Handle with Care!
Lord Jesus, You have entrusted me with the Gospel and made me a messenger of Your saving Word. Yet, I know how sinful and weak I am. Can I really adequately share Your Word with others? You assure me that I can, because Yours is the Word and Yours is the power. Keep me confident of this truth. Use me and let Your glory shine through me. Amen.
How well do your friends, family, and acquaintances know God? What can they learn about God from you? The psalmist praises God for many great and glorious works of God. These are the wonderful works of God we can proclaim to others! These are the wonderful works of God that give glory to Him.
Peter and John healed a lame man in Jesus' name. As a result, the Jewish Council threatened them saying they should no longer speak about Jesus. The apostles replied, first of all, that there is no one else who can give salvation. Secondly, they said that they couldn't help but speak of the grace of God and salvation through Christ. The glorious news of salvation cannot be kept hidden! We know and understand our weaknesses, we feel inadequate, but Jesus has given us His Word to use in serving others. He will equip us and to Him be the glory!
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
In the name of Christ Jesus who is the only one who can provide salvation and whose name we declare, dear fellow-redeemed:
I’d like you to consider two objects—two very different objects: A glass Christmas ornament and a big farm tractor pulling a plow. The Christmas ornament that I have in mind is a small and very fragile bulb, thin glass, beautifully colored and decorated, which from little on was my absolute favorite ornament on the tree. Each year I would eagerly look through the boxes of Christmas decorations to find this one ornament and then ask if I could hang it on the tree; and each year I would watch as my mom carefully packed it away until the next Christmas. That ornament to this day receives the safest place in the Christmas box—well wrapped and protected because it is so fragile and so important.
Now, the tractor…The big tractor out in the field is strong and powerful. It has horsepower aplenty and can accomplish much more than horses and men could do. It is big and powerful, completely different from that fragile ornament, and yet if that tractor is misused, if that tractor is neglected, if that tractor is not given proper care, it too can become totally worthless and not powerful at all.
So both, the fragile and the strong, need to be handled with care. This brings us to the picture of our Gospel ministry--that blessed privilege we have to bring the Gospel to one another and to the world. It is both strong and fragile at the same time. It is fragile because it involves us—sinful, weak human beings. It is strong because it is a ministry of God’s powerful word. Because of that powerful Word and because we know of our weakness, we may at times be rather careless and cavalier in how we handle the ministry, how we handle the Gospel with one another, and how we handle the Gospel out in the world.
This morning, using the words of Paul for our meditation, we consider the urging to HANDLE WITH CARE the ministry of the Gospel among us. That ministry which God has given us is both strong and fragile. This morning we will consider I. The work of the message and the service of the messenger and II. The endurance of the message and the perseverance of the messenger.
The Apostle Paul begins by saying, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [v.5-6]
There was no doubt in Paul’s mind as to the strength and power of this mighty word of God. He went back to creation to remind the Corinthians that the powerful Word of God is what commanded light to be in this world. “Let there be light!” and there was light! (Genesis 1:3). The same powerful word of God that created everything in the universe is the same powerful word of God that had shone into Paul’s heart to bring him to faith in Christ. Remember what Paul had been before his conversion. He was going distances to find Christians and bring them to the Council to be judged, imprisoned, and in some cases to be put to death (cf. Acts 26:1ff). He was the one who stood watching when Stephen, the first Christian, martyr was stoned to death (cf. Acts 7:58). Paul had used all of his energy, all of his resources to hunt down the faithful people of Christ. To put it mildly and bluntly, he HATED Christ. But that powerful Word of God shone into the heart of an unbelieving Saul and brought him to faith in that Savior whom he formerly hated so much. That is a powerful Word!
Paul proceeded to tell the Corinthians that the same powerful word is what had shone into their hearts. The powerful message of Christ is what brought the Corinthians to faith, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Thessalonians—all of the people to whom Paul ministered—were changed from unbelief and brought to faith, in Christ by the powerful Word of God shining the light of salvation into their hearts.
That Word of God announces all of the wonderful works of God which we heard in Psalm 147 (the Old Testament Scripture reading). From the physical blessings day by day in this life, to the spiritual blessings of our Shepherd gathering His flock and bringing each soul to faith, all of the works of God are done by His power and with His Word.
