The Most Eloquent Advertisement for the Gospel (2 Cor. 6:3)
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, recently made news by announcing his intention to investigate several prominent Christian ministries to determine whether or not they have exploited their tax-exempt status as churches to provide themselves with opulent and lavish lifestyles. Those who’ve been asked by the Senator to submit financial records include Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Eddie Long, and Paula White.
Without intending to pass premature judgment on these individuals, Senator Grassley’s action is indicative of a belief that exists among most people, both Christian and non-Christian, that the conduct of a “minister” ought to be consistent with the content of his/her “message”. Grassley evidently shares the opinion of many who believe that the church and its ministry are discredited by the disreputable behavior of those who are its leaders and members. Conversely, the message can be enhanced and adorned by the godliness, humility, and self-sacrifice of those who proclaim the gospel of Christ crucified.
Whether or not these six are living in a way that undermines the message or in some way brings reproach on the name of Christ is for each person to decide. But the fact remains that how we as Christians conduct ourselves in the sight of others has massive repercussions on their assessment of the gospel we preach.
No one knew this better than the apostle Paul. In fact, most of 2 Corinthians is concerned with his conduct as a gospel minister and whether or not it condemns or commends him as a genuine apostle of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 is perhaps the most explicit example of this in the entire book. We will spend several meditations unpacking its rich and instructive content. Here is what Paul said:
“We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:3-10).
My concern in this meditation is solely with v. 3, where Paul writes, “We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”
Although the ESV translates the verb simply as “we put”, the present tense of the Greek should probably be rendered something along the lines of “we are trying to put no obstacle in anyone’s way” with the emphasis on Paul’s customary and repeated modus operandi. This is the consistent and committed posture of his labors as an apostle. There simply are no circumstances under which Paul would act any other way. There is never, ever an excuse for speaking or “ministering” in such a fashion that “fault” may be found with the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Paul's preeminent concern is with the “ministry” God has entrusted to him, not his own reputation or position or influence. The only self-commendation he cares for is as a “servant/minister” of God. He is more than willing to be slandered and ridiculed, beaten and imprisoned, just so long as the glorious good news of Christ crucified suffers no reproach.
The word translated to find “fault” (ESV) or be “discredited” (NASB) is a verb related to the noun momus, a name given to the Greek god of ridicule or mockery. Paul wants nothing in his life to be used by others as an excuse for laughing at the truth. If offense is to be taken at the gospel, let it be because of the content of what he proclaims and not any misconduct in his own life.
The “obstacle” or cause for offense is any questionable action or self-serving speech that would prompt people to doubt Paul’s integrity or sincerity and thereby bring the gospel he proclaimed into disrepute or cause it to be ridiculed or censured. In the immediate context, in relation to the Corinthians, Paul might have in mind anything on his part that would hinder their acceptance of him or their fellowship with one another or their commitment to proclaim and advance the message of the gospel.
Of course, there is no guarantee that in conducting himself properly and in purity that Paul (or we) will avoid the condemnation of others. “He is thinking of unnecessary offense and unjustified censure” (Harris, 469; emphasis mine). The notion that eternal life is available only by faith in a crucified and risen messiah is inherently foolish “to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). The Jews in Paul’s day found it to be a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23a) and the Gentiles mocked it as “folly” (1 Cor. 1:23b). But where Paul was able to avoid putting an obstacle in anyone’s path, “he professed to be scrupulously careful” (Harris, 469).
To illustrate Paul’s point, consider this hypothetical conversation between a Christian (“Steve”) and his unbelieving co-worker (“Mike”).
Steve: “Mike, did you have an opportunity to read that book I gave you about Christianity?”
Mike: “Yes, and I have to be honest in saying that I was offended by much of what it said. I don’t particularly like being told I’m morally depraved and a sinner! That’s not the sort of language that ‘wins friends and influences people’! It’s a ‘PC world’, Steve, and people don’t want to hear it.”
Steve: “You’re right. They don’t. But what they want isn’t of paramount importance. What they need is the truth, even if it hurts or causes offense. By the way, what was your impression of what the author said about Jesus Christ?”
Mike: “Honestly, I found it a bit ridiculous. That there is only one God who became a human being named Jesus is one thing. But to tell me that he lived a perfect life, died on a cross where he suffered for the sins of people like me, and then came back to life again; well, I felt like I was back in my college course on Greek mythology! Worst of all, though, is the argument that I need to ‘repent’ of my sins and put my faith in this Jesus as my only hope for reconciliation with God. How absurd! How arrogant of you people!”
Steve: “I understand your reaction, Mike. Really, I do. But I want you to know that I’m praying for you, asking that the Spirit of God will give you eyes to see the beauty in what you now find ugly as well as a new spiritual taste for what you now find bitter. But let me ask you one more thing. Have I behaved in an offensive way? Do you see in me any hypocrisy or insincerity or do my words or actions come across as incompatible with what you know about Christianity? If so, I need to change.”
Mike: “No, my beef isn’t with you. Your life is remarkably consistent with your message. I wish I could say that of everyone I’ve known who called themselves Christians. But I can’t.”
Steve: “I appreciate that, Mike. But you should know that if there’s anything ‘good’ in me it’s all because of the grace of God.”
Mike: “See, that’s just what I mean. I compliment you and you’re so darn humble! That’s a rare thing these days. In fact, if there’s anything that makes me want to read the book again and at least think about the claims of Christ, it’s the way you’re so unashamed about your faith and your love for God. You seem so content and I’ve never heard you make a sexual comment about the girls in the office. Yeah, maybe I’ll read it again and we can get together and talk about it.”
Although not apostles, you and I are “servants of God” and have a “ministry” no less so than Paul. What “obstacles” do we put in the way of others seeing the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ? Do they find “fault” with your life? Or are they, like Mike, curious about why you turn from immorality and delight in marital fidelity? Are they intrigued by your passion for the beauty of God and your disdain for the tawdry and unseemly trivialities of this world?
When they speak of you behind your back, do they marvel at your contentment or mock you for joining others in fudging on your time sheet? Is it obvious, in the way you talk and work and live, that your happiness is rooted in a transcendent power that cannot be explained in mere earthly terms? To live in such a way that God looks good is costly. Treasuring him above all may not comport well with the ambitious and materialistic ethos of our day. But it pays a rich and eternal reward.
Let us never forget that the gospel itself is more than sufficient to offend self-centered and arrogant sinners. May it never be that we aggravate this effect with our boorish and self-aggrandizing behavior. “It is always true,” writes Murray Harris, “that the life of the Christian is the most eloquent advertisement for the gospel” (469).