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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Truth Plainly Spoken
Text:2 Corinthians 4:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Blue Psalter unless otherwise noted):
14 - Wholehearted Thanksgiving to Thee I Will Bring
438 - Thy Love to Me, O Christ  
6 – (Supplemental Songs) - Blessed Jesus at Thy Word
229 (Red) - O Word of God Incarnate 
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“The Truth Plainly Spoken”
2 Corinthians 4:1-7
The radio transmission carried a woman's voice saying, “Hello, Petey, can you hear me? If you can't, you’re in big trouble!” Indeed, he would have been, for Petey was Rev. Peter Popoff, an evangelist who seemed to have amazing power. He could look out into his audience and tell people their exact street address and then describe to them what ailments they were facing. He attributed his abilities to God-given talents, and he promised healing to the amazed people who gathered in large crowds to hear him.
However, as his popularity and his wealth grew, a man by the name of Paul Randi and his associate Steve Shaw, were able to prove that Rev. Popoff's wife was using a wireless radio transmitter to relay the names, street addresses, and ailments that she and other members of his staff received from prayer request cards that they asked audience members to fill out as they entered the building.
That exposé of a false teacher took place back in 1986 and is described in a book by Michael Horton entitled The Agony of Deceit. In that book he describes many others who have used their ministries to deceive people for their own personal gain. They prove the truth of the biblical observation that there is nothing new under the sun. As long as there has been the truth of God's word, there have been deceivers who distort that truth and lead great multitudes astray.
That was certainly the case in Corinth where there were many false teachers who vied for the attention and support of the people in the church. As the apostle Paul has already noted frequently in this letter, he had to defend himself against these false teachers. He faced a great challenge, yet he did not lose heart but faithfully proclaimed God's word.
Preaching without Deception or Distortion
As he did so, we see that he preached the word of God without deception or distortion. He writes about that in verse 2 (in our NIV pew Bibles) where he states, We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.” (Or, as the ESV puts it: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word…”).
There are many who use secret and shameful ways. Many use cunning to tamper with God’s word. I wish I could say that Rev. Peter Popoff was the only one, but if you flip through the so-called “religious” television channels, you will find there are many false teachers today who use shameful ways and deception as they distort the word of God.
One of the most popular distortions of the word of God today is the teaching of the prosperity gospel. The message that is given by the prosperity preachers amounts to receiving heaven here on earth. If you only have enough faith you will have lots of money, good health, and all sorts of worldly blessings.
Usually, to demonstrate that you truly have strong faith, you need to send a good portion of your money – even if it is on your credit card – to the ministry of the prosperity preacher. When you have given sacrificially all that you can give, then God will bless you greatly. And if that blessing never comes, then it is because you did not have enough faith.
Later in his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul points out that God does indeed bless the cheerful giver, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive, because all that we have is from the Lord.  But the teaching of prosperity preachers is a tragic distortion of the word of God.
In his book, The Agony of Deceit, Michael Horton describes one popular evangelist who sent his hearers an “anointed” sponge. Those who received the anointed sponge were promised that when they washed themselves with that sponge, they would be healed of whatever ails them, and they would be richly blessed. But of course, a large monetary gift must be given to receive the sponge and then, through a special anointing, the sponge will “unlock heaven’s storehouse for you.”
We should not be surprised that there are so many false teachers in the visible church today. Some are blatantly obvious; others are more deceptive and cunning. But that has always been the case. It was certainly the case in Corinth. Later in this letter, in chapter 11, the apostle tells the Corinthians – and us – that we should not be surprised that there are false apostles and deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. He writes: And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (1 Cor. 11:14-15).
Setting Forth the Truth Plainly
But in contrast to the false teachers, faithful servants of the Lord will follow the example of the apostle Paul who defends himself there in verse 2 (in our NIV pew Bibles) by reminding his readers, 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 everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
In contrast to those who were deceptive and distorted God's word – tampering with the word – the apostle assures his readers that he spoke the truth plainly in the sight of God. Speaking the truth plainly has always been a mark of biblical preaching. Biblical preaching doesn't need to be doctored up with entertainment or cleverness. Some ministers do everything they can to be clever and to entertain, thinking that they can more effectively bring the gospel into peoples' hearts by doing so. As one writer puts it, “The modern gospel is marketed to consumers, not proclaimed to sinners.” (Michael Horton, The Agony of Deceit).
Those who market the gospel to consumers instead of proclaiming the gospel to sinners fail to see the need of verse 2. They fail to see the need to set “forth the truth plainly, commending themselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.”   
