2 Corinthians 4:1–7
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2) But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (5) For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (6) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (7) But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Today we end our series on regeneration—the biblical teaching about the reality of being born again. We’re ending on the ground. On the street. In the car. At Dunn Brothers. In the back yard. In school. At work. Over lunch. On the phone. On Facebook and My Space. And text messaging. And Skyping. And blogging. And airplanes. And a hundred ordinary conversations. We’re ending with personal evangelism—an old-fashioned commitment in new contexts for the sake of new birth in thousands of spiritually dead people for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Born Again Through the Gospel
Last week we reaffirmed the biblical truth of 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God”—followed by the explanation in verse 25: “This word is the good news that was preached to you.” In other words, God brings about the new birth through the gospel—the good news that God sent his Son into the world to live a perfect life, die for sinners, absorb the wrath of God, take away our guilt, provide the gift of righteousness, and give eternal joy through faith alone apart from works of the law.
People are born again through hearing that news, and never born again without it. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So when we asked, what should we do to help people be born again, the biblical answer was plain: Tell people the good news from a heart of love and a life of service.
Now today what I hope to do is underline that main point with a couple new texts and then give you a collection of encouragements and practical helps.
Our Condition Without Christ
Look with me at today’s text from 2 Corinthians 4. Start with the condition people are in without Christ. Verse 4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” People who don’t believe in Christ are blind. They can’t see Christ as supremely valuable, and so they won’t receive him as their Treasure and so they are not saved. A work of God is needed in their lives to open their eyes and give them life so they can see and receive Christ as Savior and Lord and Treasure of their lives. That work of God is called new birth.
The Solution: New Birth
Then look at the solution to this condition of blindness and perishing. Verse 6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is a description of the new birth, even though that term is not used. The God who created light in the beginning does the same thing in the human heart. Only the light this time is not physical light, but “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Or as verse 4 calls it “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”
He causes the human heart to see the truth and beauty and worth of Christ—the glory of Christ. And when we see him for who he really is, we receive him for who he is. And to as many as received him he gave power to become the children of God (John 1:12). That’s what we want for our children—at six or sixteen or twenty-six—and for our parents and our spouses and our neighbors and colleagues and our friends at school. We want the light to shine in their hearts so they see and receive Christ. We want them to be born again.
The Human Means God Uses: Gospel-Telling
Then, third, look at the human means God uses to make this happen. Verse 5: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul’s role was to proclaim Christ from a heart of love and a life of service. That proclamation is called the gospel in verse 3: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.” It’s the gospel that spiritually blind people can’t see and spiritually deaf people can’t hear. So our answer to the question, “What should we do to help people be born again?” is: Tell them the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service.
“I Am Sending You to Open Their Eyes”
Let me give you one more picture of this before we turn to the collection of encouragements and practical helps. In Acts 26, Paul is telling King Agrippa about his conversion and his call to the ministry. He reports the spectacular encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. Then he reports the commission that Christ gave him. It’s the words of the commission that are so amazing and relevant for our concern with evangelism.
He tells us in versed 15-17 what Jesus told him: “‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you . . . .” Now listen carefully to what Jesus says he is sending Paul to do in his gospel-telling ministry. Verse 18: “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
According to 2 Corinthians 4, people are spiritually blind until God gives them eyes to see, that is, until God causes them to be born again. But here Jesus says in verse 18, “I am sending you to open their eyes.” The point is not hard to see. God opens the eyes of the blind to see the truth and beauty and worth of Christ. But he does by sending people to tell the good news from hearts of love and lives of service.
That is what I find myself praying or more and more. Lord, fill our church with a passion to open the eyes of the blind. Fill us with a passion to do what God uses to bring about the new birth. I say to you what Jesus said to Paul in Acts 26:18: I send you to open their eyes. Don’t stop because you can’t. Of course you can’t. But the fact that you can’t make electricity or create light never stops you from flipping light switches. The fact that you can’t create fire in cylinders never stops you from turning the car key. The fact that you can’t create cell tissue never stops you from eating your meals. So don’t let the fact that you can’t cause the new birth stop you from telling the gospel. That is how people are born again—through the living and abiding word, the good news of Jesus Christ.
