Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.(2 Corinthians 4:1-6, NLT)
As Paul continues the defense of his apostleship, he shifts toward several principles that characterize authentic ministry, all of which are rooted in personal integrity. In this section, there are at least five elements that he offers to the Corinthian church which are easily applied to modern day ministry.
- Authentic ministry is built upon God’s mercy. In the first verse Paul points out that his ability to persevere the challenges he faced with them was the result of the mercy of God. He had not only experienced the power of the gospel on the road to Damascus, he continued to experience the power of the gospel in his own life each day. The gospel is not a one time experience. It ultimately is a way of life.
- Authentic ministry must be practiced with integrity. Psalm 78:72 describes King David as a leader who shepherded the people with a “heart of integrity” as well as “skillful hands.” Ministers are most often evaluated by their skill set, whether it be preaching, administering, or pastoral care. These, however, are empty without the proper motivation of love and integrity. Without integrity, distortions of the gospel and ministry practices are often reduced to crowd pleasing. To this point, the ends do not justify the means. Nothing we do “works.” Only God works.
- Authentic ministry will not be broadly accepted. There will be those who do not respond to the gospel message. It is not because of the ministry or the minister. Rather, we must acknowledge that Satan has blinded the minds of those who do not believe. The reality of Paul’s world, as well as our own, is that there are spiritual forces at work, and the only power that can over come the limited strength of the “god of this world” is the limitless power of the God who is able to bring light into darkness.
- Authentic ministry must be conducted by “servant leaders.” According to Paul, pastoral leadership is servant based. The minister serves God first and foremost, but is also depicted as one who serves the people. He or she does not serve for self promotion or personal gain. Paul presents himself as one who served the Corinthians as a servant of Christ for their good and God’s glory.
- Authentic ministry ultimately seeks the glory of God. Christ is the subject of our preaching, and when Christ is preached, God will receive glory. If we are to see the glory of God it will be done through the face of Christ or we will not see it at all.
Paul did not see these characteristics as abstract theological positions. He understood that life change is a concrete reality that is done in the human heart by the message of the gospel performed in the power of the Holy Spirit. For us to reduce his words to abstract positions that are governed by our own feelings and experiences merely reveals the poverty of our own knowledge of God.