Triumphantly Encouraged: The Privilege of Ministry, Part 1

Desiring God 1997 Conference for Pastors

Triumphantly Encouraged: The Privilege of Ministry

That is an introduction that deserves a response. I’m not quite sure where to step in. However, I might say that the reason I include good appendices should be obvious to any of you who’ve read my material. If you’re going to pay the price, you ought to get something good out of the book.

I am not anymore or less committed to Reformed theology now than I ever have been. I just understand it better. It’s much clearer to me now. And in all honesty, I was afraid to write anything on behalf of any system of theology until I had spent at least 20 years in the text. So I’ve gotten a little more brave as I’ve tucked most of the New Testament under my belt in terms of exegesis.

I have preached through the entire New Testament with the exception of two books, Luke and Mark. I’m about to start Luke, and when I’m done, I’ll start Mark. My people are in mortal fear that they’re going to die in those two Gospels and never learn anything else. They’ve always asked me if I would preach the Old Testament to them, and I certainly want to do that if the Lord ever allows me the length of life to do it. But I have made a personal commitment to get through the New Testament as a steward of the mysteries of God and as a New Covenant preacher. That was my first priority. And in order to help them, I’m in the process — assisted ably by Dr. Dick Mayhue, who is here and is the dean of our seminary — of writing a study Bible. Just last Friday we finished the Old Testament.

It will be a study Bible with the volume of notes that is in the NIV Study Bible. It’s been an immense challenge for me in 18 months with the research assistance of the faculty of our seminary to go through every word, every phrase, and every piece of the Old Testament and sort it all out and put it into meaningful footnotes and cross references and all of that. What a tremendous, tremendous education for one who spent so much time in the New Testament. When it was all said and done, I was thrilled because my theology didn’t move. So I guess maybe I’ve been a little patient in taking my time to be confident to articulate the things that I am now able to articulate with confidence from the text.

Comradery in Gospel Partnership

I’m going through a series on the church called “The Anatomy of the Church,” and I’m breaking the church down, taking the extended metaphor of the body of Christ. I’ve been talking about the skeleton of the church, the doctrinal foundations, and the internal organs of the church, which are spiritual attitudes that carry the life of the church like faith and love and obedience. There are 20 or so of those. And now we’re talking about the muscles of the church, the functions of the church.

Yesterday, I preached on preaching, and I just unloaded my soul with great passion. In fact, I covered Sunday morning about half a page of notes, just finding the freedom in the Spirit to say what was in my heart about preaching. And my preparation among other things for that — and it’s in the providence of God — was to pull off my shelf on Saturday just to cap everything off, two books. One was by John Piper on The Supremacy of God in Preaching and another by Don Whitney because I knew there was a chapter in there on “Why Listen to Preaching?”

So I sat with you two gentlemen whom I’m able to share these days with, and you instructed my own heart for the benefit of my people yesterday as well as myself. So it’s good to see you face to face after being blessed by what you wrote.

Experiences of Pain in Ministry

I want you to turn in your Bibles with me to 2 Corinthians. I’m going to do three expositions out of 2 Corinthians. This is a very precious book to me. It’s also the book that I’m currently going through, although I have taken a brief hiatus of many months to do this Anatomy of the Church series. I am doing this special series because it’s the only way I could complete my work on the study bible, because it takes less study than the material in 2 Corinthians, because I’m repeating things that I’ve taught through the years and refining them.

But in this little hiatus, I’ve moved away from 2 Corinthians. I left in 2 Corinthians 11 and I can’t wait to get back to wrap it up. But this has had an immense impact on my life. And I’m so happy in the providence of God that he never let me teach this until now, or I never would’ve understood it. I never would’ve been able to appreciate it. But after 27 years in the same congregation, I think I really begin to understand what Paul went through with his relationship with the Corinthians that prompted him to write this incredible epistle.

I have known, I’m sure, the normal number of discouragements in my ministry. I have lived through several mutinies, one major staff mutiny in which I walked into a staff of four others whom I had personally nurtured and discipled and poured my life into, met in early mornings for prayer, and instructed them with everything that I knew as a young pastor to say to them, “Gentlemen, I want to tell you how much I love you and how great your friendship is to me,” only to hear the spokesman retort immediately, “If you think we’re your friends, buddy, you’ve got another thing coming.” And a mutiny happened. And my heart was devastated and shattered. God in his grace allowed me to pick the pieces up and go on after that. All of those men who were in that room are today out of the ministry altogether, and it continues in my own heart a sad, sad memory.

Feeling the Pull to Leave

It wasn’t too many years ago, and another one of those kinds of things happened in our church and it wasn’t on a staff level. This time it was sort of attached to some elders in our church and before it was over 250 people left the church. They weren’t sure why, but it had to do with me. I either preached too short or too long. I was either too biblical or not biblical enough. I was either too involved or not involved enough, and nobody seemed to be able to identify what.

We went off on a retreat with all the elders and they called me into the room and said, “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong in this ministry and what role you play in what’s wrong.” And I said, “Well, I’d like to leave the room so you can feel free.” And I went out for three hours, came back, stepped into the room and one of them said, “We’ve decided that you’re just too involved. You have too strong of a hold on things,” to which another across the room immediately replied, “I disagree. I think it’s the opposite.” And I said, “After three hours you’re right where you were,” and I left again.

I know what it is to have a father come up to you and say, “You know you were there when my boy died, but I haven’t heard from you in six months.” I understand that. I know what it is to meet every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. and disciple a man for a year after which time he leaves his wife and runs off with another woman. I know what that means. I know what it’s like to have them forget the main events in your life and treat you like the poor — they always have you with them. I understand that. Whatever problems you’ve got, I’ve got lots more by virtue of lots more people. I understand the discouragements of ministry.

I lived through a time not many years ago when I would’ve left if I could. I couldn’t. I didn’t have any offers. I have to make a living, you know? So I’m on the backside of when you should leave. I stayed and God has been gracious.