That powerful Word of God tells us of Jesus—the name by which we have salvation and apart from which there is no salvation! No other name, the apostles said, can accomplish the work of redemption and salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). No other name provides the forgiveness of sins and no other Word pronounces that name. This is why the apostles couldn’t help but speak that powerful Word of God—the message of all that Jesus had done (cf. Acts 4:20).
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus made us and all of His disciples ambassadors of the powerful Word of God. We are witnesses of that truthful, powerful, light-giving Word of God. This is why Paul had said, “We… preach Christ Jesus the Lord...” We know that the Word of God is powerful, but consider yourselves. Do you win every argument that your argue with your own logic? Does every decision you make turn out to be exactly right? Can you of yourself do anything to convince someone to believe in Jesus? All of the things that God’s powerful Word are completely impossible for us. We can’t even govern and take care of our own lives or our own situations, much less the things of God!
We have God’s powerful word and we are the weak messengers. We handle God’s Word and the ministry with care when we keep in mind the power of the message and what we are. We are sinners, we are weak, that is why we don’t preach ourselves. What good is it to you if I preach to you about me? I can’t save myself. All you would learn about the preaching of me is the sad pathetic state of a sinner. But the powerful message of God’s Word which Paul and the other faithful missionaries preached is powerful.
If we do preach ourselves we are going against God’s will and we anger Him. God tells us through Jeremiah, " ‘Behold! I am against the prophets,’ says the LORD, ‘who use their tongues and say "He says."’” (Jeremiah 23:31). At the close of the book of Revelation, John records a warning from God to all who would add or subtract or modify God’s Word in the book of Revelation. God’s warning certainly applies to all of His Word and not just the book of Revelation. He says, “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life…”(Revelation 22:18-19).
It is the message of Christ that we as messengers proclaim. God has called us to service—the service as His messengers. An important part of being a messenger is remembering that the word is not yours. You are simply a mouthpiece for the message you are given. But also the reaction that the hearers give to you is not to you, but to the message and to the one who gave you the message. Jesus said, “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). As messengers we really need not be concerned with how people respond nor should we take their response personally.
Handling the Word of God and its ministry with care means we remember that we’re the messengers. The power is not in us. We don’t have to make it work, we don’t have to tweak the message according to our thinking and thereby end up preaching something other than Christ. We simply proclaim the word that God has given us. That is what He wants us to do and that leads us to handle the Gospel ministry with boldness because we are not preaching ourselves, but Him! Proclaim the Word, speak the truth, and let the message speak for itself. If the people who hear it reject the message, don’t take it personally. Don’t let that kill your confidence, don’t let that change your mind about sharing it again. Move on, but proclaim the message you have been given.
There is eternal life in the message we proclaim. We know that God’s desire for all sinners is that they live with Him forever (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). One name, one message gives eternal life, reconciling the sinner with God. Remembering the power of the message, remembering that the power is in the message and not in our weak selves, reminds us that we need to get the message to others, because apart from that message many sinners will be lost eternally.
We are more than just messengers who carry a word. When we carry that word we serve one another. Paul, the missionary, the great apostle of Christ, told the Corinthians that he and the others were “bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” [v.5] As messengers carrying this powerful message we handle the gospel ministry with care when we remember that we are serving one another, and serving others who are still not brought to faith. This is perhaps one of the areas in which we most frequently lose focus and don’t handle the ministry with care.
Look around you. See your fellow congregation members and visitors who are here this morning. You as messengers and witnesses of this powerful word are servants of everyone you see. Pastors are called to be servants to the congregation, but also all of us are to be busily serving one another with the Gospel. If we are serving someone else out of Christian love and bringing the powerful Word to them, there is really no room for pride. There is really no room for the sins of pride that say, "This is my way, I don’t care what you think!" Or, I don’t like the way you thinking, or what you are saying and doing so I’m going to stubbornly pursue my road and if you don’t choose to fall in line that is your loss!" Where is the service in such an attitude?
