2 Corinthians 2.12-17

Title: The Routine Kills the Reality…

Text: 2 Corinthians 2.12-17

CIT: Paul struggled in ministry – especially with the Corinthians; however, he always understood that his life was a living sacrifice to the Lord.

CIS: Ministry is hard – people can make it harder or a joy. 


Introduction: The Philanthropist, Fred Smith, begins his latest blog: If all I knew about my grandfather was what I read in his 1952 diary I might think he was a man whose life was a monotonous string of colorless days.

My grandfather, Bunyan Smith, was a pastor in one of the poorest sections of Nashville, and I knew enough about his life as a preacher to expect that his diary would not likely be thrilling. However, I was completely unprepared for how unremarkable it would be.

His first entry on January 1 begins with, “Up about 7:00 a.m. Family worship at breakfast. Dressed for the day. Went to church to pray. Studied. Visited the sick. Wrote letters. Ate supper. Retired.”

His last entry on December 31: “Up about 7:00 a.m. Family worship at breakfast. Went to church to pray.”

The pages in between are filled with uneventful days of prayer, study, visiting the sick, meetings with deacons, dinner and retiring to bed.

Perhaps that is how he saw his life as a pastor? Perhaps that is how many pastors see their lives? The routine kills the reality.

The Life of a Pastor: seriously, it feels weird to try and communicate to you what it means to be a pastor. I’m grateful for these passages from Paul in his letters, not only because they communicate for you so much what it means to be a pastor, but even more so because it helps me understand why I often feel the way I do.

When we began this section we looked at Paul and his integrity in ministry. He gave the defense for his change in plans. Then, Paul began to address the issue of sin in the Corinthian church. This point was basically clarifying how sin makes ministry difficult – if not impossible. Today, we’ll see how Paul addresses the issue of ministry and sacrifice.

Ray Carroll, author of The Fallen Pastor, says the struggle in ministry is so overwhelming that an estimated 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month, never to return to full-time vocational ministry. According to Carroll, the three main reasons they leave are:

  • Conflict within the church,
  • Burnout,
  • A moral failure.

Listen to Carroll:I remember on the first day of seminary orientation, the leader told us that only half of us in that room would graduate. Of that half, only half would make it two years.

The ministry is a difficult thing. It is hard on the pastor, his family and his emotions. Unless you’ve been “behind the curtain“, it’s hard to know exactly what a pastor goes through. There are high expectations (which should be there), unrealistic expectations (which should not be there), feelings of isolation, a distancing between himself and his spouse and the daily grind of ministry. Behind all of this, the pastor forges ahead, seeking to do what he feels is right, chasing after the ministry. In the end, many leave disillusioned with bitterness, sin and a wounded church left in the wake.

I found this letter from a tired pastor quoted in John MacArthur’s commentary of 2 Corinthians:

My dear Jim: I am through. Yesterday I handed in my resignation, to take effect at once, and this morning I began to work for the ______ Land Company. I shall not return to the pastorate. I think I can see into your heart as you read these words and behold not a little disappointment, if not disgust. I don’t blame you at all, I’m somewhat disgusted with myself. Do you recall the days in the seminary when we talked of the future and painted pictures of what we were to do for the kingdom of God? We saw the boundless need for an unselfish Christian service, and longed to be out among men doing our part toward the world’s redemption. I shall never forget that last talk on the night before our graduation. You were to go to the foreign field and I to a “church.”

We had brave dreams of usefulness, and you have realized them. As I look back across twenty-five years I can see some lives that I have helped, and some things which I have been permitted to do that are worthwhile; but, sitting here tonight, I am more than half convinced that God never intended me to be a minister. If He did, I am not big enough and brave enough to pay the price. Even if it leads you to write me down as a coward, I am going to tell you why I’ve quit …

In these years I have found “only a few” earnest, unselfish, consecrated Christians. I do not believe that I am specially morbid or unfair in my estimate. So far as I know my own heart, I am not bitter. But through all these years a conviction has been growing within me that the average church member cares precious little about the kingdom of God and its advancement, or the welfare of his fellow men. He is a Christian in order that he may save his soul from hell, and for no other reason. He does as little as he can, lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without even lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance. Never have I known more than a small minority of any church which I have served to be really interested in and unselfishly devoted to God’s work. It took my whole time to pull and push and urge and persuade the reluctant members of my church to undertake a little something for their fellow men. They took a covenant to be faithful in attendance upon the services of the church and not one out of ten ever thought of attending prayer meeting.

