An oxymoron is a phrase used to describe something but the words just contradict one another. One could talk about the heavy atmosphere in a school room where the teacher had just confronted two boys who were fighting. Last time I checked, the atmosphere is incredibly light, even invisible!
Yet too many pastors and Christian workers today would call the title of this message, Joyful Ministry, an oxymoron. The ministry in God’s church is more often marked by strife, factions, confusion and disappointment — but not joy. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth dealt with such problems with the hope that they might once again find joy in their ministry. Through this study, each of us can find a sure prescription for finding joy in our personal ministry as believers in Christ. This will no doubt increase our collective joy as we labor together to bring the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting world.
Our ministry will be joyful as we maintain good relationships with one another, including forgiveness and reconciliation. When troubles divide us, each of us must take the lead in working to restore broken relationships — just as God did by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to Himself.
- A joyful ministry is never trouble-free but rejoices in the progress people make in spite of the troubles (2 Cor. 7:4-7).
- A joyful ministry is actually strengthened when sinful behavior brings godly sorrow among its people, humbling them enough to seek heavenly forgiveness (2 Cor. 7:8-11).
- A joyful ministry is sustained as people who experience heavenly forgiveness seek earthly restoration of damaged relationships (2 Cor. 7:12-16).
1. A joyful ministry is never trouble-free but rejoices in the progress people make in spite of the troubles.
Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. (2 Cor. 7:4-7, NKJV)
Someone once said of his ministry, “God is working in our midst despite my best efforts.” Such is His way. Often we create more trouble from inside the church than the world creates from the outside. People fight over things in the church they could care less about in their homes. It seems that some Christians see something spiritual about divisive conflicts in church. The real problem here is the juxtaposition of such conflict with the command of our LORD Jesus Christ: “Love one another…by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)
Damaging relationships with one another prevents the church from fulfilling its purpose. Failing to restore such damaged relationships prevents people from maturing in the faith. Indeed, failure to forgive and reconcile has cost more churches more congregation members than probably any other reason.
The church of God at Corinth was no exception. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote to this church concerning a member who was living with his father’s wife (Now by the wording, this would not be his mother but most likely a step-mother). This blatant sin was compounded by the church’s liberal attitude toward him. “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (2 Cor. 5:2, NKJV) The body of Christ in this highly secular, materialistic, sensual city was actually proud they had such a member in their congregation. After Paul’s first attempt to confront the sin of this member, the church did nothing. So Paul wrote another letter (2 Cor. 7:8), not part of God’s inspired word, in which he rebuked the church at Corinth sharply. The congregation then swung 180 degrees in the other direction by not only expelling him from the church but also refusing to forgive and reconcile with this man. As Paul later explained to them in 2 Corinthians:
This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. (2 Cor. 2:6-8, NKJV)
The man had repented of this sin and sought the fellowship of the body of Christ once again. The response should never be to shoot the wounded! Paul found great joy in the word from Titus that the church at Corinth had indeed mourned over her sin and was working to set things right. Paul’s comments here help them (and us) understand the critical importance of forgiveness and reconciliation in the life of the church.
Moreover, it points out the wonder of joy — we can find joy even in the midst of tragic, hurtful circumstances and sinful people. A joyful ministry is not one without such hurtful circumstances. Nor is a joyful ministry free from people who seek unbiblical means to satisfy their own lusts. Paul’s ministry was “troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.” (2 Cor. 7:5, NKJV) Yet Paul rejoiced in the people of this congregation because he saw the progress they were making. This group was far from perfect yet the Spirit of the LORD was working in them and through them. Paul saw each member as his letter of commendation (2 Cor. 3:2). They were engraved in his heart that he would live for them or die for them if necessary.
Is this the kind of love you show for people in your church? What kind of love is Paul talking about in this passage:
- A love that dares to confront blatant sin.
- A love that is willing to forgive a straying brother or sister.
- A love that opens its heart again — willing to risk it being broken in order to experience the joy of renewed fellowship.
Paul rejoices — as should you and I — by seeing the progress rather than the weakness. So clap your hands in encouragement rather than point the finger at what is lacking. This is a heavenly view of people — seeing the marvelous potential for each born-again believer and watching with utter glee as God works in their lives through the hurts and pains they cause one another.
Remember to step back from your own sphere of influence to see with joy what God is doing in the people whose lives you touch. If He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6), then He will certainly be faithful in the lives of those people to whom you minister the reconciliation of Christ! Know the joy by rejoicing in the progress of people in Christ.
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Cor. 7:8-11, NKJV)
2. A joyful ministry is actually strengthened when sinful behavior brings godly sorrow among its people, humbling them enough to seek heavenly forgiveness.
Most people have a fear of confronting another person about something that is wrong in that person’s life:
- It is beyond personal.
- It might get you a mad punch in the nose.
- It might get you a scream of indignation.
But as the Proverb goes, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6, NKJV) A friend is one who will tell you like it is, not tell you what you want to hear. Another Proverb points out the value of a timely rebuke — it makes a wise man wiser. That is, it makes a wise man who listens and responds to it wiser.
It takes confrontation of sin to bring conviction of sin.
Paul pointed out the sexual immorality of one member in the Corinthian church. He also pointed out the sin of the congregation — the real spiritual members — who refused to deal with the sin problem in their midst. It took several stern rebukes before Paul got to them. When the sorrow of conviction set in, the believers had a choice to make. Deny it or make it right.
