Time is pressing on in sermon preparation, so on this Saturday afternoon I thought I'd share my morning thoughts.
Perhaps your feeling tired or jaded in the work. Maybe you feel the burden of the responsibility to preach. "Who" you may wonder "is sufficient for these things?"
In 2 Corinthians 1-2 Paul has been wrestling with this question. He clearly had detractors who were running down his credentials. After laying out his defense, in 1.12-2.11, he asserts that his change of plans was neither whimsical or selfish. Instead he delayed his visit to spare pain to God's flock.
In 2.14-17 he deals with Christian conquest, for Christ has called them, as ministers, to diffuse fragrance around the globe in Christ's Gospel victory march.
Next in 3.1-3 he shows that in exercising his powerful, successful mission, through God's means of grace, he needs no other, human, Christian commendation, for results speak for themselves: Corinthian conversion and church planting is proof enough of divine power at work in Paul's apostolic efforts. The fruit of New Covenant ministry is seen in the regeneration of the 'living letters' that Christ, through Gospel ministry, has written on living 'fleshy' human hearts
Then, in 3.4-6, he insists that such apostolic boasting and ministerial Christian competence is not sourced in self but no other source than God - it is Christ who sends His Spirit, as the Gospel message is preached, that brings no mere intellectual appreciation but deep lasting spiritual change in lives. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 3.6:
"God has made us competent to be ministers of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Are you feeling daunted by the prospect of facing God's people? Do you feel exhausted as you are working through exegesis? Are you feeling crushed by the challenge of speaking for Christ?
Well in case you are tempted to think it all depends on you, to rely on natural gifts, or spend hours chopping and changing words; in case you hope you'll find the right illustration or application, in the hope to sanctifying lives or saving souls; let me give you five applications that naturally flow from these verses, to drive away any futile, silly, hope that we entertain in self.
I hope you won't take offense if I use the acronym D.O.P.E.Y.
D for DEPENDENT.
Don't lean on yourself. Start relying on God. Of course you are not competent to think one holy thought let alone concoct addresses that aim at changing lives for God. Calvin makes it clear, in his commentary, that the effects of sin in ministers or hearers completely rule that out. Listen to Paul again:
"Our sufficiency comes from God."
O for OPTIMISTIC.
By nature I'm happy to say I'm an optimist at heart. Yet far too easily, in the spiritual realm, we find our carnal optimism becomes glib or unrealistic. However, the fact that God is with us, and all authority is given to Christ, should expect all faithful pastors to anticipate spiritual fruit. As Paul says again in 2 Corinthians 3.4:
"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God."
Such confidence as this - that when we open the book, having worked hard at the text, that by the help of Christ, his ministers are used to inscribe God's Word on lives. Is that what you expect? Don't anticipate anything less, O carnal pessimist!
P for PRAYERFUL.
If there is no sufficiency in ourselves, and we are personally incompetent without help, then the key part of preparation is prayer while falling on our knees.
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY AS IF SALVATION OF SOULS DEPENDED ON IT - AS IF IT WAS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, HEAVEN AND HELL, TIME AND ETERNITY - NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU MUST BUT BECAUSE IT REALLY DOES DEPEND ON GOD'S DECREED APPOINTED MEANS OF SAVING SOULS AND SANCTIFYING SAINTS: PRAY, PRAY, PRAY ASKING GOD TO STIR YOU TO PRAY FOR HIS POWER IN PREACHING ACCORDING TO HIS PROMISE.
We must ask for assistance. We need God's promised help. We mustn't rely on flesh, or we are sure to disappoint. If a prayerless, powerful, preacher is a spiritual oxymoron, then we must give ourselves again to the great, glorious, gift of prayer. If the church is in decline, or our preaching yields little fruit, all other things being equal, even in 'small things' days, it's probably quite likely, though we strive at being faithful, that prayer has been neglected. Ask, seek, knock and intensify with fasts. If you are hungry for God's unction, and starving for the Spirit's work, it's worth denying self, to see God's power unleashed.
E for ENTIRELY.
Paul is not simply speaking about a general competence. Even more than that, he means complete and total sufficiency. Nothing that Gospel ministers require for the work is lacking or left-out. All is fully supplied, by the elective decree of God, and the purchase of Christ's blood, for the faithful, humble, prayerful ministers of the New Covenant - all for the purpose of harvesting white, ripe, fields, for which he raised His workers up. He has abundant grace and mercy to save, sanctify, support and sustain those who receive your ministrations. There is power to produce radical self-crucifying, soul-resurrecting conversion and conformity to the Lord Jesus. He gives gifts and graces, through His own appointed means, and all tools are in the box to help ministers do God's work.
Y for YAHWEH.
Have we forgotten the LORD whose Word it is, who is faithful to His promises, and sent His Son to secure the Covenant. Failure is impossible in the gathering and growing of His elect, for whom Christ's blood was shed. He is the Great I AM! He is the First and Last! He is the Sovereign God! His throne of mercy and grace has power to bestow without any human limit or any demonic hindrance. We dare not trust ourselves. We must not lean on flesh. We should appeal to the Father, through the Son, to send forth the help of blessed Holy Spirit. And if he gives us the competence, who are we not to boast in this confidence.
Do you, then, believe, the teaching of this text? Repent if you lack confidence, have leaned on carnal plans, have become a Gospel pessimist, or forgot God your strength:
"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 the New Covenant."
Have you been dopey by depending on yourself or doubting God's Word? O preacher of the Gospel believer you competence comes from God. Be happy, holy and D.O.P.E.Y or Dependent, Optimistic,** P**rayerful, Entirely in Yahweh.