The ministry to which we are called is the preaching of “the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is a ministry in which all believers have a share, since God has ordained that this treasure — of the light of the gospel — should be carried in the humblest of earthen vessels, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As evangelists, teachers, pastors, and laymen, we are all to be torchbearers in a world of darkness. Such willingness, however, must be divinely motivated, if our ministry is to be effective. So Paul proceeds to outline the threefold motivation of our ministry. First is:
I. The Motivation of Hope
Paul defines this hope as an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). It is quite clear from the context and other relevant passages that Paul’s belief in the Christian hope motivated his everyday ministry. It gave him the right perspective for the ministry — “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 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” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
The apostle discovered — as all thoughtful Christians do — that life and service in time only derive their full significance when viewed in relation to eternity. With magnificent phrasing, the apostle shows us that it is only from heaven’s standpoint that human weakness in our ministry is outmatched by divine strength. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). While it is difficult to define exactly what Paul meant by “the inward man,” it would seem, as Plummer suggests, to refer to “the highest part of our immaterial beings, which is capable of being the home of the Holy Spirit and of being ruled by Him.”
This daily renewal is the blessed compensation which only the Christian can experience. As his earthly facilities weaken and decay, the things of the Spirit become increasingly real to him. Or to put it in the words of Denney: “The decay of the outward man in the godless [person] is a melancholy spectacle, for it is the decay of everything; in the Christian [however], it does not touch the life which is hidden with Christ in God, and which is, in the soul, a well of water springing up to life eternal.”
Present suffering in our ministry is outweighed by future glory. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Because of this daily renewal, the hope of glory seemed to transfigure the apostle’s afflictions and to make them appear comparatively light and of brief duration. As Hodge remarks: “It was only by bringing these sufferings into comparison with eternal glory that they dwindled into insignificance.” Paul says the same thing in his epistle to the Romans: “If so be that we suffer with [Christ], that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (1 Corinthians 8:17-18).
Temporal things in our ministry are outclassed by eternal things. “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). No one can study the life of the apostle without being impressed with the fact that often he could have been overwhelmed by outward problems and inward pressures, but such was his eschatological view of the ministry that temporal things were outclassed by eternal things.
You will remember that the secret which kept the Old Testament saints steady, secure and true to God, amid the trials and temptations of everyday life, was the perspective of a heaven-born hope. Abraham looked for a city which had foundations, “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Moses “endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). The rest “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them … and were persuaded of them” (Hebrews 11:13).
So we are exhorted to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). As we thus look, the affliction will pass, and the night of sorrow will end, and victory will characterize our ministry.
We also notice that the hope of glory provided the apostle with the right objective for the ministry — ‘For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). An examination of these verses makes it clear that Paul’s objective for the ministry was determined by two aspects of the motivating hope.
The first was the realization of a glorified life. “For in this we groan,” he says, “earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is in heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul knew, of course, that at the Rapture or, alternatively, at the Resurrection, he would be transformed into the likeness of his Lord. He tells us about this in his letter to the Philippians 3:20-21). But the apostle was also aware of the fact that life and service on earth determined the measure in which we will reveal and reflect the resplendent glory of our Lord, in a day to come. He realized that as “one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:41-42). The solemn fact is that there can be a nakedness which is the consequence of a faithlessness on earth. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, commenting on this verse, gives this searching interpretation: “It is possible to enter into the heavenly condition with no results accruing from our earthly testimony; we may be found naked.”
What is comforting to know, however, is that the realization of the glorified life can begin right now, through the liberating work of the Holy Spirit in and through our ministry. The apostle affirms: “The Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
As we daily look into the face of our Lord, mirrored in the Holy Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are changed, or transfigured, into His image, from one degree of glory unto another. This is a metamorphosis that should be evident in the life of every true Christian. If this change is not taking place then we are not achieving the true objective of the ministry. We must ever remember that God is far more interested in what we are than what we do. Indeed, if what we are does not fulfill His purpose then what we do is virtually worthless.
We see then that Paul’s daily objective was the realization of a glorified life. But even more important than this was the satisfaction of a glorified Lord. “Wherefore, we are also ambitious, whether at home or away from home, to be well pleasing to him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). Only a life lived with this objective can ensure the unashamed joy of being fully at home with his Lord, after the striking of his earthly tent.
So we have seen what the motivation of hope calls for in our ministry. But lest we should lose heart, Paul reminds us that the secret of fulfilling this heaven-born hope is the work of God in our hearts by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. His words are quite clear on this point. He says, “Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:5).
II. The Motivation of Fear
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). The Revised Version renders these words as follows: “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord.” Nearer the mark is the translation of Conybeare and Howson: “Knowing therefore the fearfulness of the Lord’s judgment.”
Quite plainly, what Paul has in view here is the believer’s life and service, as seen in the light of the judgment seat of Christ. It is true that, as sinners, all believers have been judged at Calvary, once and for all; as sons, they are being judged day by day by a loving Father; but as servants, every Christian is yet to be judged when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ. Such a prospect should fill the intelligent believer with a healthy and holy fear.
Indeed, this “fearfulness of the Lord’s judgment” calls for a daily accountability to God. “We must all [be made manifest] before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The purpose of this review of life and service is that each believer might reap the things done during his bodily lifetime. If his motives and ministry are judged as being good, there will be the happy gaining of reward; on the other hand, if the motives and ministry are judged as being evil, there will be a shameful losing of reward.
