The Hearing of Faith
In 2 Corinthians 4:1, Paul utters these simple, yet deeply significant words: “Therefore having this ministry as we have been shown mercy, we do not lose heart.” This ministry concerning which Paul speaks here is the unique ministry of the new covenant, the ministry initiated by the Lord Jesus Himself and then continued by His apostles (Acts 1:17). The ministry of the new covenant, or of the New Testament, is the unique ministry common to all the apostles of Christ. And in principle, if we are faithful to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles (2:42), it should also be the unique ministry carried out by all the believers in Christ today. Although the apostles, as well as the believers, are many, the ministry of the new covenant for the carrying out of God’s New Testament economy is uniquely one. It is the ministry of dispensing Christ, imparting Christ, and ministering Christ to others for the building up of the Body of Christ.
It is the ministry of dispensing Christ, imparting Christ, and ministering Christ to others for the building up of the Body of Christ.
How is such a ministry produced and what are its essential characteristics? If we read 2 Corinthians from this angle, it will reveal itself as a book of sufferings, consuming pressures, and the experiencing of the putting to death of Jesus that we may know God as the God of resurrection working Himself into us and constituting within us the genuine ministry of the New Testament (1:5-9). To see this is to realize that ministry differs from mere gift, including spiritual gift. A gift is a capacity, natural or supernatural, to function in a particular way. Ministry is a divine-human constitution. It is the Triune God in Christ as the Spirit wrought into our being through the experiences of the cross, which bring us into the reality of resurrection life. We can see this in chapter four, where Paul speaks of this ministry in his testimony in verses ten through twelve. He speaks of experiencing the putting to death of Jesus and also the life of Jesus so that by death operating in him, and all the other ministers of the new covenant, life would operate in the believers for the building up of the Body of Christ.
This unique ministry, produced through the cross and carried out in resurrection, has two outstanding characteristics according to chapter three. First, it is the ministry of the Spirit (v. 8). Second, it is the ministry of righteousness (v. 9). The ministry of the Spirit equips the believers to experience and enjoy the indwelling Christ as the life-giving Spirit (v. 6; 1 Cor. 15:45). The ministry of righteousness is a ministry that encourages the believers to live out, express, and magnify as righteousness the very Christ (the image of God—Col. 1:15) who indwells them as the Spirit. To come under the genuine ministry of the new covenant is to receive the supply of the Spirit and to be motivated by that supply to live a life of righteousness, a life that is actually Christ living again and expressing Himself for the glory of God and the building up of the Body of Christ.
For further reading on this subject, please see An Autobiography of a Person in the Spirit, by Witness Lee; Acts 1:17, note 1; 2 Cor. 3:9, note 2; and 2 Cor. 4:1, note 2, in the New Testament Recovery Version, published by Living Stream Ministry.
From Issue No. 54, October 2002