Remembering the powerful message, remembering our position as messengers, we remember that we are slaves to one another, called and given the message of the Gospel to help one another, to demonstrate love and compassion as Christ did to us, to bring the Gospel to uplift one another, to correct one another when we sin – in all these ways and in every way continuing to give the truth of God’s Word in every situation to everyone whom we meet. We handle the Gospel ministry with care when we remember the life of service which Jesus gave for us to win our salvation and then seek to serve one another with that message.
The apostle went on to say, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” [v.7] If ever we are tempted to forget where the power lies we are reminded by one quick look at ourselves.
This morning in Bible Study we considered the last portion of our study in the religion of Islam—comparing it with the truth of God’s Word. One of the things that Islam says is that it is unthinkable that the God of heaven would sacrifice His greatest prophet--(by that they mean Jesus) on a cross. It is unthinkable to human reasoning. It is the unimaginable grace of God that DID sacrifice, not just His greatest prophet, but his very Son to die for our sins on the cross. In a similar way, it is unthinkable that God would choose simple, sinful, fragile human beings like us to carry His great and glorious word. A great king would certainly choose a great messenger for his message...wouldn’t he? But no, God chose us, sinful, frail, faulty, human beings. God does this so that the greatness is never in us, it is always in the message. We are the earthen vessels—the fragile Christmas ornament, the fragile clay pot that is easily smashed, but that treasure which God has given us supersedes all frailty on our part.
So, when it comes to perseverance and endurance we find that the powerful and strong word of God endures forever despite our passing nature. “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). The enduring characteristic of the message is also very important to our sharing of the Gospel. We need to remember to handle this message with care so that we don’t change it to fit the changing times. It is an enduring, unchanging, ever constant Word, always the same message. If we change it in the least to fit something else, we have not handled the ministry with the proper care.
John tells us in his Gospel account that all the things he recorded were written so that we might have life in Jesus’ name (cf. John 20:31). These words of Scripture are what we need for eternal life. The Word of Salvation will endure for as long as God’s will for the salvation of sinners endures, and that is eternally—all the way through this life and then eternal salvation in heaven. The Word doesn’t change. It doesn’t need to change. It’s effectiveness doesn’t change. Sinners’ need for the Word doesn’t change. The glorious salvation and peace of knowing our sins are forgiven don’t change.
Yet, we are those weak vessels going through this life, having difficulty through the sorrows and the trials, the disappointments, the frustrations. Paul knew what this was like. He and his fellow missionaries were pressed hard, persecuted, and in danger many times, but because of the enduring confidence he had in the enduring message of salvation, he could say, "We are hard pressed on every side, things are squeezing us, but no matter what they do, the enduring word of God stands. So, though we are hard pressed, we are not crushed."
We are perplexed—things are confusing, we have minds aflutter with all sorts of different things, but there is one source of truth to which we can always return. In their perplexity they did not despair because the Gospel was there.
Persecuted, but not forsaken. The three men in the fiery furnace told king Nebuchadnezzar, "If you are going to throw us into that fire, God has the power to deliver us. And even if He chooses not to deliver us, even if we die, we will not worship your false god!" (cf. Daniel 3:17). Even in the face of persecution the Old Testament believers did not doubt, nor did Paul and his companions doubt, nor do we need to doubt that as we face these troubles we are forsaken—God promises to always be near.
“We are struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.” [v.8-12]
There is persecution from those who oppose Christ. There is the opposition within our own sinful flesh and the need to crucify ourselves to instead follow Christ. All of the challenges, all of the pressing and problems that afflict a child of God in this life are real, but they shall not overcome. The messengers shall persevere because of the enduring quality of God’s saving message.
It is important as we handle the Gospel ministry with care that we do persevere by going again and again to the Rock of salvation. Also, remember that your fellow Christians whom you are serving are like you, weak vessels. They need your service and your help to persevere. When they stumble, when they fall, when they perhaps even irritate you or sin against you, remember they are battling the same temptations and weaknesses you are. Be patient, be kind, and forgive them even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (cf. Ephesians 4:32).
Handle the ministry with care. It has all the power of God’s mighty Word and it has all the frailty of our weakest points. Through the power of God’s Word we are strengthened to service and to persevere in that service to the glorious end. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt