ONE OF THE MOST MOVING VISIONS of apostolic ministry is found in 2 Corinthians 6:3–10. It takes little knowledge of his letters to perceive that Paul is unwilling to compromise the Gospel. He is more than willing to bear the offense of the cross. But equally obvious is his willingness to put up with any personal inconvenience or suffering in order to get the message across. “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path,” he writes, “so that our ministry will not be discredited” (6:3). By maintaining what he calls “our ministry,” Paul is concerned to sustain not his personal reputation, but his credibility as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, as a servant of God. So he goes on, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way” (6:4).
This last sentence could be misleading, both in Paul’s day and in ours. For a minister of the Gospel today to “commend himself in every way” sounds a bit like an ugly piece of self-promotion. One’s imagination runs riot: the church bookstall selling T-shirts with “I love my Pastor Bob” emblazoned across the front, a stirring fanfare whenever he enters the pulpit, and so forth. The world of Corinth would also misconstrue Paul’s words. So many itinerant teachers were profoundly self-promoting. That was how they gained students—by commending themselves, explicitly and implicitly, as the best at what they did.
But Paul’s self-commendation suddenly takes a turn that neither the self-
promoting types of ancient Corinth nor their smooth echoes in the modern Western church would want to follow. The framework of self-commendation Paul adopts, as a servant of God, is nothing like the framework of ordinary self-promoters, ancient or modern. Paul and other servants of God commend themselves “in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4b–5). Hard work? Ancient teachers were supposed to think and teach, not work hard with their hands. Riots? Are Christian apostles supposed to commend themselves as servants of God by the way they conduct themselves in riots!
Paul presses on: they are also to commend themselves “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left” (2 Cor. 6:6–7).
Then there are all the projections people have of you: servants of God are to commend themselves “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report” (2 Cor. 6:8). Doubtless they are genuine, but many will view them as imposters. Indeed, Paul winds up his list with a litany of startling paradoxes (2 Cor. 6:9–10).
Christian leadership, anyone?
~ D.A. Carson [‘For the Love of God’ Daily Devotional]