The apostle is even more explicit in his first letter to the Corinthians: (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). It is evident from these verses that ministry exercised in the power of the Holy Spirit will appear as “gold, silver [and] precious stones,” in the day of judgment; whereas service conducted in the energy of the flesh will constitute nothing more than worthless “wood, hay and stubble.” What a sobering truth this is! How it should regulate our lives not to live after the flesh, but after the Spirit!
The fear of judgment also demands a daily responsibility to men — ‘Knowing the fearfulness of judgment,” says the apostle, “we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). His knowledge of the fearful day of judgment not only prevented him from flagging in his work, but provided him with a motivation to persuade men to believe the gospel. Indeed, his sense of responsibility was expressed with such authority and exercised with such enthusiasm that the Corinthians, in their blindness, had to conclude that he was mad. So Paul says, “Whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause” (2 Corinthians 5:13). No one can ever view service and responsibility in the light of eternity and not appear to be overenthusiastic, crazy or mad. This was true of our Lord and has been true of His faithful servants throughout the centuries.
The famous British preacher, Roland Hill, addressing the people of Wootton during one of his pastorates, exclaimed, “Because I am earnest in my preaching men call me an enthusiast, a fanatic. When I first came to this part of the country I was walking on yonder hill and saw a gravel pit fall in and bury three human beings alive. I lifted up my voice for help so loudly that I was heard in the town below at a distance of nearly a mile. Help came, and two of the sufferers were rescued. No one called me an enthusiast that day; yet when I see eternal destruction ready to fall on poor sinners, and I call upon them to escape, men dare to call me an enthusiast and a fanatic. How little they know of the fearfulness of my responsibility to men!”
It is well to remember what God said through the prophet Ezekiel: “If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, … his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33:8).
The motivation of our ministry has yet another aspect. There is:
III. The Motivation of Love
“For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Of the three aspects of our motivation in Christian service, the greatest of these is love. Paul calls it “the constraining love of Christ.” That word “constraining” is a most interesting one. It occurs twelve times in the New Testament, and nine times out of that number it is employed by Luke. Paul uses it here to indicate the twofold manner in which the love of Christ should motivate our ministry.
The love of Christ compels us. The concept of “being compelled” is the first idea behind the word. Luke illustrates this beautifully when he describes how Paul, arriving in Corinth, “was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:5). The Revised Version reads that “Paul was constrained by the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” In other words, the apostle was compelled to testify to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ by the sheer pressure of the word upon his spirit. As he viewed that great heathen metropolis and saw men and women for whom Christ died — so beaten by sin and bound by Satan — the gospel of the love of Jesus compelled him to open his mouth and testify that Jesus was the Christ.
In like manner, our ministry should be compelled by the love of Christ. If our reading of Scripture, as illumined and applied by the Spirit, does not release the compelling love of Christ in us and through us, then our hearts are not right with God, and our service constitutes nothing more than ashes upon a rusty altar; for it is not our love to Christ which is in view here, but rather the love of Christ working in us, mastering, driving and compelling us. It is the love of God “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [who] is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Such compelling love never flags, never falters, never fails. It is the expulsive power of a new affection.
So we see that the love of Christ compels us. But in the second place, the love of Christ confines us. This concept of “being confined” is the second idea implicit in our word. When the Lord Jesus disclosed His set purpose to go through with the work which His Father had given Him to do He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straightened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Straightened! That is the word. It denotes the thought of being confined within the limits of a certain course of action. It is a straightening which never allows us to deviate from the one set purpose.
This is how the love of God motivated and activated the life of the Lord Jesus; and this is how the love of Christ must motivate and activate our lives. For Him, it meant the path of the cross, even unto death, that He might be raised to the glory of God the Father, and so fulfill heaven’s redemptive purpose. For us also, it must mean the path of the cross unto death that we might die indeed unto sin and live unto God alone.
Paul declares that the only reasonable interpretation of the love of Christ, as seen at Calvary, is that when He died at Calvary we also died with Him unto sin, once and for all; and that when He rose from the dead we also rose, to live only unto Him. This is the pathway to which the love of Christ constrains us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). What an effect such a motivation of love should have on our daily ministry! It should compel us to do nothing but the work of God, and confine us to do nothing but the will of God. To be gripped by this motivation of love we need a new vision of Calvary, a rethinking of the meaning of the cross, a baptism of the love which led our Savior even unto death. Only then will our motto be “Henceforth Unto Him.”
We have examined the spiritual motivation of our ministry: the hope of glory, the fear of judgment, the love of Christ. It only remains for me to ask whether or not this threefold motivation is real in your personal experience. Do you know anything of the pull of the unseen, “the powers of the world to come,” and the pressure of eternal love upon your spirit? If your answer is negative ask God to motivate your life and service with the hope of glory, the fear of judgment, and the love of Christ, before it is too late. Soon — perhaps sooner than we think — we shall all stand before the Bema — the judgment seat of Christ — to give an account of what we have done in the body, whether good or bad. What is our Lord going to say to us? Will it be “Well done, good and faithful servant” or “Shame on you, slothful servant!”? A lot depends on our motivation for the ministry.
God give the grace to be motivated with the same hope, fear and love which enabled the great apostle to say at the end of his life, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

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