Is Your Pastor A Minister of Death Or Life?

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In our Epistle Reading from 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is laying his heart bare before the Christians in the city of Corinth. That is right; Paul is passionately defending the Gospel against false teachers in the church. You see, there was a group of false teachers in the church who were teaching and pushing the Law over and against the Gospel. To state it simply, these false teachers were Ministers of the Law. They focused solely on teaching and applying a list of do’s and don’ts upon the Christians of Corinth. Their main focus was on teaching only outward holiness – how the Christians of Corinth were to act, behave, think, and relate.  

Now, what makes this so incredibly tricky is that the false teachers in Corinth were not advocating for wild living and sinful thinking. They were not a bunch of godless secular pagans. They were just like a modern-day positive motivational speaker that you would see at a business conference. They were like a modern-day day coach who has a best-selling book on the New York Times. These false teachers would be like the kind of people who have positive life hacks on Instagram, Twitter, and Tik-Tok – you know, the kind of people who post positive messages on how to be happy, how to organize your kitchen, how to have a better relationship, or how to get a raise at your new job. Again, what makes this so incredibly tricky is that these false teachers most likely were well-polished, well-dressed, and spoke with great rhetoric. And furthermore, they wanted people to have good and holy outward lives of success.  

The only problem with these well-polished, nice-dressing, and fancy-speaking false teachers is that their ministry was a ministry of death. Yes, you heard that correctly; they were ministers of death.  

Dear friends, we must understand that the contents of the entire Bible – both the Old And New Testament – are made up of two doctrines: Law and Gospel.[1]  The Law tells us what to do; the Gospel tells us what God has done. The Law reveals sin; the Gospel delivers forgiveness. Think of it this way: the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai are Law; the Cross on Mt. Calvary is Gospel.  

And so, Paul tells us that the Law is an instrument of death because no one is able to fulfill its demands. Therefore, every person is under the condemnation of death. However, on the other hand, the Gospel brings you and me the glorious news of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Jesus died for those who were unable to fulfill the Law, and Jesus completely fulfilled the Law in our place. 

So, is Paul saying that we Christians do not need the Law? Does Paul object to the false teachers because they preach a Law that is unneeded? By no means!!!! Paul’s rebuke of these false teachers was because their whole ministry was law-oriented. The Gospel was not allowed to have predominance in their teaching and preaching.[2]  They were all Law and no Gospel.   

Dear friends, we must be aware that if all you hear in sermons, bible studies, and devotions is do more and try harder – no matter how positive and inspiring these commands may be - that is not the ministry of the Gospel but a ministry of death.

I can remember several years ago, a Pastor was preaching at a youth event. The whole sermon was telling the youth how to love more, be bolder in evangelism, and be more on fire for the church. Frankly, with each finely tuned point, the pastor was digging a grave of death for the students. As inspiring as the pastor sounded, no one was able to meet this pastor’s expected zeal and demands. Now, contrary to what you may think, this pastor was not out of line. The pastor was not in error when he dug their spiritual graves with his long lists of do’s and don’t’s. He was theologically fine when he preached everyone to hell. Personally, I had absolutely no problem with this pastor calling for our youth to have more love, bolder evangelism, and to serve the church more. The problem, though, was that after he burdened everyone’s conscience, instead of delivering Jesus into convicted ears for the forgiveness of sins, he shamed the youth. He knocked them down and then manipulated them with guilt. Instead of raising the dead youth to faith by the Gospel, he preached them into the grave and then stood over the cold grave and told them to get busy trying to be holy. This Missouri Synod Pastor was a minister of death and not a minister of life. Again, keep in mind that this pastor adequately delivered the Law. He was completely fine in his preaching of the Law; however, the problem is that he withheld the Gospel. And so, the end result of his sermon was death, not life; it was condemnation, not forgiveness. He preached them to hell but failed to preach them to heaven. This Missouri Synod Pastor failed to deliver Jesus, and so, according to Paul, he was acting just like the false teachers.

We need to pause here for a moment to make sure to clear something else up. 

There are many churches and pastors in America right now that have done the opposite of this poor pastor. – they have supposedly rejected the Law altogether. They will not talk about things like death, sin, hell, or mention the Ten Commandments. They do this because they do not want to have a ministry of death. Instead, the theme of their churches focuses on tolerance, love, acceptance, celebration, and being positive. There is a problem with this, too. If the church is only focusing on telling members to be more loving, more accepting, and more tolerant, they are still a ministry of death. If the message of the church focuses only on what the members should and should not do – no matter how happy or positive the message may be - the church is still a ministry of death decorated with party balloons, tinsel, and colored cake.    

Dear friends, please hear this clearly. The failure of the false teachers in the city of Corinth was that they failed to deliver the power of God, which is the Gospel. The Gospel of the forgiveness of sins was not given predominance in the church. And so, Paul is not disregarding the Ten Commandments as if they are evil or bad. Paul is simply condemning the fact that the false teachers were not leaving the people with Christ and His gifts. 

Practically speaking, if St. Paul’s were to remove the Absolution and the Lord’s Supper from our Divine Services; if we changed the sermons from the proclamation of the Law and Gospel to sermons on life tips, moral improvement, and motivational speaking; and if we changed our hymns to songs about our dedication and love to God… with these four easy adjustments, St. Paul’s could become a church of death. It is that easy.   

Again, we need to be perfectly clear that the Law of God – the Ten Commandments are not bad. We uphold the Law here at St. Paul’s because the Law shows us God’s will and reveals to us our sins. However, the Gospel, at the end of the day, needs to have the final word, for it is the power – dynamite – of God. Indeed, the Absolution is that which cleanses your conscience, destroys guilt and gives you assurance in your identity as a Baptized Saint. The Word of the Gospel is that which creates faith, enlightens you, and sanctifies you in the true faith. And the Holy Supper is that which strengthens your faith toward God and love toward your neighbor by giving you the body and blood of Jesus. Mark this and hear this loud and clear: Without the Word and Sacraments, we are a church of death. Without the Word and Sacraments, we do not have the power of God and are left in guilt, shame, and hell itself. But through the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, we have the Lord’s ministry of life, the power of God, the forgiveness of sins, a clean conscience, the free grace of Christ, the payment of all guilt, the appropriation of perfect righteousness, salvation, joy, assurance, courage, and life.   

Baptized Saints, Law without Gospel is a ministry of death. However, Law and Gospel is a ministry of death unto life. Indeed, the Law grabs your life and condemns you to death; however, the Gospel finds you in death and brings you to life.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel Theses: Thesis I. 

[2] Thesis XXV.  

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