Dealing with Debilitating Discouragement

It’s so easy to get debilitated by discouragement, and that’s exactly where Paul was when he wrote 2 Corinthians. So I want us to look at three passages that give us insight and perspective with regard to that very important issue of discouragement in the ministry.

Now the call to the ministry is an invitation to unequal privilege. Nobody would question that. It’s also an invitation to unsurpassed blessing, and even eternal reward. But that’s not all. It is also inevitably an invitation to discouragement. What pastor, while understanding the privileges and understanding the blessing and even understanding the rewards bound up in his calling, has not also had his heart broken time and time again? Let me read you a letter from a young pastor to his mentor. He says:

Dear Jim, I’m through. Yesterday I handed in my resignation to take effect at once, and this morning I began work for the land company. I will not return to the pastorate. I think I can see into your heart as you read these words and behold not a little disappointment, if not disgust. I don’t blame you at all. I’m somewhat disgusted with myself.

Do you recall the days in the seminary when we talked to the future and painted pictures of what we were to do for the kingdom of God? We saw the boundless need for unselfish Christian service and longed to be out among men doing our part toward the world’s redemption. And I’ll never forget that last talk on the night before graduation. You were to go to the mission field and I went to the church, and we had brave dreams of usefulness and you’ve realized yours.

As I look back over these years, I can see some lives that I’ve helped and some things which I have been permitted to do, and some of them are worthwhile. But sitting here tonight, I am more than half convinced that God probably never even intended me to be a minister. If he did, I’m not big enough and brave enough to pay the price. And even if it leads you to write me down as a coward, I’m going to tell you why I quit.

In these years I have not found but a few earnest, unselfish, consecrated Christians, and I don’t believe that I am specially morbid or unfair in my estimation. So as far as I know my own heart, I’m not even bitter. But through all these years, a conviction has been growing within me that the average church member cares precious little about the kingdom of God and its advancement or the welfare of his fellow man. He’s a Christian in order that he may save his soul from hell and for no other reason. He does as little as he can and lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without ever lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance.

Never have I known more than a small minority of any church which I have served to be really interested and unselfishly devoted to God’s work. It took my whole time to pull and push and urge and persuade the reluctant members of my church to undertake a little something for their fellow man. They took a covenant to be faithful in attendance at the services of the church and not one out of 10 ever thought of attending a prayer time. A large percentage seldom attended church in the morning and a pitifully small number in the evening. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Jesus Christ.

I’m tired. I’m tired of being the only one in the church from whom real sacrifice is expected. I’m tired of straining and tugging to get Christian people to live like Christians. I’m tired of planning work for my people and then being compelled to do it myself or see it left undone. I’m tired of dodging my creditors when I wouldn’t need to if I had what was due me. I’m tired of the vision of a penniless old age. I’m not leaving Christ. I love him and I’ll still try to serve him. Judge me leniently, old friend. I certainly can’t bear to lose your friendship. Yours, William.

That’s a real letter. How sad. How sad when a man called and gifted leaves the ministry not because of sin, not because of selfishness, not because of indifference, but because of discouragement. And gentlemen, we all face that temptation, even the most gifted of us and even the most faithful of us. Even the apostle Paul faced it.

Crushing Disappointment

He knew deep, penetrating, disheartening, crushing disappointment over the Corinthian Church in particular. Their shallowness, their sin, and their rebellion was a sad return for the immense love that he felt for them and the great effort over a period of two years, which he made on their behalf. The Corinthian Church had potential over any other European church. The city was remarkably new, having been restored about a hundred years before Paul’s arrival. It was restored by Julius Caesar from ruins. It was more open to the gospel than other cities because it was a trade center and it was a place of great action and lots of ideas rolled through that city. The apostle had great success in founding the church there and making the resident Jews jealous.

For nearly two years, somewhere around 20 or 21 months maybe, he labored in that evil city and built deep affection for the believers there. And because he loved them so profoundly, they could hurt him deeply, and they did. One sin or spiritual disaster followed another. The pressure of caring for the church, he says in this epistle, was more difficult than all the physical pain he had suffered cumulatively in his ministry. Second Corinthians 11 marks that out for us.

Anxiety over the Corinthians ate at his soul. They possessed all the gifts, you’ll remember, but they were divided, disorderly, worldly, chaotic, and proud. Sin stained the Lord’s table. They fought with each other, they sued each other, they sexually sinned with each other, and they were proud of it. In fact, conditions in the Corinthian Church were so bad that Apollos would not stay there, nor return to Corinth though Paul urged him to do so.

Additionally, false teachers had come and invaded the Corinthian Church and managed to convince the members of that church that Paul was a fraud and a deceiver and they succeeded in starting a mutiny against the apostle. They were typical false teachers. They had mixed together Judaism and some of the judaizing components with a sensitivity to what was relevant to the reigning Gentile philosophy of the city, and they had concocted a kind of syncretistic message that could make them money. That’s what false teachers are always after.

They knew they couldn’t just come into the Corinthian Church and begin to teach this. First they had to dethrone the reigning authority, so they began an all-out character assassination campaign against the apostle Paul. And they blasted him. They slandered him.

Paul’s Assaulted Character and Broken Heart

As you read through 2 Corinthians, you can assemble the elements of that slander. They said he was in the ministry for money. They said he had a secret life of hidden shame and if the truth were known, he was wicked underneath the surface. And what he did, he did to gain favors from women. They said he lacked credentials not having letters from any authority in Jerusalem. They said he lied about his credentials. They said he lied about the successes of his ministry. They said he was a deceiver who didn’t speak the truth of God.

They even got into the ad hominem arguments and began to assault his person. They said his presence was “unimpressive” and his speech “contemptible.” In other words, “He doesn’t have the charm, he doesn’t have the wherewithal, and he doesn’t have what it takes to communicate in this sophisticated society.” His message was plain. His physical presence was homely and utterly unattractive, and as a speaker, he was contemptible. It’s one thing to be ugly and be able to communicate, it’s something else to be handsome and just stand there even if you can’t, but to be homely and unable to communicate, pretty serious.

They were a wicked group of people engaged in the perversion of spiritual gifts and personal jealousies. They winked at incest. They abused their marriages. They ate at demon feasts. They failed to give as they should. They even got confused about the resurrection. They were a mess.

And the man that God had given them who was the hope of restoration was now in the outs. The relationship was so bad that when Paul went back for a brief visit, he couldn’t even confront the issue he was so devastated. He left because somebody stood up in the Corinthian Church and withstood him to the face and blasted him publicly and none of the people came to his defense. So he just left, with a broken heart. That’s when he wrote back that letter that fits between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians called “the severe letter” that he refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4 that he wrote with tears. And that’s why he says, “I wanted to come but I just didn’t have the heart to come because I didn’t want to confront this thing and drive you further away.”

So he wonders, as he begins to write 2 Corinthians, if there’ll ever be a restoration in their relationship, if he’ll ever be welcomed at Corinth again, if they’ll ever have a place in their hearts for him. And on top of all of that, at the time he happened to be in Ephesus, and things weren’t going very well there either. In fact, a riot started that could have taken his life, according to Acts 19. Some also think there are indications in 2 Corinthians 1 and 2 Corinthians 6 that he may have had a serious, even potentially fatal illness. The man was really at rock bottom and you just feel it all through this epistle.

Unremitting Turmoil and Difficulty

Let me take you on a quick trip. Second Corinthians 1:3 says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort . . . (2 Corinthians 1:3–6, all Scripture references are from the NASB).

Then down in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10, he says:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death . . .

In 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, he says:

This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice . . . For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears . . .

In 2 Corinthians 4:8–12, he says:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus . . . For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us . . .

In 2 Corinthians 6:4–5, he says:

In much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger . . .

Further on in 2 Corinthians 6:8–10, he mentions, “dishonor . . . evil report . . . regarded as deceivers . . . unknown . . . dying . . . punished . . . sorrowful . . . poor . . . having nothing . . .

Second Corinthians 7:5 says:

For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.

And verse 2 Corinthians 7:6 sums it up when he says, “depressed.”

The Daily Pressure of the Churches

In 2 Corinthians 11:23–28, as I commented earlier, he mentions:

Far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

This is really a devastated man. It’s not hard to understand his grief. Because the one thing in the midst of all of that that you would cling to would be a loyal fellowship, right? That’s the last straw. In the midst of his concern, he decided to try to find out how things might be remedied, so he sent that middle letter, that severe letter with Titus. He said, “Titus, you go. You take the letter, you read them the letter, explain my heart, and come back and tell me what their response is.”

No doubt the letter confronted the false teachers and also confronted the breach in the relationship, and Titus went. Apparently they were to rendezvous in Troas. Paul left Ephesus and went to Troas, and Titus never came. That’s where we pick up the story in 2 Corinthians 2:12–13:

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.

Let’s stop right there for a moment. The first two verses, those two that I read for the text for tonight, established the discouragement of Paul. How bad was it? It was so bad that he walked in the opposite direction of an open door. That’s very uncharacteristic. Troas was a seaport city, remember, on the Aegean Sea in Western Asia Minor at the mouth of the Dardanelles. It had been around for a long time, founded 300 BC. It was 10 miles from ancient Troy. Augustus had made it into a Roman colony — a significant place, a great place for evangelism.

His departure there probably was caused by the riots in Ephesus, but he had already planned to go to Macedonia and no doubt Troas was on the way and perhaps was the rendezvous point for he and Titus. Paul had been there before, according to Acts 16, but didn’t found a church. A church is mentioned in Acts 20, so it may have actually started in spite of him on this visit. It says he went there for the gospel, which means to evangelize the city. He had a short visit. He had a great opportunity. It says in 2 Corinthians 2:12, “The door was opened for me in the Lord.” It wasn’t opened by an advanced committee. It was opened by the Lord. Hearts were plowed by the Spirit of God.

It wasn’t just favorable from a human viewpoint; it was a calling from God and he turned his back on it. In 2 Corinthians 2:13 he says, “I had no rest for my spirit.” That’s exactly what he said in 2 Corinthians 5:5–6. He had conflicts without and fears within, and he was flatly depressed. Why? Because of what the church had done to him. He was human. Would they love him again? Would they listen to him? It wasn’t an ego thing with him. He knew he had the truth. And they had turned away from him and thus turned away from the truth. And it was love for them, not a desire for his own satisfaction, that drove him to this depression.

Pressing Cares and the Temptation to Give Up

Would they repent? Would they deal with the false teachers? Would they deal with the divisions, the incest, the quarrels, the confusion regarding marriage and divorce, the issue of idols? Would they clean up the Lord’s table? Would they get rid of the sexual sin? Would they discipline the man who face-to-face cursed Paul? Would they confront the false apostles? Would they restore their relationship with the man that God had ordained to bring them the truth?

He was so pained over this that when Titus didn’t show up, he just left in the opposite direction from the open door, took off for Macedonia, perhaps hoping to intersect with Titus on the road he would be traveling to meet Paul.

This is a dangerous hour for the preacher. His heart is in danger of rebellion when he reaches this kind of discouragement, when the church has broken his heart. He’s in danger of making an unwise decision. He’s in danger of turning his back on a wide open-door because he doesn’t feel like it. He’s in danger of a restless spirit and he loses his heart for the work God has given him, and he begins to get a feverish desire to go somewhere else. And there comes a sense of drudgery in the current ministry. And the goal is that at the end of the rainbow and the grass is greener on the other side, and here is only the steady plodding of a humdrum ministry.

The temptation comes maybe to even give up the ministry and sell insurance. At such a time he’s oversensitive, imagines all kinds of slights, thinks everybody’s after him, takes every comment made as a barb, and usually his wife elevates his anxiety by telling him he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this 10 times a day. The real problems of the ministry are magnified out of proportion to reality, and his ministry is in jeopardy. He’s in danger of becoming bitter toward the church. He’s in danger of becoming jealous of other ministers, and he will drift.

The Privilege of Being in Christ’s Triumph

Paul was somewhere around there, and maybe you’ve been there too. Time spent nourishing a broken heart is time lost for eternity, isn’t it? How does Paul deal with this? How does he handle this? Well, I want you to know how fast he handles it. Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14. How does it start? But what? He says, “Thanks be to God.” He’s on the dark side in 2 Corinthians 2:12–13, but it doesn’t take very long to get to the other side. He’s discouraged but not defeated. It sounds like the language of 2 Corinthians 4. He’s afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, or as Phillips translated it, “Knocked down but not knocked out.”

And as we come into this wonderful section from 2 Corinthians 2:14–17, we see how Paul brought encouragement to his broken heart. In the midst of his doubt, in the midst of his fears, in the midst of his depression and discouragement, he writes, “But thanks be to God.”

And the question immediately comes, for what? Why? What’s in the space there between 2 Corinthians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 2:14. All I see is white space. What happened? You say, “Well, if you follow the history, Titus arrived.” But that’s not the issue here, and Paul doesn’t bring that up. Someone might say, “Well, if you follow the history, Titus arrived and Titus brought a good report that the people had responded well to his visit and well to Paul’s severe letter, and they were on the way to making a restitution of the relationship and the news was good.” But that’s not the point here. He doesn’t get to that for a while. Something else captivates his heart and turns the disheartened pastor into a joyful servant of God. What is it? Let’s read. He says:

But thanks be to God (and this will tell you once and for all that he was a Calvinist), who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 2:14–17).

There’s a buoyancy there, and there’s a passion there, and there’s an intensity there, and there’s a zeal there, and there’s an exuberance there that makes you think there is some monumental thing that has occurred between verses 13 and 14. And it has. You know what it is? It’s all a question of what you decide to concentrate on, to focus on.

Marching in God’s Victory Parade

Now let’s grab one word out of that. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, notice the word triumph. You might just think that’s a synonym for victory, and of course it is, but it’s more than that. If you do a little study of commentaries and resource material on 2 Corinthians, you will find out that the word “triumph” describes a technical event, a Roman triumph.

Now a Roman triumph was a very notable event that perhaps only occurred once in the lifetime of a Roman citizen. Only once in a lifetime might you see an actual Roman triumph. This basically was a way in which the emperor, Caesar, honored a general by giving him a triumph. He would be recognized as a great general who had accomplished great conquering victories and be given by his emperor a triumph.

Now, before he could win this triumph, here are the conditions he had to satisfy. He had to have been the actual commander-in-chief in the field, engaged in the battle. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified, and the victorious troops brought home. At least 5,000 of the enemy must have fallen in one engagement, a positive extension of the territory of the Roman Empire had to have been gained, and not merely a disaster retrieved or an attack repelled or a civil insurrection put down. In an actual triumph, those things had to have occurred. The classic general who received such a triumph was Titus Vespasian after the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which fit all that criteria. But it was rare for the Roman citizens to actually see such a triumph take place in the city of Rome because such conditions were not frequently met.

According to historians, when the triumph was given to this great general, it was pomp and circumstance without equal. The procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the capitol, and here’s how the procession came. First, there came the state officials and the Senate. You would expect that, right? The politicians want to take the credit for everything so they’re out in front. Then came the trumpeters, and their function was to blow and announce the various people who were coming along behind, to call the attention of the city to gather for the parade. Then came spoils taken from the conquered land on carts and wagons. For example, when Titus conquered Jerusalem, he had his triumph in Rome and he came down toward the emperor’s throne to make the sacrifice of the white bull to the god of war carrying in carts the seven-lamp candlestick from the temple. He also had the golden table of showbread, and he had ripped the trumpet shaped receptacles where the offerings were put on the walls of the temple and he had those as well.

Then there came pictures of the conquered land that had been painted by artists, so that the people could see what the land looked like. There was no CNN obviously. Then came models of the citadels that had been knocked out and the walls that had been conquered, climbed, and scaled. Then came pictures, if that was the case, of ships that had been vanquished at sea.

Then came the white bull, which was to be made a sacrifice. Then came the captives, the wretched captives, the enemy princes and leaders and generals in chains, shortly to be flung into prison and then to be executed. Then came the lictors with their whips and rods. Then came the musicians with their stringed instruments. Then came the priests swinging sensors with incense and the fragrance went everywhere. And then came the general. And he stood in a glorious chariot drawn by four horses, clad in a purple tunic, embroidered with gold palm leaves and over it a purple toga marked out with golden stars, and he held in his hand an ivory scepter with a Roman eagle on it, and over his head, a slave held the crown of Jupiter, and behind him came his family. And then behind the general came the army. And they were all shouting, “Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph.”

The people were lining the streets and throwing garlands of flowers under the feet of this entourage and the trampling at the fragrance of the flowers was mingled with the fragrance of the incense to make an incredibly memorable moment. That’s what Paul meant when he said triumph. That’s what he saw.

A Shift in Perspective

Look at it again in 2 Corinthians 2:14. He says, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in his triumph in Christ.” Do you know what got Paul back on track? Just this recognition. He could give thanks for the privilege of being in the triumph. That was enough. Forget the successes. Forget the failures. Forget the wounds. Forget the losses. Forget the pain, the suffering, and the discouragement. It’s enough to just be in the parade. It’s enough, gentlemen, just to wear the uniform, just to march behind the conqueror, just to be there when God calls all the troops in for the glorious triumph. That’s enough.

It’s enough to know that he always leads us, that God has not abdicated his throne, that he is the sovereign Lord, and he is leading this whole thing to its ultimate glory, and an eternal tribute is given to the great general, the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’ll be there. We’ll be there in the parade, following the great commander of all commanders. It’s enough. It’s enough to bear his name. It’s enough to wear his uniform. It’s enough to have served in his cause. You may say, “Well, my church is pretty small.” It’s enough.

Somebody said that to Spurgeon. He said, “Maybe it’s as large as you’d like to give account for on the day of judgment.” Someone might say, “Well, they don’t treat me the way I deserve it.” Well, you should thank God every day you live that you’re not treated the way you deserve to be treated. If one soul comes to the knowledge of the Savior through your entire life, it’s grace that God would ever use you for that purpose.

Paul had this perspective, and he articulated it well to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12–16. He said:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

And yet, he found mercy. No wonder he says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17). It’s enough. What kind of expectations do you have? It’s just enough to wear the uniform, folks. I read the end of the book. We win. Right? He wins. We are in the parade. We’ll be there in the triumph. It’s enough to have the privilege of marching behind the great commander. It’s enough to be more than conqueror. It’s enough, though inconceivable, to be seated with him on his throne. How about that? It’s enough to be a fellow heir of all that God gives to his Son.

So we follow the conquering hero in the victory parade, not as captives, not as prisoners headed to judgment, but as co-conquerors in the great triumph over sin and death and hell. As triumphant soldiers, we bring the spoils of war, the souls of men and women led out of Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of God and Christ. And whatever small part we may play, that is enough.

Jesus Builds His Church

I go back time and time again to Matthew chapter 16:18 where Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The “gates of Hades” is a Jewish euphemism for death. If Hades is where the dead go, the gate’s how you get there. So death itself, Satan’s greatest weapon according to Hebrews 2:14, cannot withstand the purposes of God.

So we don’t have to win every little struggle. I don’t have to win every little struggle. I don’t have to win every little skirmish. In the end, it’s enough to know we will be triumphant in Christ according to God’s eternal purpose.

The Privilege of Influencing People for Christ

Now, there’s something else here that’s absolutely overwhelming. The first thing that brings him back from discouragement is the privilege of being in the triumph with Christ. The second thing is the privilege of influencing for Christ. Look at this. Second Corinthians 2:14–16 says that he not only leads us in the triumph in Christ but:

manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.

Now he’s picking up on this imagery again, which was full of smells. The whole triumph with the horses and the incense and the flowers and all of that had a fragrance, if you will, an aroma. And he borrows from that. And what he is saying here is, “What encourages me in the midst of my discouragement is, first of all, that I am participating in the triumph, and secondly, that my life has influence.” It sends forth the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place.

The key thought here is that God in inscrutable, condescending grace and kindness has let us manifest that aroma, the sweet aroma of Jesus, in every place. Last Friday night, a prominent person in our city, a well-known great athlete who was a former Los Angeles Laker for many years called me and said, “I want you to come to my house. I have five prominent people here and I want you to sit down and have a meal with them, and then I want you to spend the rest of the evening and tell them the gospel. They want to hear it.”

What brought this about was the death of this man’s daughter. And they were men who knew him well and they were concerned about how he was doing and he said, “They’re coming over to comfort me. I want you there to preach the gospel.” So there I sat. These are formidable men, prominent men, prosperous men, articulate men, and they were smart. There I was determined to know nothing except Christ and him crucified, not in the cleverness of men’s speech. And if you’ve ever been in a situation like that, sometimes it feels like you’re just going, “Blah, blah, blah.” You just feel like, “I know this is true, but it seems so simple.”

For three and a half hours I just tried to open up the sensor and let the aroma go, let the fragrance go. And God was gracious. Two men affirmed to me their faith in Christ. The others did not. I went away thinking, “Lord, what a privilege that through me the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ was released.” That’s enough. I don’t know whom God has ordained unto eternal life. I don’t know what soil the Holy Spirit has planted. I don’t know whether he wants me to water or plant or harvest, but I do know he has given me the privilege of yielding up the sweet aroma of Christ.

Spreading the Knowledge of Christ Everywhere

I was on an airplane flying down to El Paso. I think of this. It’s an amazing story. I was sitting next to an Arab. I was going down to do a men’s conference for Calvary Chapel in the civic center of El Paso. And I was looking at my Bible and just putting some things together, and this guy said to me, “Excuse me sir, you have a Bible.” I said, “Right.” He said, “I’m new in the country. I’m from Iran. I don’t understand your religion.” That’s understandable, right? It’s pretty confusing if you come from a Muslim nation where everybody’s into the same deal. He said, “Can you answer a question for me?” And this is exactly what his question was. He said, “Can you tell me the difference between a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Baptist?”

Now I don’t know how he arrived at that question, but that was his question. So I sorted that out and I gave him the answer to that. And he said, “Well,” he said, “I don’t understand how Christianity is different. What makes Christianity different from my faith? We both believe in one God.” I said, “Well, let me ask you a question.” I said, “Do Muslims have sins?” “Oh,” he said, “sins, we have so many sins. I don’t even know all the sins we have.” I said, “Well, how does Allah feel about them?” He said, “Very bad. Very serious. Islam has a hell. It’s very serious.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you another question. Do you do those sins?” He said, “I must tell you, all the time. I’m going to El Paso to do some sins this weekend.” I said, “You are?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “I met a girl and we’re going to do some sins.” I said, “Well, how’s Allah going to treat you?” “Oh,” he said — I’ll never forget this line — “I hope that God will forgive me.” I said, “You hope? On the basis of what?” He said, “I just hope that God will forgive me.”

