Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Tomorrow, I turn forty. While I realize in the grand scheme of things that is not really that old, approaching this age has caused me to be more aware that I am not as young as I used to be. One of the examples that really sticks out to me are lock-ins. A lock-in is an all-night affair where the youth group is locked in the church. Teens tend to love these all-nighters, and I would always be up all night with them. A decade ago, when I was a youth minister it was not uncommon for me to do two to four lock-ins a year. I have not done one now for two years, and today I am not sure I could stay awake for one much less multiple ones in a year. One of the reasons why lock-ins were so much fun is because there are some games that only get played at these events. Over all of my years of youth ministry the most popular and most played game has been Underground Church. This game is a hide n seek variant of sorts. A small team of Romans have to find and catch the larger group of Christians. Meanwhile, the Christians are trying to find all of the other people with the same suite as them so they can form a church. The entire time they are hiding running from Romans and trying to free Christians who have been caught.
Playing this game was fun, but there was always a level of frustration in getting the game started. I have played this game scores of times, so I feel like I have gotten fairly good at explaining the basic rules to play. I feel like I have gotten good at getting the game across quickly, clearly, and thoroughly. I will stop a couple of times in giving the rules to ask “Is this clear so far? Are there any questions?” To know what role a person has in this game cards are used. It used to be that I used playing cards and explained what each card represented, but to make it less confusing I made a custom deck of cards that stated the player’s role and also summarized what they were supposed to do on the card. The frustration came as soon as the game started. Because despite going over the rules, despite pausing multiple times to ask if there were questions, and despite having the special cards as soon as the game started someone would come up with their card and ask “What does this mean? What am I supposed to do?”
When the first round of the game was over, the teens would inevitably want to play again, which we usually did. However, before we did that it was necessary to go back and reinforce some of the rules, because inevitably conflicts or confusion arose because someone was not playing correctly. More than once when doing this between round refreshers, someone would pipe up “You never told us that rule before.” Without fail, I most certainly did. Often lock-ins where we played this game had twenty or more participants. Honestly, I do not think it would have mattered if I taught the game to tweens, young adults, or even group of adventurous adults. With a group that size there will always be issues with listening. Distractions, side conversations, thinking about something else, and variety of other reasons all contribute to this reality. It is just a fact of life that sometimes even though we are heard by others, they are not truly listening to us. This morning’s scripture lifts also lifts up this unfortunate fact of life. Paul states that there are people “who cannot see the light of the gospel.”
It is easy for us to forget when reading Paul’s writings in the New Testament just what it is we are reading. We are so used to reading them as scripture, that we can forget that Paul originally wrote them as letter to specific churches to address specific problems. From what we have recorded in the scriptures, the church in Corinth was one of the more problematic churches that Paul worked with. Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians to address a wide variety of problems they were dealing with. In some sections of Corinthians it is clear what issue the church is having by how Paul addresses it. However, this morning’s scripture comes from a section of 2 Corinthians that biblical scholars call the “great digression.” It is called that because he is not addressing a specific issue. In fact, it seems that Paul rambles a little bit.
While the great digression does not address a specific issue the Corinthian church is facing, it is full of wisdom and theological truth. In the entirety of this section, including this morning’s scripture, we get a glimpse to how Paul’s experience as a minister of Christ has informed his beliefs. This is a concept that might be comfortable for us, because this is a very Methodist concept. One of the unique hallmarks of Methodism, is the emphasis we place on our faith being experiential. Faith is not a passive activity but something we experience and live out in our lives. In turn our experience then becomes a lens through which to better understand our faith. There is a strong sense that Paul is doing something similar in this section of scripture, and perhaps many of us can relate to the experiences that Paul has seemed to have.
