For years I have seen and heard Ray Comfort and the Living Waters team going out onto the streets proclaiming the gospel. Often, we see them jeered and mocked as they lovingly answer critics and point to hope in Christ. I watched Ray’s latest movie, “The Fool,” and I was greatly encouraged by how Ray used the way he was mocked for even more ministry zeal. How do people exhibit so much confidence in what they are doing that their motivation increases when they face opposition and accusation? If you asked Ray, you may find a similar answer to what you might get simply by reading Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. Paul answers his own critics by basically saying, “Call me what you like, my confidence is in a power greater than us all.”
Paul was “The Fool” of his day.
Sometimes our accusers seem larger than life. The celebrities and PhDs command audiences and money, build popularity, and look down upon us as if we are helpless and foolish people spouting the ideas of children. Paul’s accusers were really no different to this and they were given a name that seemed to elevate them to a “larger than life” persona. Who were they? Paul writes, “Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5, ESV). They were men who believed themselves to be greater than the pathetic little apostles who were chosen by Jesus.
As you read through the second letter to Corinth, you find that Paul seems to be giving answers for the accusations of these super accusers.
- They accused Paul of being a whiney vacillator (2 Corinthians 1:16,17).
- They accused Paul of having a lack of paper credentials (2 Corinthians 3:1,2).
- They accused Paul of having weak oratory skills (2 Corinthians 11:6).
- They accused Paul of failing to make any money from preaching (2 Corinthians 11:7).
All the accusations that Paul seems to be answering in this letter could be summed up in this: he seems to be unsuccessful in gospel ministry. It appears, at least to the super apostles, that Paul’s gospel is not getting traction and he just doesn’t have what it takes. Paul’s answer is that the success of the gospel has never been about his own abilities or strategies.
“If you think that you are unsuccessful in gospel ministry and that you are not clever or skilled enough for gospel ministry, then you are severely underestimating the devastating position of human blindness in sin and the awesome power of our sovereign God.”
Paul responds, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice 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. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 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. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:1–5, ESV).
Paul doesn’t accept any blame for the appearance of a lack of gospel success. If the gospel is veiled, if the gospel is not getting through, it is because it is not getting through to those who are perishing under the influence of the god of this world. This is an extremely encouraging point that Paul is making. If you think that you are unsuccessful in gospel ministry and that you are not clever or skilled enough for gospel ministry, then you are severely underestimating the devastating position of human blindness in sin and the awesome power of our sovereign God. Paul doesn’t put any confidence in himself, but he is simply focusing on preaching Christ indiscriminately wherever he goes and to whoever he sees. His confidence is not in himself, but it is all in God who shines His light into the blind darkness of man. This is why he further says, “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” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The power of the gospel gives us confidence in the gospel.
The pinnacle of Paul’s defense comes in one of the most beautiful pictures of gospel ministry that we can find in the entire Bible. It is a word picture that can put courage in the hearts of those who perceive themselves to be the weakest of all saints: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
“Our confidence in gospel ministry is in a power that has nothing to do with us. It is the surpassing power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, accepted and applied through faith in Him alone.”
Our confidence in gospel ministry is in a power that has nothing to do with us. It is the surpassing power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, accepted and applied through faith in Him alone. Paul, and all other Christians, are fragile pottery containers who are enlisted by the God of the universe to carry the priceless, powerful good news of King Jesus to sinners in need of salvation. The fact that Paul calls this the “surpassing power” is by no means insignificant. Paul’s confidence is in a power that is beyond every human being no matter how much larger than life their persona seems to be. Paul is no super-apostle. He is a jar of clay. He may well say, “You call yourselves super-apostles, but you have pathetic power. In your eyes I may be a pathetic apostle, but in the gospel, I have a superpower.” That power is the surpassing power of Christ alone that is proclaimed through the message of His gospel alone.
This is not the only place Paul makes statements of confidence like this. In the beginning of his first letter to Corinth, Paul talked about the Jews and the Gentiles putting their confidence in signs and wonders and philosophical thinking. To them the Christian message was simply foolishness and a stumbling block. Paul reminds the Corinthian church that there is one place alone for our confidence in gospel ministry and it is not in our ability to speak, strategize, contextualize, or philosophize. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Greek. There is one message and one confidence for salvation alone: “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23,24). Our confidence is in the fact that God calls His sheep, whether Jew or Greek, through the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Period!
The power of the gospel frees us from self-confidence.
Those who think they are super-apostles are in all actuality the pathetic apostles. They have no real power. They have no Christ. God’s power is shown to be super when it is seen in those who understand that they have no real power of their own and are often called fools. God’s limitless power is on display when it is seen through our complete inability. We are lowly, breakable, fragile jars of clay. The examples of God using this power in fragile, finite human beings can be found all through Scripture and throughout Christian history.
“God’s limitless power is on display when it is seen through our complete inability.”
Just think of who God has used throughout history. Noah the drunkard, Abraham the idolater, Sarah the barren, Jacob the deceiver, Judah the adulterer, Joseph the abused brother, Moses the inarticulate, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth a godless Moabite, Gideon the fearful, Samson the foolish womanizer, Hannah the anxious, David the murderer, Bathsheba the adulteress, Job the utterly broken, Solomon the polygamist, Uzziah the proud leper, Jeremiah the young, Hosea the betrayed, Jonah the complainer, Amos the insignificant, Habakkuk the frustrated, Mary the young virgin, Anna the widow, Zacchaeus the little, Peter the denier, Thomas the doubter, Philip the questioner, James the one with the famous brother, Paul the persecuting chief of sinners, Timothy the sickly, John the exiled, Polycarp the martyr, Augustine the conflicted, Martin Luther the tormented, William Tyndale the hunted, John Bunyan the imprisoned, Charles Spurgeon the depressed, Hudson Taylor the bereft, George Müller the scoundrel…and we have skipped millions of names and could skip a million more before we get to Ray Comfort, every staff member of Living Waters, my name, and your name.
When we see humanity for who we really are, we say to ourselves that if one soul is ever saved it must be an absolutely miraculous work of sovereign power. Our reliance is in the only One with capability to speak life and light into a dark and dead soul. And He does it through the most precious treasure of a message spoken and poured out from the weakest of vessels. We have treasure in clay pots.
“We are commanded to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not to pretend that there is anything else in us that can possibly make it more successful.”
The gospel doesn’t need your help.
This is a freeing and comforting truth. It doesn’t matter how prolific your opponent is. It doesn’t matter whether the world sees us as inferior fools. The truth is, we are. There is not one thing that a fool can do to make their gospel ministry succeed other than being obedient to the call of the Great Commission. The gospel is the only message that God uses to call men and women out of darkness into light. It doesn’t need our power, strategy, or rhetoric. We are commanded to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not to pretend that there is anything else in us that can possibly make it more successful. Praise God, the gospel doesn’t need our help. The God of the gospel has infinite power of His own. You say I am a fool? Yes, I am. My confidence is not in any part of me or in any strategy or power of man. My confidence is in a gospel that doesn’t need my help.