And then I said something. I didn’t really understand how it would hit him, but I said, “Well, I know him personally, and I can tell you that he won’t.” And I didn’t realize what it sounded like then, but he said immediately to me, “You know God personally?” This blew his mind, like, “What are you doing in coach? You know God? You’re so important. You’re here. This is Southwest Airlines. You don’t even get an assigned seat. What’s the deal?”

I said, “I know him personally and I can tell you from the revelation of his word, he will not forgive your sin.” “Oh,” he said. I said, “Let me tell you the truth of Christianity, the good news.” And I explained the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. I know he responded and I know I messed up his weekend, something awful I think. He told me where he lived. So I sent him to Swindoll’s Church. He was still in Fullerton just before he left. I don’t know if he’s still going there. I did hear from him for a while and sent him some material and so forth. But you walk away from that and you just say, “What a privilege. Wherever we go, the aroma goes through us.”

God Glorified in the Lost and the Saved

Paul says, “That’s enough. I can’t write the script. I haven’t determined the end from the beginning. I’m not the one who chooses. I’m not the one who plows the heart. But I can let the aroma go through.” Is that amazing? We’ll see a little more in that. We get into 2 Corinthians 4:7 and we remember that he’s put this treasure in what? Earthen vessels. I mean, who are we to have such influence? Do you think that the power brokers of the world are the people with the influence? They have temporal influence. Do you think the President of the United States is influential? He has temporal influence. You have eternal influence.

When you think you’re not significant, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. And let me tell you something else. Are you ready for this one? God is as much glorified in the damnation of the lost as he is in the redemption of the saved. And when the aroma is a savor of death to death, what if God desires to glorify himself in that manner? Are we to question that? God is as much glorified in showing his holy fury and wrath against unbelief as he is in the grace of salvation. Those mysteries of his mind are not for me to question. And because you walk away from being an aroma where the word of truth has poured out — a fragrance of life to life to some, but to most, a fragrance of death to death — is not a commentary on the success or failure of your ministry. Don’t ever measure your ministry by results. It’s enough to just give the aroma.

The Privilege of Pleasing God

There’s a third encouragement here, and it’s bound up in the same passage beginning in 2 Corinthians 2:15. He says, “We are a fragrance of Christ to God.” This just staggers me. I mean here we are, these wicked, unworthy, vile, wretched sinners, and I’m talking present tense, right? And somehow we’re not only a fragrance, a sweet aroma of the knowledge of him to people in every place, but the fragrance rises all the way to God.

The fragrance in the triumph would waft to the people gathered along the sides. The fragrance would waft to the nostrils of the great emperor as well. Wherever the preacher’s mission advances, wherever he’s faithful to the word and the gospel, the sweet smell of victory ascends to God’s throne and pleases him. Our ministry not only reaches men, it reaches God and brings him pleasure.

Do you preach for the pleasure of God? Do you? Boy, that’s challenging. A reporter asked me one time for whom I prepared my sermons, and he was telling me that newspapers are written for eighth grade level. ] I said, “In all honesty, I try to prepare my sermon for only one person.” I guess I learned, partly as an athlete, as a football player, that there’s only one guy that mattered and that was the coach. And so it is in ministry.

Do you study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman needing not to be ashamed? Anything less than preparation to satisfy God should bring shame. The privilege of a frail, humble vessel like we are, sending up something pleasing to God in the form of our ministry, that’s enough Paul says. It’s enough to march in the parade. It’s enough to have my life influence people for eternity. It’s enough that I should please God. I can’t measure my ministry by anything else. I can’t measure it by how good I feel about the way people are treating me. It’s enough to know that it pleases God.

The Privilege of Power and God-Given Sufficiency

I’ll hurry and give you the last point. He says, “Thanks be to God. Thanks, for letting me be in the triumph. Thanks, for letting my life matter eternally. Thanks, for letting me please you with my ministry. And thanks, for power.” If you say, “Where’s that?” read 2 Corinthians 2:16 with me. He says, “Who is adequate for these things?” We’re talking about something that’s so far beyond human capability here. Who is hikanos? Who is competent? Who has sufficient ability to live a life that triumphs eternally? Who has sufficient capability, humanly, to influence people for eternity? Who has adequate power to please the eternal, holy Almighty God? Answer: not me, nobody.

Who is adequate in himself? In 2 Corinthians 11:12, Paul sort of sarcastically agrees with the Corinthian mutineers and says that he is a nobody. But look at 2 Corinthians 3:5–6:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We aren’t adequate. There’s no way we’re adequate. But he’s given us his Spirit, and his Spirit becomes our adequacy.

Never Peddling the Word of God

Wanting to show this divine adequacy, Paul closes the chapter here in 2 Corinthians 2:17 with a very interesting verse. Just briefly, I’ll comment on it because our time is gone. He says:

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God . . .

He is saying, “We’re not like those ubiquitous false teachers, of whom there are so many. We’re not peddlers. We’re not kapēleuontes.” That word means “to corrupt”. The noun form came to be used of street hawkers, conmen who ran shell games — pitchmen and hucksters who were selling by their ingenuity and cleverness and trickery and deceit. A kapēlos was a huckster, a cheater who made profit at the buyer’s expense. One of the things they did — and this was something that was happening in Isaiah’s day as well as he notes in Isaiah 1:22 — was that they sold watered down wine for a high price on the sheer power of their selling prowess.

Now, Paul has these degraders of the truth in mind here, these cheapeners of the truth who adulterate the word of God, who mix the wine of truth with Judaism and paganism to get people to pad their pockets. These are dishonest men seeking personal profit from divine things. They are fraudulent adulterators of God’s word, selling a watered down gospel by their cleverness. They’re like liberals, selling cheap gospel to hearers — prosperity, health, and wealth preachers, sacramentalists, legalists, pragmatists, and manipulators of people.

You see, they think they’re adequate to do it on their own. He says, “We are not like them. We’re not conning people with twisted interpretations of Scripture. But here it is:

But as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

Paul is saying, “We’re eilikrineia. We’re real. We’re tested and found whole. We have integrity. We come from God. We speak in the power of Christ and in the person of Christ and under the all-knowing sovereign scrutiny of our God.”

And he’s saying to the Corinthians, “Be suspicious, not of me, but of them.” He was the real thing. Anybody can preach a whittled-down gospel in which divine truth is mingled with human wisdom and contaminated by the preacher’s own cleverness. Anybody is adequate for that. But the man who preaches unmixed divine truth, pure and clean, is the one who has the power, right? The word is alive and powerful and sharper than what? Any two-edged sword. Just to experience that power, is that not exhilarating? It’s the power of the word.

Paul found his way out of the gloom and found his way back from a broken heart by finding his way back to thanksgiving. It was all a question of focus, really. It was the privilege of being associated with the King of king’s, the privilege of marching in the triumph, the privilege of influencing men for eternity both, to life and death, the privilege of pleasing God, and the privilege of experiencing power in the proclamation of the truth. That is enough to end any man’s discouragement.

Questions and Answers

John Piper has asked if I would take a few moments for some questions and answers, if you’d like. I’m happy to do that if you can make a transition in your mind. If you just want to state your question out loud to me, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just stay where you are. I’ll be glad to repeat it and then give you an answer.

If the church doesn’t fire you, is there ever a reason to leave?

Yes, but not for discouragement. Sure, there are reasons to leave. But it should be the positive direction of the Spirit of God leading you and it should not be made in the trauma of a time of emotion and discouragement and distress. You need to live through that. You need to let God’s grace minister to your heart and God’s Spirit restore you. You need to get focused on the right things, and you need to re-energize some ministry there for a time, so that when that decision is made, it is not made at the time when you’re operating out of emotion rather than a clear confidence that God is leading. Get through that time. That’s important.

Sure, there’s a time to leave. But can I just add a footnote? Not everybody is like me or maybe like John. Not everybody stays a long time. It’s great to stay a long time. There are third generation Christians now. It’s great. And it takes a long time for some people to get the point. Have you noticed that, John? I love to work through the issues and get on the backside and see the sweet grace of God that is provided after the turmoil is over. You don’t always want to run in the middle of the battle.

Earlier in your sermon, you made the statement that “time healing a broken heart is time lost.” So I’m just wondering if you could elaborate on that.

What I mean is self-pity just absorbs all your energy and it’s time wasted in terms of meaningful ministry. That’s what I’m saying. Time spent wallowing in a broken heart and feeling sorry for yourself is basically time wasted for eternal purposes. And I really think that’s not just a personality thing. I know some people with melancholy. I think you really have to deal with that on a spiritual level. I think you have to go back to what you know is true. And listen guys, if I were to ask you what is the single most comforting doctrine in the whole of Scripture with regard to ministry, if you thought about it very long, you’d probably all answer the sovereignty of God. Isn’t that the rock that we stand on? Isn’t that the anchor in the middle of every single storm?

I’ve said to my people from the pulpit, “Look, if you think you’re going to drive me nuts, you’re wrong. If you think by your failures you will fill up your little thimble on Sunday and dump it on the parking lot before you get to your car, and you come back the next week with very little remembrance of whatever’s gone on here, and you fumble around and goof up your life — if you think you’re going to drive me nuts doing this, you’re not. Because I know in the end you’ll be like Christ. Now I may not recognize you, but it’ll be more than I can comprehend.”

I mean, is that not in an anchor? It’s a confidence that he who has begun a work will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t lessen my commitment, it doesn’t lessen my devotion, and it doesn’t lessen my passion, my fire, and my fervency for ministry, but it’s a rock to stand on.

Do you think that there’s ever a time to give voice to our discouragement, and if so when?

I do believe that. I think that a faithful friend can be a great resource in a time like that. I think encouraging people close to you to pray for you through a time of discouragement is good. I know that there have been times when I’ve been through that kind of thing and I’ve called people around me and encouraged them to pray for me if I was struggling with that. But I don’t think that should happen independent of going back to the word of God and reaffirming the solid foundation.

But I do think that there are times when it’s very difficult, even when we know what our theology is, to get beyond the pain. And I think we need the support of others in prayer. And you don’t want to get to the point where you’re aloof and you become transcendent of pain. You’re just above and beyond it all. As long as you’re going to stay down there and feel and be a part of the living, breathing people you work with, the potential for inflicting pain is immense.

But I think you’ve got to deal with it doctrinally. You’ve got to go back, like Paul did, to what the anchor is and what the rock is, and go back to your privileges, gentlemen. You are privileged. You don’t deserve this and neither do I. We deserve hell. And if we didn’t get hell, well, we deserve to be sweeping the floor somewhere, not doing this. This is privilege beyond privilege. So there comes a little pain. We’ll see more about what God’s going to do with your pain as we continue in our studies.

Following up on that question, if you’re going to give voice to your discouragement, would you express your perspective on protecting your wife from learning about your discouragements?

You’re going to sleep in another room? Or another house? I understand. Let me tell you something. She is the weaker vessel. You’re made to be her covering and her protection. And you need to be very, very clear about protecting her from burdens that are hard for her to bear. I never give my wife a burden that she can’t do anything about. What’s the point? I don’t unload on her all of my anxieties. Enough of them, she picks up anyway, right? I mean, she knows something isn’t right, but I’m careful about that because her devotion to me and her love for me tends to exacerbate those things. And then that becomes a nagging thing as she begins to escalate in her hostility toward the people who wound me. That just creates a greater pull. So you need to use some discretion and some wisdom.

You know your wife. You live with her, as Peter said, according to knowledge (1 Peter 3:7). Be sensitive to how she is. If she’s very strong, maybe you can share more of those things. But I think, at the same time you share your discouragement with her, don’t let it turn into carping criticism against the people. Make sure that you rise above that and you add to your times of discouragement, confidence in God’s purposes unfolding through this. Yes?

