“To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
Just as it was with Paul, so is it with you. To him was committed a most glorious work, to preach the gospel of Christ. It was his calling to take up that work in a very different area of work than the rest of the apostles. Since Christ called him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he knew it was his duty to travel far, to preach the gospel where Christ was unknown. And as he considered his work, he knew that he was insufficient for it.
Your calling is certainly not that of an apostle. Nor is your calling likely that even of the office of the ministry of the Word. But you do have a calling that is similar in kind. Your calling as a Christian is to confess the truth of God’s Word in this world, to testify of the hope that is in your heart.
You have a testimony to give. This testimony is an important implication of confession of faith, and is part of that confession itself. Public profession of faith is confession of faith that is public.
Your confession of faith is public as you make it in the church of Jesus Christ. Approved in private by the consistory, your confession of faith is made public as you stand up in the church and answer “Yes” to the questions that are asked of you. You do so in a worship service that is public. That worship service is advertised, and it is not an exclusive meeting. Any one in the world who wishes can hear your confession of faith in that worship service. It is also a public confession because you join your voice to that of the church as she proclaims the testimony of the gospel in all the world.
However, the very idea of a confession of faith, as it comes from your heart and your mouth, also means that it must be made wherever you go in the world. Your confession is a matter of consistency. You have one heart and one mouth. As that heart and mouth confessed the truth of God’s Word in the church, so in the world they must continue to speak the same language and express the same faith.
In the world and, especially, speaking to the world, your Christian duty is to confess your faith, to make the truth of God’s Word known in the world. In that duty is your privilege to manifest the glory of the one true God through His Son Jesus Christ. In that duty is your calling to declare the truth over against the lie, as part of the Christian’s battle. Your blessing is to be an instrument both for the conversion of the elect and the hardening of the reprobate, to be a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death!
Are you sufficient for this high and glorious calling?
How are you at bringing that witness and testimony? Do you feel bold or timid, competent or incompetent? In short, do you feel sufficient or insufficient? If you feel insufficient, you join the ranks of the apostle Paul and his company. When he looked at the glorious work that was committed to him and his company, he did not feel sufficient. “Who is sufficient for these things?” Not he. Not his company. Not anyone that he could think of.
As far as your witness and testimony is concerned, there are two kinds of insufficiencies to talk about. The first insufficiency has to do with your abilities, that is, with how to work from the ground of Holy Scripture and reason from it to show those you have discussions with what they ought to believe and how they ought to live.
In this blessed work you will discover that you are insufficient. You may find that you are unable to use reason to move from the simple statements of Scripture to show how it demands belief and confession of this or that truth. You may be unable to remember the Scriptures well enough to show the things that you believe are grounded on them. You may encounter some difficulties in explaining what you believe in a way that is clear and understandable to the one who is listening to you.
To be sure, there is room to become more sufficient in this area. Your abilities here are something you can improve, and there are many ways to improve. You can grow in your knowledge of Scripture through study. Engage in conversations with your fellow saints (parents, elders, minister as well as Christian friends), simply going over this territory, making it more and more familiar. Reading also is of great value, but so too is being able to talk about what you are reading. Get discussions going! Make sure that your discussions go in both directions. Be sure to listen and think about what you are hearing, in order truly to interact in your discussions.
Even so, you can always expect that you will be confronted with your own insufficiency. You will sometimes find yourself at a loss. What to say? How to explain? What ground to give, or what argument to present?
The other kind of insufficiency is deeper, more spiritual, and has to do with your heart. You can know this kind of insufficiency when the first kind of insufficiency presents itself. When you see that you might be losing an argument, what happens? Do you become angry and bitter? Does the volume of your voice increase? Do you become sarcastic in your speech and harsh in your tone? Do you perhaps become scornful and derisive in your attitude toward the person you are arguing with. Do you begin to “tell them off,” and attack them with your words?
This second kind of insufficiency is very different than the first. Not only is it deeper, it is also more fundamental. It shows to the person you are talking to that you are simply stuck, weak, and helpless in your position. He can see through the fact that you yourself may not be convinced of the truth you are confessing. In fact, there is such a difference between these two kinds of insufficiencies (ability and heart) that you can be completely insufficient with the first, but not with the second.
What does it mean to know that you have this second kind of sufficiency, this heart sufficiency? How can you demonstrate that your sufficiency is from God?
Let us say that you have entered into a discussion. You have spoken the truth, and you have been able to support the truth to some degree. You receive a reply that you cannot answer. But you do not become angry and upset. You maintain your calm and peace. And you say something like, “I cannot answer that, but I do know that this is the truth of God’s Word.”
When you give an answer like that and maintain your calm and peace, you show by your response that you have a sufficiency outside of yourself on which you wholly rely. It is of God and of His Word. You point back to the Word, and you honor and uphold the Word of God.
There are two points to this divine sufficiency.
The first point of sufficiency is that God has given to you exactly what you need to be His faithful witness in the world. He has given to you His Word and faith in His Word. He has given to you such a faith that from your heart you confess His name and truth in the world. That sufficiency may be eloquence. It may not be. That sufficiency may be a strong memory to recall the Scriptures, down to chapter and verse. It may not be. That sufficiency may be a clear, logical reasoning from the Scriptures. It may not be. At bottom, that sufficiency is that you speak the truth and that you declare you know it to be the truth of God’s Word. That is a sufficiency that is your rest and peace when you have spoken.
The second point of sufficiency from God is that He alone is able to make your witness powerful and mighty. On the one hand, your eloquent, well-reasoned, biblically grounded confession cannot by itself lead to a belief and confession of the truth. That is not because you did not say enough, but because God was not pleased to use it for the salvation of the hearer. He was pleased to use it to harden him.
On the other hand, there may be the simple witness and testimony of one who speaks and who says only that he knows it to be the truth of God’s Word. That testimony does lead to the salvation of the hearer. That testimony breaks someone’s unbelief, and it leads him to forgiveness of sin and salvation in Christ through faith in Him. Why? Because God’s particular, sovereign grace made that testimony sufficient. He was pleased to bless it to the salvation of the hearer.
In this sufficiency of God, find and know your own sufficiency. Use your mind and heart to their fullest capabilities to know and speak the truth of God’s Word. Make sure they are sufficient with God’s sufficient gifts to think and speak. But, as you use His gifts to bring the word and testimony of His truth, rest always in His sufficiency.