"...in all things we commend ourselves as the ministers of God...through honor and dishonor, through evil report and good report, though counted as deceivers and yet true, as unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet behold we live, as chastened and yet not killed, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things." II Cor. 6:4, 8-10
Paul established that we are the ministers of the gospel of reconciliation with God. He then asserted that we are to prove ourselves to be such ministers in the midst of any situation and by the might of God's goodness. Knowing that no situation can break us and that God's goodness strengthen us, Paul moves on to the final truth about being a minister of God: we prove ourselves to be His ministers through every circumstance. Whatever context befalls us, we are to plow through with all the magnificence of those called by God to proclaim His good news, and Paul lists three kinds of contexts: cultural, spiritual, and physical.
"...through honor and dishonor, through evil report and good report, though counted as deceivers and yet true...." As the ministers of God, we are not bound to cultural drifts and tides. All the cultures of man (whether they be decadent or wise, secular or religious, barbaric or civilized) will find some reason to despise us and our God and His gospel. Every fashionable fad or thought will have occasion to rise up against us, claiming and saying all manner of ridiculous things against us. The worst thing we can do (as some have done) is to surrender to and compromise with our current cultural paradigm, to give in to the crushing pressure of the passing whims of the world. The best thing we can do, however, is to live in the light of the fact that our true honor and acceptance is found in Christ, and our true report belongs with God; and if the world calls us liars, it is because they belong to the father of lies (II Cor. 4:3-4).
"...as unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet behold we live, as chastened and yet not killed...." As the ministers of God, our prime reality lies with what is (for the time being) unseen and not with what is seen (II Cor. 4:18). You may not be known by the world at large in any significant sense, but you are known by God in every significant sense. He knows you and sees you. His piercing gaze of light and love cuts through all the muck and murk of the world and finds you right where you are currently standing or sitting or laying. He knows you not just factually but intimately, because He made you, and He has made His home with you (I Cor. 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Rom. 3:20). And though His hand may seem heavy upon you sometimes, so that you die daily and seem to be constantly chastened, yet it is done out of love for your good, to bring you to glory unspeakable and full of joy (Rom. 8:29-30). The worst thing we can do (as some have done) is to grow weary with God's penetrating presence and His constant "meddling" and to desire a repose into spiritual stagnation, holding fast to whatever fleeting pleasures and peace that, if you wish to go deeper into the divine heart, you would have to give up. The best thing we can do, however, is to let goods and kindred go into the hands of God, and in every circumstance march through as one who is known of God.
"...as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things." Every truly serious-minded civilization has known that the world is built on sorrow. The Christian knows this as well, and yet we rejoice; not in ignorance of sorrow, but in the midst of sorrow. We rejoice because there is a God beyond all sorrow; and yet He is not untouched by our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and He takes pity on we who are of the dust (Ps. 103:13-14). His goodness outshines all the horrors of evil. Beneath the deep tragedy of the world lies the deeper comedy of the Trinity, and we have been made privy to its inside jokes: even while poor and having nothing, we are rich and have everything, because we possess and are possessed by God. Silver and gold have we not, but we do have the Mighty Maker and His all-consuming redemptive goodness that is full of life and light like lightning caught in a coal cellar.
So you see, we go through every circumstance differently than others, for our reality has changed. The gospel is not pleasant thoughts and phrases to us; it is not mere terminology. Rather, it is our context, our existence, the very air that we breathe. Circumstances cannot touch us like they did before, for we know too much now. We know God and are known of God (Gal. 4:9a). We know Christ and are bound to Christ (Col. 3:3). We know the gospel and have seen its power in our own lives, and we will see its power in the lives of others. So help us God. Amen.
-Jon Vowell (c) 2012