I often tell church leaders that a typical response in leadership to anxiety is to enact greater measures of control. Whatever short term gains are made through these measures, they often result in negative long-term consequences. Instead, and perhaps counter-intuitively, anxiety should be met with greater measures of trust. Put another way, anxiety should be met with greater confidence in the mercies of God.
The mercies of God, for Paul, is not simply forgiveness for mistakes or even an overlooking of our weaknesses and shortcomings. The mercies of God are more than this. They are the fruit of the resurrection, the trust and confidence that God ultimately brings life out of death. So, the mercies of God are rooted in the power of God over death and the powers of death (like control). Trust in the resurrection allows leaders to act not out of their self-interest or self-preservation, but out of the mercies of God.
This theme runs throughout 2 Corinthians. In the opening chapter, Paul relates his experience in Asia where they were “utterly, unbearably crushed” and despaired of life itself. Paul and his companions were delivered so that “we would not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” Paul’s experience of the resurrection here changed him. Trust in God’s power to deliver him resulted in a freedom related to those with whom he ministered. He no longer had to perform by the standards of “human wisdom,” which in Corinth meant rhetorical brilliance. Instead he behaves with “simplicity and godly sincerity.”
Because of the resurrection, Paul did not have to project a self larger than he was. Instead, he could receive a self as a gift of the mercies of God.
In 2 Cor 4, we find very similar language. Because Paul engaged in ministry by the mercies of God, he refused “disgraceful or underhanded ways, ” and refused to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word.” I read this to mean that Paul did not need rhetorical gimmicks by which he might manipulate his audience. Instead, “by the open statement of the truth, we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the presence of God.”
In a way similar to the opening chapter, Paul describes what it means to be a person of the resurrection. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” Paul experiences an irrepressible source of life rooted in the resurrection. Though he is crushed, he is not driven to despair, etc.
This experience of the resurrection, allows Paul another realization related to the death of Jesus. Because he ultimately trusts God for his life, he can die to his own interests (carry in his body the death of Jesus) and live for others. “For while we live, we are being given up to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus” (a life for others) “might also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, death is at work in us, but life in you. Yes, everything is for your sake…”
Because he trusts the resurrection, Paul discovers Jesus’ death as a source of life. In other places, he will refer to the cross of Jesus as a source of power. This way of living, not out of self-interest, but for the sake of others, is an expression of the power of God made available by the Spirit of the one raised from the dead. Behaviors not rooted in self-interest–humility, kindness, generosity, simplicity–are also an experience of the mercies of God as the very power of God. Empowered by God in these ways means that even as a clay jar, there is no cause for losing heart.
So, the question at the heart of doing ministry by the mercies of God is not, do you trust that God can forgive you, though he can and does. The question is, do you trust that God can raise you from the dead? If not, then you will respond to the anxieties of ministry, and there are plenty, with attempts to secure your life through greater measure of control. But if you can receive your life as a gift of God secured by the resurrection, then the response to hard pressed, knocked down, perplexed will instead be empowering measures of trust.