A large percentage seldom attended church in the morning, and a pitifully small number in the evening. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Christ.

I am tired; tired of being the only one in the church from whom real sacrifice is expected; tired of straining and tugging to get Christian people to live like Christians; tired of planning work for my people and then being compelled to do it myself or see it left undone; tired of dodging my creditors when I would not need to if I had what is due me; tired of the frightening vision of penniless old age. I am not leaving Christ. I love Him. I shall still try to serve Him.

Judge me leniently, old friend. I can’t bear to lose your friendship… Yours as of old, William

Sounds like the 21st Century; however, this letter was written in 1911.

MaranathaLife.com has posted some stats on pastors and their families which they have compiled through the following ministries:Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Global Pastors Network. I thought I’d share them with you:

Pastors today are faced with more work, more problems, and more stress than any other time in the history of the church. This is taking a frightening toll on the ministry, shown by the statistics below:


  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
  • 4,000 new churches begin each year, but over seven thousand churches close.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. 90% of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job preparing them for ministry.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. 90% said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
  • 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
  • 90% said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.
  • 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 15% still felt called.

Pastors’ Wives:

  • 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 80% of pastors’ wives feel left out and unappreciated by the church members.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • 80% of pastors’ wives feel pressured to do things and be something in the church that they are really not.
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

Pastors’ Marriages:

  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.


Pastors’ Children:

80% of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.           

Now, in spite of these staggering statistics, there are men who survive in ministry. According to these statistics, about 10-20%. But don’t equate staying with contentment. Remember, half of all pastors would leave the ministry if they could find another way to make a living. Paul clarifies for us today that he, too, struggled. He understood that he was a sacrifice for the glory of God and that God would use him in the simplest of ways to accomplish His task. That’s the message today:

  • Paul’s Struggle with Ministry
  • Paul’s Sacrifice to Ministry
  • Paul’s Success in Ministry

Transition: Let’s look first at his struggle.


1.     Paul’s Struggle with Ministry (12-13)

exp.: rd v 12-13; the situation: an open door; a phrasing that implies success in ministry; these words are used in Acts 14.27 in Paul’s report to the sending church in Antioch; 1 Corinthians 16.26 about his ministry in Ephesus; here; and in Colossians 4.3 as a prayer request for success in ministry; however, with this great success he’s been having, there’s a problem in His spirit: rd v 13a; unrest in his spirit; even with this open door – what we’d call success in ministry, Paul is troubled. Paul confirms this unrest over and over again in this letter.

His concern for the churches topped his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11.28, after a litany of physical struggles in every sphere of ministry, Paul tops his list with: 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. So what does he do? Rd 13b; he packs up and leaves this open door of success to the Macedonians to rendezvous with Titus. He just can’t take not knowing how the Corinthian church is doing. And in Chapter 7.5-6 he states that even after he got to Macedonia, he found himself depressed, his soul downcast as he says: our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.

app.:Paul can’t shut his concerns off. He can’t turn off his computer and go home. People aren’t like crops or cows. Sure farmers and ranchers have concerns about rain and industry prices, but there is an added element Paul is dealing with concerning his people.

Transition: However, for me, what is so interesting is that despite his struggles, he’s ok with it all. It doesn’t lessen the stress, but Paul knows he’s been called to this struggle – like a moth drawn to the flame, drawn to the light and the pain. Paul has been called to sacrifice.


2.     Paul’s Sacrifice to Ministry (14-16)

exp.: rd v 14; It’s funny how these two run together: The Concern for the Church and the Knowledge that it is Christ’s Church. A pastor knows full well that this church isn’t his, but he aches for it, like it all depends on him! Check out Paul’s analogy of the triumphal procession. It was a practice that had gone on for centuries. A parade of sorts began with the triumphant General riding through the streets on a chariot drawn by multiple horses (or elephants, depending on the country!) For the Romans, he would be clothed in a purple toga and a tunic stitched with palm fronds. In his hand he carried a scepter crowned by an eagle, and his face was tinted red in reference to the god, Jupiter. In his commentary, Hughes cites Appian, who witnessed General Pompey’s Triumphal entry after a glorious victory: Appian described General Pompey’s third triumph in 61 b.c. as follows:

[I]n the triumphal procession were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or other ornaments of various kinds, also the son of Hystaspes, the throne and scepter of Mithridates Eupator himself, and his image, eight cubits high, made of solid gold, and 75,100,000 drachmas of silver coin; also an infinite number of wagons carrying arms and beaks of ships, and a multitude of captives and pirates, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costumes.