Efforts to doctor up the word of God, to make it entertaining and clever, may be appreciated by some congregations who want preachers to tell them what their itching ears want to hear. But what matters is not whether the congregation feels entertained and amused by cleverness, but whether God is pleased by the faithful preaching of his word.
But why is it that the faithful preaching of God's word is more effective in the conscience – the mind and heart of God’s people – than a clever, entertaining message? It is because God's word is powerful and effective in itself.  In verse 2 the apostle points out that he preached the truth plainly. The reason he preached the truth plainly was to reach the conscience of those who heard the word of God proclaimed.
God's word, plainly presented, has way more power than any human cleverness. We see that in a passage such as Hebrews 4:12: The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Human cleverness doesn't judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, but the pure preaching of God's word does.
Another reason why the preaching of God's word, when done without cleverness and entertainment, is so effective is because God promises that His word will never return to Him void. In Isaiah 55:10-11 the Lord says:
          For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
               and do not return there but water the earth,
           making it bring forth and sprout,
               giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
                 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
              it shall not return to me empty,
           but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
             and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God's word, plainly and clearly proclaimed, has power to convict the conscience of even the most hardened sinner. And God's word as it is proclaimed has power, by the Holy Spirit's work of grace, to bring eternal life into the hearts of those who respond with saving faith to the preaching of the word.
A third way that Paul differentiated himself from the false prophets was by proclaiming Christ as Lord and himself as a servant. In verse 5 he writes, for we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
It is significant that the apostle Paul did not preach about himself, because the false teachers in Corinth focused on themselves. Instead, Paul focused on Jesus Christ as Lord. The focus of the apostle Paul on the Lordship of Christ runs throughout all his letters. And in that way, it differs not only from false teachers in the first century, but also in the twenty-first.
For instance, preaching that is popular today often teachers that you can take Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord. That view teaches that you can be a “carnal Christian”. It is a popular teaching because it teaches that you can have all the blessings of everlasting life yet never have any fruit of the Spirit. You can come to church on Sunday and say “the sinner's prayer”, but then go out into the world and live just like everyone else in the world because you have taken Jesus as your personal Savior, but you haven't submitted to his Lordship.
By contrast, Jesus taught that we will recognize other believers by their fruit. In other words, the way you live your life will show others whether you truly believe in Jesus, not only as your Savior from sin but as the Lord of your life. His Lordship determines how we relate to others, it relates to how we manage our money; it relates to every aspect of our life. The Lordship of Christ requires that we submit our entire life to him, and it goes hand in hand with knowing Christ as your Savior from sin. If you truly know him as your Savior, then you will serve him as the Lord of your life.
The submission of our lives to the Lordship of Christ is not the burden that unbelievers and “carnal Christians” make it out to be. Rather, we take great joy in knowing that our lives are directed by our Lord who in sovereign mercy saves us from our sin and then, having saved us, also providentially leads and guides us so that we seek not our will, but his will since he is our Lord.
Satan’s Effort to Blind
Not only does the passage teach how God's servants – of how ministers – are to set forth the truth plainly, but the passage also teaches that those who are perishing are blinded by Satan, so they cannot see the light of the gospel. In verse 3 and 4 we read: 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.”
When verse 4 speaks about the god of this age, it is not in any way teaching that Satan has the power of God. You notice that “god” is spelled with a small “g”.  Satan has always desired the glory and power that belongs to God alone. Because of his desire to receive God's glory, he was cast out of heaven and then brought temptation and sin into this world.
Although he has great power, his power is yet under the permissive, sovereign rule of God. He is like a mean dog on a chain. Within the perimeter of that chain – the perimeter of this fallen world – he can do a great deal of damage for a limited amount of time, until the Lord Jesus returns. But his day of doom and judgment is certain, and the devil himself knows that. Revelation 12:12 warns us that he knows his time is short, so he is filled with fury, and thus he works all the harder to blind unbelievers to the light of the gospel.
These verses also harmonize with what Jesus spoke about in the parable of the sower. You may recall that in Matthew 13 Jesus explained that the gospel is like seed that a farmer sowed. In that parable he describes four responses to the gospel, one of them being how the devil snatches away the gospel from some who hear it. Jesus explained to his disciples that “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that was sown along the path.”
But although by God’s permissive decree the devil has power to blind people to spiritual truths, God has much greater power. We see that in verse 6 where it says: 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.”