Perhaps, like Paul, you too have had an experience with someone who it seems cannot see the light of the gospel. Perhaps you have had a run-in with someone who is antagonistic to faith and they are augmentative or dismissive at every turn. While some may have this kind of interaction, I think the more common interaction is much more personal. The more likely interaction is on where no matter how sincere or heart felt a plea you make to share your faith with someone you care for it seems to fall on deaf ears. If this is your experience, then you have no doubt shared your faith with them, you have testified to the miracles in your life, and you have pointed the works of God happening all around them. Perhaps you are at your wit’s end because it does not seem to matter what you do or say, there heart is hard and their mind is blind to the Truth that is easy for you to see and that is staring them in the face. When it comes to our faith there will always be people who might hear our words but not listen to our hearts. So what do we do when we encounter someone who does not or cannot see the light of the gospel? I think the answer is simple: We shine the light anyway.
I think the key scripture here is found in verses five and six. Paul wrote, “For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God who said, let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
When it comes to the idea of the light of the gospel, this scripture helps us answer three of the critical, basic journalistic questions: What, how, and why. This scripture shines light on what is the light of the gospel, how we share that light, and ultimately why we should.
The answer to what is the light of the gospel is all over this morning’s scripture, even if it is not explicitly stated. The light of the gospel, is the light God shined into this world. It is the glory of Christ, which are the mighty acts that Jesus accomplished on the cross to defeat death, vanquish sin, and reconcile us with our Creator in heaven. The light of the gospel is the absolute forgiveness, the unconditional acceptance, the blessed assurance, and unquenchable love of God. It is the voice that tells us that we are loved when we feel are most unlovable, it is the comforting hand that assurance us that we are valuable when we feel worthless, and it is unmerited grace that can forgive and was away even our foulest stain. It is, as Paul writes, the glory of God displayed in the face of Christ. If you consider yourself a Christian on this day, then the light of the gospel, is the light that changed your life, which delivered you from captivity to sin, and makes every new day new. This is why it is so heartbreaking that the gospel is veiled to some people. The reality is that no matter what we say or do, there are some people who have rejected this saving grace of God. They have intentionally chosen the darkness over the light, but that does not mean we ever stop shining that gospel light.
This gets us to the question, how do we share the light of the gospel? Thankfully, Paul answers this question directly in verse five, which once again states, “For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.” We shine the light of the gospel when we serve others and when we put them first. That is how we share the light of the gospel, we see needs in our community and we meet them. We see hurts and we tend to them. We see brokenness and we seek to mend it. A key part to the how is not just the action we take, but the motivations for our actions. As Paul stated in the scripture our actions should not preach for ourselves but they should point to Christ and his great love. Our actions should not be motivated because we want to build our platform, earn accolades, or promote an ideology. It should be clear, without any shred of doubt, to all who see us that we do not engage in shining the light through our actions for our own glory but instead all glory be to Christ.
The final question is why. If there are people who can see the light of the gospel, then why should we seek to shine the light? Why? Because shining a light into the darkness is always worthwhile. We have experienced the amazing love that flows from God, we should seek to share that love with others through our actions. For those who follow Jesus, we have experienced firsthand how God’s has transformed our life, so we should share that love as far and as wide as we can. Even if there are some people who will never, ever respond to God’s love, we should share it anyway. Our goal should never be to convince others that we are right and that they are wrong. Our goal is to shine the light of the gospel through how we love, and the way we love is through showing people the same grace, acceptance, and compassion that God showed us through Christ our Lord. We love others, because he first loved us.
This scripture points to a unfortunate truth. The reality is that there will be some people who just never respond to God’s love. They never open the gift of forgiveness that has been freely offered to them without price. We cannot change that, but we can do our best to help as many people see the light of the gospel that display the glory of Christ. Fortunately, in the grand scheme of things we do not have to do a lot. It does not take much to light up the darkness. A candle lit in darkness can be seen from 1.6 miles away. Actions we take to reflect the love of God in the world may not seem like much, but they carry far in our dark world. So may you celebrate the way that your life has been changed by the light of the gospel. May you seek to share the amazing love of God with others through your actions and how you treat them. In doing so may you take that little light of your and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.