After this, Appian provides a long list of various kings, satraps, and generals led in procession. Add to this the pagan priests burning incense and musicians and cultic rhythms, and we have the picture.

The question I thought of when reading this was: where does Paul see himself in this processional? I think his writings make it clear that he’s one of the conquered. There are those who suppose Paul to see himself as one of the victorious soldiers walking behind their General – Christ. But I don’t think so…I think Paul sees himself as one who has been conquered and is being paraded in this processional to his death – a sacrifice. These captives – the conquered, would be led to their deaths – a sacrifice to the Roman gods.

That’s why I say that Paul understands, as a pastor should, that this church isn’t his! Look at v 14 again. There are two actions of Christ that Paul mentions:

  • Christ leads – he leads in triumphal procession and he
  • Christ spreads – the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. I read you earlier about the burning incense of the priests in the processional. It would linger in the air for sometime after the parade had passed. Paul is using an analogy that those folks could understand and relate to.

ill.: a few weeks ago Mike Strout presented a devotional at FLOW on our thoughts. One of the elements of this devotional was that smell triggers thoughts. Now, this might gross you out, but a feedlot brings back fond memories for me. Another one that will gross you out: a men’s locker room. Yeah, they both stink, but when those particular odors waft through the air, I’m taken back to pleasant memories.

app.: Paul is building on this metaphor with something his readers can identify: smell. Rd v 15-16

Everyone loves a parade. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, then you know about parades. In Worland, we had like 6-8 parades a year: even if it was 10 degrees outside. Ann Clower was sharing with me last week about a parade her neighborhood has on the 4th.

There is excitement, recognition, people being honored, candy! Who wouldn’t want to join in the parade? Right?

Transition: Well, if you’re the conquered, a parade wouldn’t be so wonderful! You’re headed toward your death. You’re presence in this parade is degrading, humiliating. You’re beaten. And as the readers come across this metaphor, their senses recall the fragrance, the odor and how, even after the parade has passed, they remember. They understand that Paul is using this analogy to describe his suffering and sacrifice.

But Paul doesn’t want them to think so negatively about all of this… look at his 3rd point…


3.     Paul’s Success in Ministry (17)

exp.: rd v17; Paul uses a negative illustration first – I suppose he’s taking a shot at those super-apostles. He says lit.: we’re not as the many peddling the Word of God, But and now Paul uses the same word as to describe his ministry and this is most literally from the Gk:

  • But we speak as from Sincerity
  • But we speak as from God
  • But we speak as before (in the sight of; opposite) God
  • But we speak as in Christ

Transition: Oh, yes, I’ve been conquered by this Commanding General, Christ Jesus, and he leads me to my impending death, a sacrifice to his glory. And I would have it no other way, for there is nothing else in the world I can do: Woe is me, if I do not preach the Gospel!

Observations & Implications: so, you ask, how does this relate to me, Brother Fred? I’m no minister and I’ve certainly not been called to do what Paul did. Well,

  1. This past week Lane’s Chapel had a message upon their sign that reminded me of a saying. Lisa shared it with me year’s ago and again this past week as we drove by their marquee. I don’t remember exactly who shared it with her. Some people brighten a room when they walk into it. Others brighten the room when they leave. Which person are you? Do you realize how important you are in the life of your ministers and their families? KK needs you to protect and provide for her – to make her service a joy. Phil and Wendy need your love and friendship. They need your service and your help. Lisa and I would echo that need. How do you brighten a room? Is it brighter when you enter or leave? Heb. 13.17
  2. Just curious: as you view the processional of Christ in his victory parade, where do you see yourself?
    1. Are you a curious onlooker?
    2. Are you one of the conquering soldiers, smiling and waving at the crowds?
    3. Or, do you see yourself as one of the conquered, being led to your death by your conquering hero? This perspective will tell you a lot about how you view the church and ministry in general.
  3. As you look back on church life and your service in the body, have you ever been party to hurting a pastor and his family? Maybe you see your motives were impure, selfish? Pastors don’t just get fired by one person – it takes a movement of people. Have you ever been jealous of someone else’s ministry? Have you ever undermined their position to oust them – to take over their class or ministry? Have you ever done so with the intention of getting someone else to take his or her place? If so, you should take that to the Lord. You might even need to contact that pastor or teacher or chairman and ask for forgiveness.
  4. If you don’t see yourself as one of the conquered – might I give that chance? Would you let today be the day that you surrender your life to Christ?




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