, both to others and to yourself!
Do let the light of the Gospel out (4:3-11): Paul moves from the metaphor of aroma to light (five times in these verses). We’re simply earthen vessels, or clay pots. It’s what’s inside that’s most precious. The light of the gospel of Jesus is what God has called us to reflect, or represent, to the world. We are to pour this light out as we proclaim the gospel to those we come in contact with, whether it be where we live, work, study, play, or worship. We’re to pour out this light by centering our relationships on grace, love, humility, and respect, rather than performance. Your identity is not your ability to perform, and your relationships aren’t centered on performance.
The light comes out when the earthen vessels are bumped (vv. 8-9). Difficult circumstances, difficult people, unmet expectations, rejection, conflict, apathy, opposition, and persecution are all opportunities that God allows in order to manifest the life of Jesus to us and others (v. 11).
4. Know the Triumph of a Gospel-Centered Life and Ministry (4:15-17)
As God’s grace and His gospel impact more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That’s why we won’t lose heart … and why we won’t give up. The present struggles, as heavy as they may feel or seem, can’t be compared to the eternal weight of glory. And if they could be compared, it would make the present struggles seem featherweight. So, we keep seeking to experience the triumph of a gospel-centered life and ministry.