Ten Encouragements to Gospel-Telling
So here are a few encouragements that I hope will help you.
1) Know This: God Uses Clay Pots
Back in our text, consider 2 Corinthians 4:7. We don’t usually read it in context. So let’s do that this time. Verse 6 has just said that the God who created light does the same kind of thing to bring about in blind sinners like us the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” In verse 4, this light is called the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
That’s the context. Now we read verse 7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We have “this treasure.” What treasure? “The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Or, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” In short: We have the gospel with its light-giving power.
Now the encouragement is this: “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Jars of clay is a reference to us. We are the jars of clay. That is, compared to the treasure that is in us, we are clay. We are not gold. The gospel is gold. We are not silver. The news about Christ is silver. We are not bronze. The power of Christ is bronze.
This means that if you feel average or below average in your fitness to share the gospel treasure, you are closer to the truth that someone who feels powerful and wise and self-sufficient. Paul wants us to realize that we are clay pots. Not gold or silver or crystal. He wants us to realize that from the most sophisticated to the most average, we are all clay pots when it comes to containing and sharing the gospel. It is so valuable and so powerful that any thought of its container being something special is foolish.
How does Paul talk about himself and Apollos, the two most eloquent Christians in the first century? “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
So what’s the point of being a clay pot? Back to 2 Corinthians 4:7: “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God’s aim is that his own power through the gospel be honored, not us. Which means that if you feel average or less than average in your sense of fitness to tell the gospel, you are the person God is looking for—a clay pot, who simply shares the treasure of the gospel, not the glitzy intellect, not the glitzy eloquence, not the glitzy beauty or strength or cultural cleverness. Then God will do his work through the gospel, and the surpassing power will belong to him and not to us.
Be encouraged, ordinary Christian. You are appointed, precisely in your ordinariness, for the greatest work in the world: showing the Treasure of Christ.
2) Get Resources to Share
After these services, there are tables with some evangelistic resources: For Your Joy, Quest for Joy, Quest for Joy CD. These are things we’ve developed here at Bethlehem as a way of extending our personal conversations with people by giving them something to take away—or to read with them. There are many other things equally useful.
The point is: Think this way. Think: Wherever I can I want to commend Christ. I want to tell the story that God uses to give people life. Put them in your pocket, your purse, your briefcase, your car (John Sather said he carries a box of resources in his car). And pray every day, Lord, make me a saving blessing today to someone.
3) Know that God May Use Many Influences
Keep in mind that what you say to someone about Jesus may be supplemented by a half dozen others that God is providentially lining up to speak to this person as God pursues him for salvation. You may feel your word was wasted. It is never wasted (1 Corinthians 15:58). Your word may be the beginning of the influences. Or the final decisive word that God uses to bring a person to faith. Speak your word. The smallest word about Christ is not wasted.
4) Be a Lavish Giver
Be a lavish giver. Be known as a generous person, not a stingy person. Jesus said, “Lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). Combine this reputation with giving books, if you know someone is a reader. Give a Christian book that cost you seven or ten or fifteen dollars. Tell them what it meant to you and that you would love to talk about it some time. If you don’t know the person, ask for their permission to give them a book that meant a lot to you.
This is what I regularly do on the plane. Sometimes conversations are easy to get into about Christ because I am a pastor. Other times they’re not. But in either case, I often say, “I wrote a book that I would love to give to you. May I give you one?” They almost never say no. I have written two books mainly with unbelievers in mind: Seeing and Savoring Christ and Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. These are the ones I carry in my briefcase on the plane. Develop the habit of thinking this way: How can I commend Christ today? Be lavish in your giving.
