(2 Corinthians 4: 1-6)
I’m currently reading a book entitled: His Very Best which is about Jimmy Carter, our 39th President of the United States. It’s a pretty long book as I’m about two-thirds of the way through and have just now gotten to the peace negotiations at Camp David. Carter’s story starts with his birth before the Great Depression growing up in rural Georgia. They weren’t poor but they weren’t well off by any standards. He was a product of his environment growing up in the segregated south and faithfully attending church from an early age. Like some of us, he witnessed many things that just weren’t right and didn’t say or do anything. It was just the way things were and there wasn’t anything, as a boy, that he could do about it. And, as he grew, there would be times when he could do something, say something, or take a stand, and he didn’t, because the realities and personal risks were too great. Deep down inside he knew these injustices weren’t right but as long as they didn’t negatively impact him personally, it was best not to draw any attention. But then he started evolving, slowly evolving and began doing what he could to effect change, even if it was a minor change. As President, he took some pretty tough positions on some very unpopular issues and because of his stubbornness and the opposition he generated within the halls of Congress he became a one-term President. But that didn’t stop him, and he continued evolving as the light grew brighter and he worked to bring people out of the darkness. The author pointed out that Carter, a Baptist, was greatly influenced by his wife Rosalynn, a Methodist, who was real big on the Wesleyan concept of faith without deeds is dead. And it’s that faith coupled with deeds that help us evolve as Christians, to become better Christians, to become our very best.
And it’s that personal evolution that I see in our Scripture reading for this morning. This is actually Paul’s fourth letter to the church in Corinth which was really struggling. There was a lot of opposition within the church to what Paul was preaching and many of his detractors were using his own past and conduct against him as this power struggle intensified. Paul had always been strong in his faith, but his pre-Christianity deeds were nothing to write home about, and it provided fodder for his detractors. It was when he saw the light on the road to Damascus, that he began his evolutionary journey out of the darkness to becoming a better Christian. He starts out by saying: Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Since Paul has been granted this great privilege and responsibility of being a minister of the new covenant, he claims that he cannot afford to be discouraged. Paul has evolved and he knows it. He along with his colleagues, conduct themselves transparently without being deceitful or exploiting God’s word to their own advantage. He has no hidden agenda or side angle that he’s trying to work. He’s not in it for himself. He continues on by saying: On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 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. Paul is stepping out and speaking the truth as plainly and simply as he possibly can, appealing to the consciences of those he is trying to reach. He is sure that these people know what he is saying is the truth, but the truth has been hidden from them. If their message, like the old covenant, is veiled to its hearers, it is not because of Paul’s incompetence or mishandling of God’s word. Rather it’s because Satan and the world’s anti-God powers have cast a metaphorical veil over the eyes and minds of unbelievers. They are blinded with incomprehension about the saving and transforming knowledge in the new covenant and glorious gospel of Christ. And here we are 2,000 years later fighting the same battle that we seem to be losing ground on daily. With all that the world has to offer, distractions and diversions, it is seemingly more difficult to get the word of God out to those who need to hear it. What we’re offering, to the un-believer, doesn’t seem exciting or satisfying. There’s no immediate gratification. It’s because, like Paul says, For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. Well, that doesn’t sound like very much fun, and who wants to voluntarily become a slave. Satan is “the God of this age” and his work is to deceive, and he has blinded those who don’t believe in Christ or what Christ stands for. The allure of money, power, and pleasure blinds people to the light of Christ’s gospel. It eclipses the light, casts a shadow over it, obscures it from view as a dark cloud.
Paul says; For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As God commanded the light to shine in the darkness at creation, so he turns on the light in people’s hearts so they can see who Jesus Christ is. Believers see and turn towards the light. For me, and maybe people like Jimmy Carter, the light is more like a three-way bulb or a bulb on a dimmer switch. Each time you turn the switch or move the dimmer up, the light gets a little brighter where you can see more, things become clearer, or the light becomes so bright you can no longer ignore it. Jimmy Carter’s story is like that. When he was younger the light was there, but it was dim, it was obscured by the accepted injustices all around him. As he grew older and more confident the light became brighter and he began to witness to people, even when he was in the White House. Can you imagine that? The President of the United States took time out of his busy day to talk to someone about Jesus Christ. And, at age 95, he continues to evolve bringing even more light into the darkness. Maybe being President was just one step in his evolutionary journey to what God really wanted him to do.
The Apostle Paul did not achieve this ministry by his own human ability, but by God’s mercy. No matter how difficult the task or how great the opposition, Paul did not retreat in silence, but spoke boldly because he was motivated by the grace of God. With God’s help he evolved and became a more effective witness for Christ. And when we witness, we must tell people about what Christ has done in our lives and what a difference it has made, how we are the better for it and so can they if they just accept the light. You share your story with them, by identifying with them, and that you used to believe as they did until you were shown the light. Through you, people must be introduced to Christ by who you are, not who you used to be.
In your Christian evolutionary journey how has God shone His light upon you? How has God helped you evolve into a better Christian? Or are you waiting to evolve? Are you ready for God to turn the light up so you can see more clearly? And, are you ready to pay the price for embracing the light and doing the right thing for Jesus’ sake? Are you committed to giving it your very best?
Please pray with me.
Our lives, they way they were meant to be lived, are in you Lord. Our strength to do what is right and just, is in you Lord. Our hope for a better future, is in you Lord. Because of your unconditional love we will praise you with all of our lives. We will praise you with all of our strength as we fight the good fight to let the light shine out of darkness so that others will be led to you through your loving Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior. Amen.