“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you
also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For He
saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day
of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Giving
no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed: as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet -making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor.
This is the standard that the Spirit of God sets up for every servant of Christ, and is that at which every true “minister of God” should aim. You will notice the apostle speaks of such as fellow-workers with the rest of His people. “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” The New Testament minister of Christ, the scriptural pastor, evangelist, or teacher, is not one who lords it over the con- sciences of God’s people, but he is a fellow-worker with them. The italicized words, “with him,” which may suggest workers together with God are not really found in the original. The apostle is not exactly saying, “We are fellow-workers with God,” for we are under God as our Master, but we who are members of the Church, and those of us who have particular responsibility, are fellow-workers, we are laborers together for the blessing of the whole Body of Christ and for the evangelization of a lost world. Addressing this church, the apostle says, “We beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Christians have been richly blessed; God has lavished His goodness upon us. What response are we making to the love of His heart? To receive His great goodness, to glory in salvation by grace, and yet to live carnal, worldly lives is indeed to “receive the grace of God in vain.” Let there be on our part a constant response of loving devotion to Him who has so graciously accepted us in the Beloved.
“For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.” The apostle quotes this passage from the Old Testament to remind us how God has taken us up when poor sinners and has made us His own. But I cannot pass the last part of this quotation without reminding any who are out of Christ that this message of salvation is still going out to a lost world and to all men everywhere. God is saying, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If you are still in your sins, still out of Christ, there is no reason why you should go on even for one more day, for one hour, even for one minute, refusing the salvation God is offering, or fearing to appropriate it lest it might not yet be God’s time to save. It is ever God’s time: “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The moment you are ready to turn to God as a poor, lost, needy sinner, that moment He is ready to receive and to save and to grant you His forgiveness and to make you His child. This verse really comes in parenthetically. In the verses that follow the apostle sets forth the ideal minister of Christ.
In the first place, he must be careful of his own personal behavior that he may not stumble another. “Giving no offence in any thing.” By the term “offence” he does not mean hurting people’s feelings. It is quite impossible for any servant of Christ to behave himself so as never to hurt the feelings of someone. It is impossible to so speak, to so act that one can forever be free from hurting people’s feelings. Some people carry their feelings on their sleeves all the time. If you do not shake hands with them, you probably intended to slight them. If you do, you hurt them, forgetting they have rheumatism. If you stop to speak with them, you are interrupting them. If you do not, you are “high-hatting” them. If you write them a letter, they are sure you want to get their money. If you do not, you are neglecting them. If you visit them, you are bothering them. If you do not, it shows you have no interest in the flock. It is impossible to please everyone, but when the apostle says, “Giving no offence,” he means so behaving yourself that Ho one can point to you and say, “That man’s ways are such that I lose confidence in the salvation that he professes.” The minister of Christ must first of all be a regenerated man, and then a man walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, “giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that the ministry be not blamed. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience.” How much patience the minister of Christ needs!
The apostle then gives us three series of nines. First, he gives us in nine different expressions the testing of the minister of Christ. He is to manifest much patience in affliction. He is not to expect to be above affliction; it is the common lot of God’s people in this scene. And the minister of Christ must share with the rest in neces- sity. He is not to expect to live in luxury while others are often distressed. I have been thankful for experiences that God has given me in difficult pioneer days in Christian work. They enable me to enter into the feelings of others who are in deep need. I have often known what it was to pull up my belt one notch for breakfast, and another for lunch, and another for supper. The longest time I went without food and kept on preaching, was three days and three nights, and yet by the grace of God I was enabled to preach three times a day during those three days and nights. I happened to be in a place where I had no money, and God’s people thought I lived by faith and they let me do it, but nothing came in for food. I have often thanked God for those days, for I have found out how God could sustain a man altogether without food. I shall never forget when on the morning of the fourth day I thought I would stay in bed for breakfast, and then I saw a letter slipped under my door. I opened it and found these words, “Inclosed is an expression of Christian fellowship,” and there was a ten-dollar bill. I went out and enjoyed the best breakfast that I ever remember having in my life. Hunger whets the appetite. I fancy there are very few who have trod the path of faith who have not known these things. And then the Christian minister is to approve himself in distresses, and if he cannot find anything otherwise to distress him, he will always find someone to help him along. In Paul’s day ministers had to pass through what few of us are called upon to pass through these days. “In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings.” Here you have the training of the minister. He is to learn his lessons in the school of affliction that he may able to enter into and sympathize with the people of God in their afflictions.