The quote that is used in that verse, “Let light shine out of darkness” is from Genesis 1:3, where God, by the power of his word, brought light into the darkness of the world. And by his sovereign grace God still brings light into the darkness of our hearts by the regenerating power of his Holy Spirit. It is by God’s sovereign grace that our eyes are not veiled but rather we have spiritual sight to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
In the words of the hymn writer, “the whole world was lost in the darkness of sin, but the light of the world is Jesus.” But we only see him who is the light of the world, when by God’s sovereign grace we are given birth from above through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Apart from God’s sovereign work of grace in your heart and mine we would be blinded by “the god of this age” – we would be blinded by the evil one.
In his commentary on Romans 8, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones describes an incident that clearly illustrates how those who are blinded by the evil one cannot see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  He tells how William Wilberforce, who helped abolish slavery long ago in England, loved the preaching of God’s Word. He especially loved the preaching of Richard Cecil, a pastor in London who was a gifted expositor of God’s Word. Wilberforce wished that everyone could hear God’s Word, and often invited others to hear Richard Cecil preach.
On one occasion he had invited his friend, William Pitt the younger, to attend church with him.  Pitt had at one time served as prime minister of England.  He described himself as a Christian, but Wilberforce was concerned for Pitt’s salvation. Wilberforce was delighted that after many invitations to come to church to hear Richard Cecil preach, Pitt finally agreed. 
Lloyd Jones describes how Richard Cecil was at his best that Sunday; the sermon was excellent. William Wilberforce was so thankful that his friend, William Pitt, was with him to hear God’s Word expounded. But as they were leaving the service, Pitt turned to Wilberforce and said, “You know, Wilberforce, I don’t have the slightest idea of what that man was talking about.”
Unfortunately, William Pitt could not grasp the clear truth of the gospel that was presented. Instead, he fit the tragic description of 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
God’s Sovereign Grace
That we have spiritual eyes to see the truths of the gospel, ears to hear and hearts to respond, is all of God’s grace. John Newton put it succinctly when he wrote, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was blind but now can see.”
If you see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” it is by God's sovereign grace, and the light of the knowledge of our Lord is a light that grows ever brighter, both in this life as we grow in our sanctification, and in the life to come when we will continue to grow in our knowledge of our glorious, triune God.
This passage not only teaches that it is by God's grace that we have salvation and are given spiritual sight, but also that it is by his mercy that we have the ministry of his word. Perhaps you noticed that is how this passage began in verse 1, where Paul writes: Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” And in verse 7 where he writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Can you imagine life without the word of God? We know that God exists through the creation of the world which leaves all humanity without excuse. But we only know the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ because God in his mercy has revealed himself through his word.
As Romans 10:17 points out, Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Scripture makes it clear that it is by God's grace that we are saved; it is by his mercy that he gives us his word to show us our need for salvation. But even though God is sovereign in saving grace, the Bible is equally clear in teaching that we must respond to God’s Word.
The ministry of the Word is rooted in God’s mercy so that by his grace we may have saving faith in Jesus Christ. Is that where your faith is, and mine? Is our faith firmly fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ? If so, praise God for his amazing, sovereign grace in redeeming you from your sin!
And, on the other hand, if you are still blinded to the truth of the gospel, if the Bible makes no sense to you, and you cannot see your need for Jesus, commit yourself to seek him with all your heart. The same Lord who redeems his people by sovereign grace, assures us, that all those who seek him with all their heart will find him. In Jeremiah 29:13 the Lord promises, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” Scripture is clear that we are saved by God’s sovereign grace, and yet it is equally clear that we must seek him with all our heart. 
Because of God’s mercy we have the ministry of his word. His word calls us to respond to the gospel with repentance and faith. When, by his grace, you respond to the Lord with genuine repentance and saving faith, you will find salvation from all your sin. You will receive the gift of eternal life in heaven, and you will gain a glimpse of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Amen!
bulletin outline:
…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 everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
                                                                                               2 Corinthians 4:2
                               “The Truth Plainly Spoken”
                                         2 Corinthians 4:1-7
I. There were many false teachers in Corinth, yet Paul did not lose heart
    but faithfully proclaimed God’s Word:
     1) Without deception or distortion (2b, c)
     2) By speaking the truth plainly in the sight of God (2d, e)
     3) By proclaiming Christ as Lord and himself as a servant (5)
II. The passage also teaches:
     1) Those who are perishing are blinded by Satan, so they cannot see
          the light of the gospel (3-4)
     2) Spiritual sight – seeing the light of the knowledge of the glory of
         God in the face of Christ” – is by God’s sovereign grace (6)
     3) The ministry of the Word is rooted in God’s mercy (1, 7) so that by
          His grace we may have saving faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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