How do we keep times of discouragement from coming through, or do we allow them to come through the pulpit?

I don’t know whether there’s something right or wrong about that. I never do that except in retrospect. My basic answer is no, because you don’t need to turn your whole congregation into victims and you don’t need to manipulate them sympathetically.

In retrospect, if I ever talk about my discouragement, I always talk about it in the past tense in a time that something happened and I was very discouraged, and I tell them how the Lord brought me through that. I think it’s very important for them to see that there’s a strength. I also think you have to be very careful because in a church — not that you’re trying to play politics — there are people who inflict wounds on you who would like nothing better than to have you demonstrate how effective they are in front of the whole congregation. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction if I could help it.

I think as pastors, it’s easy for us to see the wrong expectation that people have for a pastor or church. It’s harder for us to see the wrong expectations that we have as a pastor for the ministry. What are some wrong expectations that pastors have that set them up for discouragement?

I go back to this. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1. He’s at the end of his life. He’s going to get his head chopped off. It’s all over. It’s the last letter he writes. Timothy is the hope for the future. I mean, this is his son in the faith. This is the guy who he’s passing the mantle to and passing the baton to. Timothy is in Ephesus. He’s all discouraged and downtrodden. He says to him, “Stir up the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6), because Timothy obviously had let his gift fall into disuse because he was so discouraged. And he says, “God hasn’t given us a spirit of cowardice or fear or timidity” (2 Timothy 1:7). Then he says to him, “Don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8). Then he says to him, “Hold on to sound doctrine, retain sound words, guard the truth” (2 Timothy 1:13). And you look at that and you say, “What is going on in this guy’s life?”

Paul says, “All who are in Asia have forsaken me” (2 Timothy 1:15). And the implication is, “Please, Timothy, don’t you do it. I’ll accept that one house of people was faithful. Everybody else in Asia has turned their back on me.” I go back to that verse a lot. Now, if Paul couldn’t expect any better than that, what should I expect? I am not Paul or any reasonable facsimile. Don’t expect too much. I mean, look at Jesus. He came to the cross and all of the disciples forsook him and fled. And Peter, his number one guy, the spokesman, the articulator of all the issues, denies him three times. I mean, it was the “oh-ye-of-little-faith” association. They were blockheads. They never ever seemed to get it. Here they are near the cross and they’re arguing about who’s the greatest in the kingdom. They were totally indifferent to what Jesus was anticipating.

You just can’t get your expectations too hot. I think that’s a general answer. I don’t know about four or five things, but just realize that your service is rendered to the Lord, and if you start anchoring your sense of significance and sense of accomplishment in the ministry to how it’s affecting people, you will ride a rollercoaster. That’s why we go back to the text here and we anchor to those truths which never change.

Oftentimes we don’t recognize our own flaws but other people do. When someone criticizes you, how do you determine whether they’re valid or not, or whether or not you can work on those things?

First of all, don’t ever get defensive. Don’t defend yourself. Defend your doctrine. Defend your friends, your church, your wife, and your kids. Just don’t defend yourself. Years ago I determined that if anybody criticizes me — and the Lord has given me ample opportunities to put this into practice — I would say, “Thank you, pray for me. I want to examine the criticism you’ve given and look at my own heart.” That’s the way I always answer letters like that. I say, “Thank you for being concerned,” even if it was vitriolic. I want to look at my own heart and see if there’s some element of that that’s true and deal with my own heart on that. Never get in a defensive mode. If somebody comes up even after a service at church and criticizes me, I thank them and just ask them to pray for me.

See, I might defend myself at that point, but there are things in my life I could never defend, so it’s just a question of what they picked. So I don’t want to get in any kind of situation to be self-defensive, and I think it’s very important that you honestly ask yourself, “Hey, is there something here?” I think that’s an honest thing. But that’s between you and the Lord. I don’t think you have to go back to them and say, “You’re right, and you hit it right on the head.” I just think you take it, and if there’s some reality in it, fine.

I’m going to close just the thought tonight with the Book of Job. I’ll just give you a quick overview of Job. Job had a bunch of biblical counselors. They were all biblically certified. All those guys. They were all biblical counselors. They all had absolutely accurate theology. They knew theology. They knew sound doctrine. They knew their God. They knew what the Lord had revealed. They knew Job. They knew his problems. They knew his troubles. They understood all of his circumstances. And all their counsel was wrong.

Why? Because they didn’t know what they couldn’t know. They didn’t know there was a deal between God and Satan that was going on, and the only reason stuff was happening to Job was because of that. I say that to say there will be things in your ministry for which there is no earthly explanation. That’s what the Book of Job is telling us. Just fall on your face and say, “I had heard of you with a hearing in my ears, now my eye sees you and I repent in dusting ashes. Sorry I ever questioned.” And we’ll see why God does that.

But the whole book of Job is meant to show us that things are going to happen in our lives for which there’s no earthly explanation. You can pile up all the biblical counselors you want on top of each other, and they’re not going to get it right. Job’s friends showed up and were silent for seven days. After seven days, they opened their mouths and all wisdom left.

I mean, there’s a point in your life when you have these struggles that you just silently fall on your face before a sovereign God and accept what happened, and there may not be an explanation for it. There may not be. You don’t need to say, “Oh, I sinned.” Job said, “Look, I didn’t.” You know how Paul begins 2 Corinthians? In 2 Corinthians 1:12, he says, “My conscience is clear.” This isn’t punishment. Do you know what I’m driving at? You don’t have to feel that every time something goes wrong in your life that it’s some great chastening. It’s not that you’re perfect, but if you’re dealing with the issues of your life, God has purposes. We’ll talk about those tomorrow.

is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s University and Seminary, and featured teacher of Grace to You.