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The Lie of Contextualization

In our search for missional contextualization we may be setting ourselves up for failure.

The Apostle Paul gave the Corinthian Church this charge, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Confidence, courage, boldness, joy, and peace all flow from the concept of not losing heart. Paul makes it clear that the foundational purpose for not losing heart is the mere fact that we have received this ministry by the mercy of God.

A quick look at the biblical context reveals the precise nature of “this ministry.” In chapter 3 Paul shows that we have a greater ministry than that of Moses, upon whose face the radiance of God’s presence slowly faded. We are proclaiming the glory of God which will never fade:

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. (2 Corinthians 3:12-13)

“This ministry” is further unpacked in chapter five where believers are presented as God’s ambassadors, begging men and women on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Thus, in the immediate context, “this ministry” is nothing less than proclaiming God’s glory and preaching gospel reconciliation.

Paul says BECAUSE we have received this ministry, we do not lose heart. It is not because of the context of our ministry. It is because of the content of our message. Our joy is not derived from our context. If we derive our identity from our context we will quickly manipulate our message in order to increase our “efficiency” and “success” (2 Cor 4:3).

Because Satan has blinded the eyes of men and women, it would be foolhardy to look to them as the primary source for encouragement. Such an approach would lead the preacher to downplay the gospel in search of a more appealing message. Instead we must proclaim Christ and trust God for the results (2 Cor 4:4).

Paul’s prescription for avoiding the cultural pressure of compromise is through an “open statement of the truth” (2 Cor 4:2).

If your contextualization in ministry is a source for hope or joy, you are sadly setting yourself up for failure. Know your culture. But know Christ much, much more. Through an open statement of truth: proclaim the glory of God and beg men and women to be reconciled to their Creator.

Here, in the gospel, will we find our joy: not in the context of our ministry but in the content of our message.

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 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. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled 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. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)


This post is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at Eastside Community Church. The audio from the sermon can be accessed here.