2 Corinthians 4:5-7
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
We’ve been talking about our role as ambassadors or agents for the kingdom of God. Paul says in our text: “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” We are walking advertisements for Jesus Christ. We have a message to bring from God to the people whose lives we touch. We are missionaries. Just because we don’t go to far-off countries doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play in building God’s kingdom.
If God’s kingdom is going to include people from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and tongues — do you think that just maybe that might include some folks in your people group … not just remote tribes on the shores of the Amazon who don’t have a written language?
Blog writer Fred Peatross likes to ask the difficult questions. He likes to rock the boat a little bit in the church, and he tells this story …
From 1993 through 1999 I traveled to the former Soviet Union twelve times to nurture a church we planted in Dneprodzerzhinsk, Ukraine. During my time there I wrestled with the language, learned social customs, political climate, dress code, and diet. I immersed myself in Ukrainian culture, discovered points where the gospel connected and made faith tangible and relatable to the people. Who in their right mind would leap off the plane in Kiev, Ukraine and announce, "Your music stinks, you dress funny, and your language is gibberish. And by the way, Jesus loves you!"
But think about it … isn’t that the way many Christians approach American culture in the 21st century? Is it any wonder so many unbelievers tune us out? I’m not saying we should change or water down the gospel message, but what can we do?
Our Scripture this morning gives us a hint that maybe bopping people over their heads with all the stuff they’re doing wrong isn’t the right approach. Until God shines his light in somebody’s heart, they’re blinded to the truth of the gospel. Our message may not make a whole lot of sense to them. They can’t understand it. Paul even said it is foolishness to them, in his first letter to the church at Corinth — “Jews demand miracles and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Paul tells the Corinthians here that his focus when he came to their city was to preach Jesus Christ as Lord … and to be their servant for Christ’s sake. The word Paul uses here, DOULOS, translated “servant” by some “slave” or “bond-servant” by others, means one who is devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests — a slave — one who gives himself up to another’s will, especially those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men. Paul used this word A LOT when describing himself and the people who shared his ministry.
By serving the people, Paul and his companions validated their message that Jesus is Lord.
Validate — to prove that something is true, it is well-grounded on principles or evidence, it is trustworthy. Their service testified to the truth that their lives had been changed by the living Jesus Christ.
In other words, when Paul brought the gospel message to people, he backed up what he said with what he did. He was their DOULOS. But — and I think this is important — Paul also said Jesus was a DOULOS. Philippians 2:7 — Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a DOULOS. Paul and the others were only following the example of their Master. Time after time, everywhere he went, Jesus not only talked about the kingdom of God and the kind of relationship God wanted to have with people, but Jesus’ servanthood backed up his message.
Jesus said: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus did: He healed a man with a crippled hand on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, in front of a bunch of Pharisees who were trying to test him.
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus did: He raised Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus did: He fed 5,000 from two fish and five loaves.
Jesus said: “God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … to release the oppressed.”
Jesus did: He freed people from demon-possession on many occasions.
Jesus’ actions always made people trust that his words were true. They always proved that he was who he said he was.
So what about us? We’re all ambassadors … So why should we serve? What motivates us? From our text — God made his light shine in our hearts, awakening us to new life, opening our ears to understanding the truth of the gospel. And that light shines out in our service to others — to those who haven’t yet heard, to those who don’t yet understand.
Our service validates the Gospel because Jesus Christ is the one who reaches out with our hands. And Jesus Christ is the one we serve — because “whatsoever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me.”
To illustrate this point, the Rev. Dr. Rick Lowery of Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, tells this story about the 16th century rabbi Isaac Luria —
A Jewish couple, Jacobo and Esperanza are expelled from Spain and go to live in Israel. Jacobo goes to Shabbat services in the synagogue, but he doesn’t know Hebrew that well and doesn’t always understand everything in the service.
But one Shabbat he hears read the part in Leviticus 24 in which the people of Israel are told to give God 12 loaves of challah bread in the tent of meeting every sabbath as an offering.
Jacobo is overjoyed. He rushes home to tell Esperanza: God likes challah for Shabbat! And you make the best challah in the world! So the next week, before Shabbat, Esperanza baked 12 loaves of her best challah. Kneading all of her good intentions and her desire to serve God into the bread. Friday before Shabbat, they put the 12 loaves into the ark of the covenant, said buen apetito to God and went home.
The janitor came into the synagogue and he prayed, God, my children are starving. I need a miracle. He opens the ark, sees the challah and takes it gratefully home to feed his family … because he trusted that God would provide.
The next day at services, when the old rabbi opened the ark, Jacobo and Esperanza could see the challahs were gone. God had eaten every crumb. They smiled at each other in satisfaction.
This went on, week after week, for 30 years.
One Friday as Esperanza was leaving the challah in the ark for God, she prayed, “God, I’m sorry about the lumps in the challah. I’m not as young as I used to be, and my fingers don’t work as well as they used to. But I hope you enjoy them anyway.”
Just then the old rabbi came out. “What are you doing, you fools?”
“We’re giving God his challahs!”
“Don’t you know that God doesn’t eat??”
"Well you may be a rabbi, but there are some things you don’t know. God most certainly does eat. For 30 years we’ve been leaving him challahs and he’s never left so much as a crumb."
"Hide back here with me and let’s see what’s really happening to your challahs."
Pretty soon the janitor came in. He prayed: “God, I don’t want to complain, but your challahs have been getting a little lumpy lately. Still, they are keeping my family alive and I am grateful for them.
The old rabbi leaped out. "Stop, you terrible man! Don’t you know that the great scholar Maimonedes said that God doesn’t have a body! God doesn’t bake and God doesn’t eat. You have all three been committing the sin of anthropomorphism!!!"
At this point, Jacobo, Esperanza and the janitor all began to cry. The good couple were crying because they had dearly wanted to serve God. The janitor was crying because he suspected this meant no more challahs.
Just then the great rabbi Isaac Luria came into the room. He said to the old rabbi, "You had better go home and get your will in order. 30 years ago, your time had come to die, but the angel of death was called off because God was having so much fun watching what was going on in your synagogue. But now that’s all over, and before the next Sabbath you will be buried."
Then he turned to the couple and the janitor.
Now that you know who’s been baking your challahs and you know who’s been eating your challahs, you must continue to bake them and eat them as before. Jacobo and Esperanza, you must take them directly to the janitor. And you all must believe with perfect faith that it is God who bakes and God who eats and God is no less present among you than before."
On a very large scale, that is something we hope happens as a result of the relief and rebuilding effort going on now in the countries devastated by the tsunami. We give our donations through Presbytery, or other Christian organizations, not only because we want to restore homes and provide clean water and food — but we also pray that God will use our service to open doors for people to hear about and accept him.
When we do mission work in this church — when we buy books for the literacy program, when we pay for a man’s eye surgery, when we have a luncheon or music program for the seniors at Canterbury — we want to serve the community we are in — and we want to do it in such a way that it brings glory to Christ and will draw people to him.
When we reach out to a neighbor or a co-worker, we’re doing mission work. When we shovel snow for an elderly or sick neighbor. When we take the time to listen to a co-worker’s struggles. When we take food over to welcome a new neighbor just moving in. Whenever we reach out to help, we are sharing the gospel.
Preach the gospel everywhere you go, and if necessary, use words.
St. Francis of Assisi