And then in verses 6, 7 we read of nine characteristics that should mark him out as a man of God. He is to be characterized by pureness. The minister of Christ is to be above anything like uncleanness of life or thought, he is to be marked by that purity that characterized the Lord Jesus Christ. And then “by knowledge.” It is his responsibility to become acquainted with the things of God and with other branches of useful knowledge that may help him to minister to people in their various states of heart and mind, for he should be Christ’s servant to the fullest possible extent. Then he must be marked “by longsuffering” not readily provoked. In fact, the apostle tells us, that where love controls the heart, one is not easily provoked. Nothing so shows a man out of fellowship with God as a bad temper. A bad-tempered minister will never be a real testimony for Christ. Then, “by kindness.” And how one fails in this, how little he rises to this ideal! Men and women long to find those who have a tender, kindly interest in them. And this should characterize the pastor.
But next we read, “By the Holy Ghost.” He is to be a man not only indwelt by the Holy Ghost but filled with the Spirit of God, living in the power of the Spirit, and so ministering by the Spirit. I have prayed hundreds of times, and I still pray, “God keep me from ever being able to preach except in the power of the Holy Spirit of God.” I would rather be smitten dumb than mock God and mock the people to whom I speak, by simply standing up to give them my own vain thoughts instead of the mind of God in the energy of His Spirit. And then again we read, “By love unfeigned.” A love that is genuine, not put on, that is not pretended but is real, because implanted in the heart by the Spirit of God. “By the word of truth.” The minister of Christ must know his Bible, and preach the Bible by the power of God, which only comes as one draws from Him in secret before appearing in public. “By the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” That is, right living, right doing.
And then in closing this description of the ideal minister we have in verses 8 to 10, nine paradoxes which are all to be seen in the man of God. “By honor and dishonor” Some may approve and some may disapprove, but he is to keep the even tenor of his way. “By evil report and good report.” Some may say wicked, unkind things about him, but he is not to retaliate. Others may over-praise him, but he is not to be lifted up but to go on in dependence on the Lord. “As deceivers, and yet true.” Men may claim that he knows not whereof he speaks, but he is to give his message knowing it to be the very Word of God. “As unknown, and yet well known.” How little the minister of Christ counts for in the great world outside, and yet how much he may mean to the people of God. I remember well how stirred I was when our late beloved brother, Dr. R. A. Torrey, passed away. I was in New York and I picked up a newspaper, and there saw a little two-inch item saying that Dr. R. A. Torrey had died, and in the same paper there was a column-and-a-half telling of the death of a moving-picture actor on the same date. But when I picked up a Christian journal a little later, I found column after column telling of Dr. Torrey, and there was no mention of the actor! It makes all the difference which crowd you belong to. “As dying, and, behold, we live.” The apostle says, “I die daily,” and then again, “We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake” (chap. 4:11). And then, “As chastened, and not killed”—as patiently enduring divine discipline and yet not killed. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How can a man be sorrowful and always be rejoicing? No man can look around upon a world like this without sorrow if he possesses the Spirit of Christ. Yet we are made to rejoice as we think of the goodness of the Lord. “As poor, yet making many rich.” I have heard of very few servants of Christ possessed of much of this world’s wealth. They go through life giving not only their testimony but of their means to bless and help others, and die at last leaving little behind them, and yet if they have been the means of bringing many souls to Christ and building up His people in the truth, what a privilege that is, for they have been making many rich. “As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” The minister of Christ surrenders in a large measure his right to a place in this world, to the honor of this world, to the wealth of this world. But though surrendering it all, though it seems he may be literally throwing away his life, in Christ he has everything. This is the ideal minister of Christ. To what extent do we who are engaged in the work of the Lord measure up to it? Let us test ourselves by these verses, and seek by grace to manifest those things that the Holy Spirit here puts before us. Then our hearers will indeed realize that we have been with Jesus and learned of Him!