We do not lose heart
At the end of this paragraph, I want you to stop reading and think for a moment about the following question: who would you most love to see come to faith in Christ but seems very unlikely to do so? Do you have someone in your mind? When you do, please read on.
For the Apostle Paul, it was his fellow Jews. His brothers. His kinsmen. Such is his love and desire for them to turn to Christ, he would gladly give up his own salvation if it meant they would do so (Rom 9:1–4). He says “my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Rom 10:1). Yet he is distressed to observe that a “hardening has come upon Israel” (11:25) and there is little evidence of that salvation taking place.
This hardening is something that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 3 as well. He says “a veil lies over their hearts” (v 15), and, while the veil can be “removed” (v 16), in many of his fellow Jews, it hasn’t yet been taken away.
In the next chapter (2 Cor 4), Paul explains his reaction to all this.
1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Notice that Paul doesn’t “lose heart”. Although it causes him “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Rom 9:2) to see the lack of response to the gospel in those he loves so dearly, he does not give up.
Why doesn’t he lose heart? Three reasons.
- He doesn’t lose heart because he knows that God has the power to change people. If God can make light shine in the darkness at the time of Creation merely by speaking a few words (Gen 1:3), then he is abundantly capable of shining a light in the hearts of men (v 6) so that the veil is removed and they come to see the light of the gospel.
- He doesn’t lose heart because he knows that God shone that light in his own heart (v 6), despite the fact that he was a “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent”—in fact, he was the foremost of sinners (1 Tim 1:12–17). If God shines his powerful light in Paul’s heart, he might shine the light in anyone’s heart. Paul truly understands that he only has this gospel ministry “by the mercy of God” (v 1). That’s the same mercy he is hoping will save others.
- He doesn’t lose heart because he sees how remarkably beneficial the gospel message is to those who believe it. It not only brings freedom (3:17) and righteousness (3:9), it reveals the glory of Christ to people, and so also the glory of God, of whom Christ is the image (vv 4, 6). Nothing is more vital for people to see.
Of course, one of the temptations Paul is alert to in all of this is the temptation to fiddle with the message—that is, to make it more palatable or appealing to the hearers (v 2); to use a bit of air freshener to cover up the deathly fragrance of the gospel (2:14–16). But he refuses to go that way, because he knows it is not adopting the integrity God wants him to exhibit, and it will only undermine those three reasons (above) why he doesn’t lose heart.
Rather, he resolves to openly and plainly proclaim the truth (v 2)—the unadorned message that Jesus Christ is Lord (v 5). In other words, Paul understands that the problem is not with the message. The problem is with people’s veiled and disobedient hearts, which the god of this world uses to blind the minds of unbelievers (v 4).
But God can change that. He can shine his gospel light in the heart of even the foremost of sinners.
So, let’s come back to the person (or people) you thought of at the beginning. I don’t know who they are and I don’t know what makes you feel they are so unlikely to ever become Christians. But I urge you: don’t lose heart. Do your best to let them know that Jesus Christ is Lord—by your words and your actions, as their servant for Jesus’ sake (v 5)—and keep praying that God will be merciful to them in the same remarkable way that he has been merciful to you, to me and to the Apostle Paul.