Paul found a way to keep from losing heart in his ministry, even though his trials in the world and the church likely were much greater than either you or I will ever experience.
Paul continually remembered that he was a vessel of God’s undeserved mercy.
2 Corinthians 4:1 says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.”
Paul draws this conclusion from the previous chapter which explains how God had appointed him a minister “of the new covenant.” He had received his ministry by God’s undeserved mercy. There was no basis for getting a big head or for thinking that he deserved better treatment. But there is more to it than that. Paul himself had received sovereign mercy in his salvation as well as his appointment to ministry. The text literally says, “as we have been mercied (once for all), we do not lose heart.”
1 Timothy 1:12-16 says, “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. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
Mercy and grace received in Christ alone kept Paul’s heart loving sinners just like himself, even when they persecuted him for bringing God’s truth to them. For this reason, Paul was able to wrestle through the temptations of losing heart and growing weary in well-doing.
In another place, Paul lists temptations to despair, to be crushed, to be destroyed, to lose heart, but he explains how the mercy he received kept his mind and heart serving the Lord and giving up his life for the good of others’ souls:
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 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, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 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, but life in you.”
The mercy Paul received in Christ and Him crucified protected his mind and heart from the temptations he experienced. No matter what happened to him, no matter how others responded to his ministry, he was not forsaken by the One who suffered on the Cross for his soul’s salvation. He had been bought with the price of precious blood; therefore, he was committed to glorify God in his body, whether by life or by death. The dying of Jesus for his soul moved him to die for others’ souls no matter what they did to him.
How then can the pastor keep from growing weary in well-doing or losing heart, especially when people do not respond to the gospel, or when Christians in the church do not grow as they should?
You have to keep on remembering what you were before mercy came to you. You have to remember the mercy which came upon the cross. You have to count God’s mercy in Christ as the greatest joy of your life in the midst of persecution, opposition, rejection, and being ignored. You have to deny yourself, take up the cross daily, and follow Him.
Only mercy received can renew your inner man each day while your outer man is being used up to give life to others. That’s why Paul concluded this chapter with these unselfish words of faith in God’s eternal mercy:
2 Corinthians 4:15-18 says, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Fred A. Malone