I'd wager that anyone who ever tackled a big, important job was at some point seriously inclined to give up and quit. To lose heart. Losing heart is when difficulty brings discouragement. Losing heart is when conflict and/ or suffering in all it's variety drives you towards despair. Losing heart is when confrontation or an apparent lack of success makes you want to quit.
I have felt it. My heart has been hard to find at times. And my heart has taken great courage in those moments from realizing that the Apostle Paul himself was seriously inclined to lose heart (you see a good picture of his experience in 2 Corinthians 4).
One of the scary parts of losing heart is the temptations that come when one is feeling low. The apostle confesses this in verse 2: He has been tempted to do something very deceitful and underhanded. What is the great evil that has looked good when he is in danger of losing heart?
Tampering with God's Word.
Yes, when one is facing hostility or a lack of success, it is tempting to tamper with Scripture. It becomes easy to mess with the message. Paul is facing hostility: people want to kill him for his message. Paul is facing an apparent lack of success: many, especially his own ethnic people whom he loves so dearly, are violently rejecting his message. How easy it would be to change the message just a little here and there! How simple it would be to soften this or just ignore that! Maybe then people would be less angry. Maybe he would be better liked. Maybe more would believe a softer, kinder gospel!
But, thanks be to God, Paul refused that temptation. He insisted upon "an open statement of the truth." And the gospel we have in his writings is the real one.
O, I know that temptation when my heart is tired. And I have heard and read the voices of "advice." "Don't talk about the wrath of God." "Don't proclaim the sovereignty of God." "Don't describe substitutionary atonement." "Don't insist on the exclusivity of salvation found only in Jesus Christ."
Like Paul, I want to refuse this kind of tampering with the text of Scripture. I want to proclaim the truth openly! And here's the good news!
- The problem is not Scripture or it's proclamation. It's that people are blinded and cannot see the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4.4)."
- The fix to the problem does not ultimately depend on me. Only God can cause light to shine in hearts; but He is able and will certainly call His people to Himself! (verse 6).
So we proclaim not ourselves, but Christ (verse 5). He is the eternal glory and reward. Being faithful to Him is worth conflict, and knowing Him and bringing Him glory is the ultimate success.
2 Corinthians 4.16-18:
"16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (ESV)