What it TAKES to be a TRUE MINISTER of the GOSPEL? “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and 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.” (2 Cor. 6:3-10)
Apostle Paul presents himself before the Corinthian believers as a true minister of the gospel, and it is evident that no one could find any fault in Paul’s apostolic ministry involving his service of Jesus Christ. In describing his ministry, Paul presents a long list of the hardships that he suffered for the sake of the gospel, and this is the second of three hardship lists penned in this epistle (see 4:8–12; 11:23–29). True ministers of the gospel must conduct themselves in the midst of trials with patience and endurance, fully confident that they are fulfilling the sovereign purpose of Jesus Christ in their lives.
During all of his many different types of life situations, Apostle Paul had conducted himself as a righteous and true minister of God. The above hardship list of Paul has been carefully arranged in twenty-seven categories, which are divided into three groups of nine categories each. In verses 4 and 5 Paul looks into his personal trials and the sufferings that he endured; in verses 6 and 7, Paul looks upon divine provisions that he had received and how he had conducted himself; and in verses 8–10, Paul looks towards his resultant victory over circumstances as he describes his paradoxical experiences. Through it all, Apostle Paul tried not to give any cause for others to stumble because of his ministry!
In fact, Apostle Paul first lists trials of a general nature, then sufferings inflicted by other people, and finally hardships that he had endured for the furtherance of the gospel. He then names various graces that God had produced within him as a result of these experiences, moving from external circumstances to internal qualities (vv. 6–7a). He describes some of the conditions under which he had ministered and some of the methods that he had used. Regardless of all the various setbacks, Paul had continued to fight the good fight of faith (v. 8). Regardless of how Paul had encountered his setbacks, God had preserved and blessed him through it all (vv. 9–10).
As a true minister of the gospel, Apostle Paul had only sought to serve others, not himself. Through his self-imposed disciplines like labors, sleeplessness, and fastings (vv. 4-5), Paul had been able to devote more time to his ministry. Through the spiritual riches that Paul had received from Christ, he had developed various attributes of inward moral character like purity, kindness, and love (vv. 6-7). Each pair of words in vv. 8–10 contrasted the way the world looked at Paul’s ministry with the way God looked at it. In the eyes of the world Paul received dishonor; but from God, he received honor. The world thought that he was nothing, but in God he had all that matters!
Many people in the world today are of the opinion that their faith in Christ will deliver them into a state of serenity and ease that will bring prosperity, health, and constant pleasure. However, that was neither the experience nor the teaching of early Christians such as Paul, James, or Peter, and certainly not that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul described his life as a minister of God in terms of tribulation, distress, tumult, and sleeplessness (vv. 4–5). But he also used these troubling experiences to develop within himself some rich treasures that money could not buy like purity, kindness, sincere love, honor, good report, joy, and the possession of all things (vv. 6–10).
Let us always remember that if we truly serve Jesus Christ, we can expect tribulation but through it we can rejoice since our Lord Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). Through our troubles, we can also expect some lasting benefits as well. Our Lord Jesus has told us that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. If we lose our lives for His sake, we will find them (Matt. 16:24–25). The writer to the Hebrews has encouraged us that our troubles are part of God’s loving discipline in order to train us in righteousness since we are His legitimate children (Heb. 12:8–11). James the Elder has encouraged us to rejoice in our various trials, because as they test our faith, they produce patience, which ultimately makes us mature in Christ (James 1:2–4). Apostle Peter has warned us that our “fiery trials” actually allow us to experience a bit of the sufferings of Christ so that we can ultimately experience a bit His glory as well (1 Pet. 4:12–13).