5 December, 2013 Neil Powell
When it comes to Gospel ministry – and particularly a pioneering, church-planting, ministry – Paul asks the kind of question that everyone is thinking: who is equal to such a task (2 Corinthians 2:16)? It’s the perfect question for any new congregation starting out together. We know that Paul preached the Gospel with great boldness and confidence, a confidence that seems to motivate him, enable him and sustain him. And his second letter to the Corinthians is a letter all about the right and wrong kinds of confidence in ministry. Consider how often the word ‘confident’ or ‘confidence’ occurs. Ten times in the book as a whole (e.g. 5:6) we are always confident and, in 5:8, we are confident.
Where does confidence for church planting come from?
In our culture, we talk of a self-confidence. Here’s Tracey Emin in her own words: ‘I’m not your average woman, and I’m not going to live your average woman’s lifestyle. I set up the rules for me. I set up the parameters. I have nobody telling me what to do.’ Former world champion boxer Chris Eubank exuded a self-confidence when he famously said: ‘I have no vices. I am a hero. Go and look it up in the dictionary and you will find a picture of me.’
I don’t doubt that in a group starting a church there are some very capable people. Gifted, skilled, equipped, trained, motivated; but the danger will be a reliance on our own abilities, a self-confidence that breeds a self-reliance. A wrong confidence.
For the Apostle Paul, confidence is found elsewhere. Paul answers his own question (2 Corinthians 2:16) in 3:4. Such confidence we have through Christ before God.
In this post I want to reflect a little on what a Gospel-confidence is.
There are only two fuels you can put in the engine to fuel ministry: ourselves and our own talents and abilities, or Christ and His Gospel that saves. I’m sure you noticed how, for Paul, confidence is through Christ and before God. A better translation there is ‘toward God’. In other words, Paul looks to God for his confidence rather than in himself for his confidence. So here’s the principle in planting: our confidence is entirely God-given. It comes from the Gospel.
What does a Gospel confidence look like? It’s recognising that our competence in ministry is entirely God-given. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5, ‘Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from GOD.’
Gospel ministry is beyond our resources or abilities. No wonder Paul asks who is equal to such a task. You and I cannot open the eyes of the blind. We cannot give life to the dead. Our confidence can’t lie in our website, or our music, or our small groups, or our community, even our coffee – it comes from the fact that the life-giving Spirit works through the Gospel to bring life and salvation and godliness.
When we recognise that our confidence comes through Christ and from God, it is wonderfully liberating because our confidence isn’t affected by our performance, results, circumstance or situation! Andy Murray has just crashed out of the US Open in the quarter-finals in a pretty humiliating straight sets defeat. And no doubt his confidence will have taken a big knock. David Moyes hasn’t had the best start at Man Utd and it can’t be easy replicating the results of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ask any celebrity and they will tell you how self-confidence comes and goes; we are up and down people. As Gospel servants, our confidence is strong because our confidence comes from God.
That’s great news, whether we are naturally over-confident or under-confident people.
Who is equal to such a task? Well the answer is there in 2 Corinthians 2:6; God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant. Paul knows that new covenant ministry is a life-giving ministry. A ministry in which God seeks to bless and we ought to expect to see people saved. The old covenant, as Paul goes on to explain in verses 7-18, could not bring life because it was an external covenant of obedience to the law. It was a ministry of death; not because the covenant was not good but because of the spiritual incapacity of the people. But Jesus fulfilled the old covenant for us in His life, and in His death He bore our penalty for our failure to keep the old covenant and so released us from it. The ministry of the Old Testament prophets was a hard one – who would want to plant a congregation in OT Israel or be a Moses, Jeremiah, or Isaiah? But the ministry of the new covenant is a glorious one because, through it, the Spirit is able to bring new life and to turn rebellious hearts back to Him.
It is God, and no other, who qualified Paul and equipped him to become a minister of the new covenant; Paul claimed nothing for himself. So, too, for any of us who are given the privilege and opportunity to be Gospel ministers. Gospel confidence is a humble confidence and that is all we need,in the words of William Carey, to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.