To be clear, there is no word like “mercied” in the English language that captures the activity of God lavishing His mercy upon us. However, the Greek language does. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4.1, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.” Paul uses one word for our English phrase “we received mercy”: ēleēthēmen (ἠλεήθημεν), which implies a couple of significant things. The grammar suggests that God is the person “mercying” us and that this happened in the past— probably referring to Paul’s Damascus Road encounter that led to his conversion (although the plural here “we” is corporate). As a Divine Passive it means that God gets the credit for this gracious gift of mercy, not us. That Paul speaks of mercy should cause us to reflect on God’s redemptive work of delivering us from the wrath to come through the wrath-appeasing-cross of Christ (cf. Rom. 3.25; 1 Thess. 1.10). Thus, in shorthand, Paul is simply reflecting on the goodness of God in the gospel.
The implications are quite profound and practical for our lives. In light of God’s mercy we should respond with gratitude, remain encouraged, and be deeply humbled. In light of this mercying activity of God, Paul could draw strength from the fact that God lifted the veil from his eyes, though He did not need to; God liberated Paul from the power of the letter killing Law of Moses through the glorious Law-free-gospel of Jesus Christ, though He did not have to (2 Cor. 3.6, 9); and God entrusted this glorious gospel to Paul and appointed him to be a preacher of the unsearchable riches of Christ, but He was under no obligation to do so; it is all owing to pure mercy and grace. In fact, but for God’s sovereign grace and His unmerited mercy, God could have left the veil over Paul’s heart and not given him eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand along with the rest of his Jewish kinsmen (2 Cor. 3.14-15 cf. Dt. 29.4; Is. 6.9-10; Ezek. 12.2). It seems quite clear that Paul often encouraged himself with this thought of having been graciously granted mercy and ministry by God to whom he often gave thanks:
1 Timothy 1:12–17 12 “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:7–8 7 “of which [i.e. the gospel] I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ”
This then is simply to battle for joy in ministry based upon the mercies and promises of God; what Peter called, God’s “precious and magnificent promises” (2 Pet. 1.4). In the context of 2 Cor. 4.1 Paul has the potential for discouragement which is why he says, “we do not lose heart.” Ministry like the rest of the Christian life can easily become discouraging. In ministry for example, one sharp criticism, one divisive situation, and one controversy in the church can be deeply painful and discouraging. Discouragement can come to the most godly among us. Whether in the home, marriage, family, or job site, we can quickly lose the joy of the Lord and become discouraged. One thing that made Paul such a prolific leader, pastor, and preacher was his ability to encourage himself in the Lord. So too in our lives, when we are tempted to throw ourselves down into despair because of some mysterious providence and/or trial in our lives, let us instead thrust ourselves upward in the hands of our loving and all-merciful Father— “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1.3). No matter how long Paul walked with the Lord, he never lost the wonder of God’s mercy. This is the perspective we must adopt if we are to be able to withstand life’s discouraging providences. The way to remain steadfast and immovable and ever abounding in the work of the Lord is to repeatedly reflect on God’s sovereign pleasure to show mercy to us— who rightly deserve only the wrath of God.
“For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him”
Psalm 103.11 (NKJV)
Soli Deo Gloria