And, of course, give away the Bible. I happened to open a biography of the missionary Henry Martyn this afternoon and read this about the author, B. V. Henry. “Henry came to personal faith in Christ at the age of 17 through reading a New Testament given to him by an elderly lady” (B. V. Henry, Forsaking All for Christ: A Biography of Henry Martyn [London: Chapter Two, 2003], p. 167). Be lavish in giving away Bibles and portions of the Bible.
5) Find People Interesting
Be encouraged that simply finding people interesting and caring about them is a beautiful pathway into their heart. Evangelism gets a bad reputation when we are not really interested in people and don’t seem to care about them. People really are interesting. The person you are talking to is an amazing creation of God with a thousand interesting experiences. Very few people are interested in them. If you really find their story interesting, and care about them, they may open up to you and want to hear your story—Christ’s story.
6) Be Encouraged You’re Not Alone
Be encouraged that on Tuesday nights at the Downtown Campus and Thursday nights at the South Campus there is evangelism training and frontline action. Here’s the letter I got from Justin Hoover this week:
. . . Our mission is to ignite and spread a passion for Jesus Christ through the joy of evangelism. We meet on Tuesday nights, downtown, at 6:30 p.m. in the Commons for worship, Word, and prayer, and on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the South Site, Building 501, Suite 110 with Elijah Layfield.
We will train new evangelists and then team them up with experienced evangelists. This is an excellent opportunity to learn how to better articulate and share the Gospel of Christ.
. . . Our deepest desire and prayer is that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be spread through the lives of the saints at Bethlehem. We’re here to help make that vision and desire of God a reality in the lives of those at Bethlehem. This is an opportunity to be equipped, impassioned, emboldened, and filled with joy for the gospel of Jesus Christ. May many of us come and ignite and spread a passion for Christ's glory in our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, and our world.
Again: Tuesday at 6:30 in the Commons and Thursday, South Site, Building 501 Suite 110 at 6:30 p.m.
We'll be ready and praying for more laborers to ignite and spread a passion for Jesus Christ through the joy of evangelism.
For Christ's glory and the joy of the saints,
7) Invite People to Church
In your relationships, invite people to church even before they are Christians. Some of the sheer strangeness of what it means to be a Christian can be overcome by a growing familiarity with how we sing and talk and relate in church. And the preaching of the word of God has a unique power.
Or, nowadays with the internet, if they are hesitant to come to church, invite them to www.desiringGod.org or www.hopeinGod.org. Tell them you would like to have them hear the five-minute greeting from your pastor at the church website and give them the link.
8) Fill the City with Gospel Teaching
When the apostles were put on trial in Jerusalem the high priest said, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). That is what I dream for the churches of the Twin Cities. If all the Christians were talking about Christ, and giving out literature about Christ, and sending emails about Christ, and inviting people to church for Christ, and being lavishly generous to others for Christ, then someone might say, “Those Christians have filled the Twin Cities with their teaching.” May it be so.
9) Use Your Giftings
Be encouraged that we all have different gifts and should not try to imitate everything about anyone. Every Christian should be a servant (Galatians 5:13), but some have a gift of service (Romans 12:7). Every Christian should have heart of mercy (Luke 6:36), but some have a gift of mercy (Romans 12:8). Every Christian should speak to others about Christ (1 Peter 2:9), but some have a gift of prophecy and exhortation and teaching (Romans 12:7). The point is: We are all in this together, but some are gifted one way and some another. Find where you fit and stoke the flames of your effectiveness there. Grow in every area, but don’t paralyze yourself because you are not like someone else. God made you and means to use you in evangelism.
10) Read Books on Evangelism
Finally (and you would expect this at Bethlehem), here are three books that you can get from the bookstore (or sign up for there) to carry this message on for the rest of your life: Will Metzger, Tell the Truth; Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism; J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
Speaking the Word of God with Boldness
Would you make Acts 4:31 your dream and prayer for all of us at Bethlehem? “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).