There are two kinds of sorrow or sorry — sorry I got caught and sorry I want to make it right. One leads to grief, the other to joy. The Bible says one leads to death, the other to life. Dealing with sorrow is a serious matter.
Watch the reaction of a child who gets caught doing wrong. “Who painted the cat red Georgie?” asks the parent. “I don’t know,” shrugs the child. “Where did you get that red-tipped paintbrush you are holding behind your back?” continues the parent. “I don’t know,” says the now nervous child. “You painted the cat red, didn’t you Georgie” insists the parent. Finally, the child shuffles and mumbles a weak, “yes.” This is a classic case of the Sorry I got caught kind of sorrow. Left at this juncture, it is highly probable the dog will be purple by tomorrow.
Paul’s previous letter was so severe — you might say, “he really let’em have it!” — that even Paul regretted having sent it (2 Cor. 7:8). Yet the result of the letter was godly sorrow on the part of the Corinthians. The kind of sorrow that not only has the emotion of sorrow, the pain of the misdeed, but the decisive will to do whatever possible to make it right. Godly sorrow leads to repentance — a genuine change of heart. This is Christ at work in the life of a believer to bring about this heart-change. The joy that Paul experienced was not that he had made them sorrowful, though that would be an all-too-human reaction. Rather, Paul’s joy came from seeing their repentance. It produced in them a zeal to set things straight: “What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Cor. 7:11, NKJV). Their sorrow was not that they got caught but that they brought shame to Paul and to the name of Christ.
Godly sorrow brings with it the reward of repentance. Sorrow over sin is never wasted when one is humbled enough to seek heavenly forgiveness. Such godly sorrow will ultimately strengthen the body of Christ, His church. Because we belong to one body (Eph. 4:4), all suffer when one member strays. When that same member experiences godly sorrow, both he and the body of Christ grow stronger than before. Like the skin around a wound that heals is stronger than before it was cut, the church actually grows stronger when the straying believer repents and seeks forgiveness.
We would do well to learn from this example. All too often a believer who is given a stern rebuke simply leaves the church. Even when it is true and the straying believer knows that it is true, the sin is compounded by a denial of it. In this country, we have the good fortune of having plenty of churches to attend — if one gets too personal, you can just leave for another. The next time you find yourself on the stern end of a rebuke, consider carefully what that person is saying. If it is true, thank God for the wound of this faithful friend. Ask the LORD to perform some heart surgery on you to break your heart over your sin and lead you in turning from it.
Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you. Therefore we have been comforted in your comfort. And we rejoiced exceedingly more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I am not ashamed. But as we spoke all things to you in truth, even so our boasting to Titus was found true. And his affections are greater for you as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling you received him. Therefore I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything. (2 Cor. 7:12-16, NKJV)
3. A joyful ministry is sustained as people who experience heavenly forgiveness seek earthly restoration of damaged relationships.
Paul’s ultimate goal was not to chastise the sinner, nor to gain justice for those who were hurt by this. Instead, his ultimate goal was to reveal the depth of his fatherly concern for them in the LORD and see a change in their loyalty to him. It was impossible for the Corinthian church to accept the gospel without accepting the one who brought the gospel to them. Rejecting Paul was tantamount to rejecting his message. This is what the false teachers were working hard to bring about in the Corinthian church. Seeing their zeal to vindicate themselves in this matter, Paul was overjoyed.
Perhaps Paul thought of the truth that God “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NKJV). Or perhaps he considered Jesus’ words quoting the prophet Isaiah but applying them to Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19, NKJV). It is God who binds up the wounds in our heart. Seeking and finding reconciliation is like the spiritual salve that makes the wound disappear and increases the body’s resistance to future attacks.
Look at the words Paul uses to describe this group of church members who had been dangerously close to disowning him:
- Comfort, Rejoicing (v. 13)
- Affection (v. 14)
- Boasting/Confidence (v. 15)
These were the new words Paul used to describe his relationship to the people at Corinth. The people found joy as they sought forgiveness and reconciliation with Paul. Paul found joy in seeing their repentance. Together, the bond between Paul and the people of Corinth grew stronger. Sin in a church, or a home, or a business is never a good thing. But this shows how God can work in the midst of hurtful circumstances by sinful people to bring about something good. Revival broke out in the Corinthian church as the hearts of people, broken by sorrow over sin, found joy in repentance of it.
You can find this joy for yourself. You can have a joyful ministry in this world. Consider two things:
- What have you done that has caused hurt or grief to another member of your Sunday School class? Your church? Your neighborhood? Your action caused God great pain when you did this. Knowing you have brought pain to God, what should you do now but seek forgiveness from Him…
- Who has caused you hurt or grief in your Sunday School class? Your church? Your neighborhood?
Your lack of forgiveness and reconciliation is causing your growth in Christ to be hindered. Since we are commanded to “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32, NKJV), what should you do now with this hurtful brother or sister?
Reflect on YOUR life
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but looking back you know it was good. The discipline of rebuke, godly sorrow, and repentance is a hard lesson but a fruitful one. It is a lesson for each of of us that leads to abundant, overwhelming joy. This is how you also can have a joyful ministry.