December 14, 2017

We’re Not Out to Make a Name for Ourselves

A Letter for the Church Today (3)
A Study of 2 Corinthians 10-13


No, we shall not make any wild claims, but simply judge ourselves by that line of duty which God has marked out for us, and that line includes our work on your behalf. We do not exceed our duty when we embrace your interests, for it was our preaching of the Gospel which brought us into contact with you. Our pride is not in matters beyond our proper sphere nor in the labours of other men. No, our hope is that your growing faith will mean the expansion of our sphere of action, so that before long we shall be preaching the Gospel in districts beyond you, instead of being proud of work that has already been done in someone else’s province.

• 2Cor 10:13-16 , Phillips

“Some Christian workers are like the woodpecker who was pecking on the trunk of a dead tree one day when lightning struck the tree and splintered it. Not realizing what had happened, the proud bird exclaimed, ‘Look what I did!'” (Linda Beville, 2 Corinthians – IVP NT Commentary)

• • •

Paul was in a pickle. He had founded the church in Corinth and was “spiritual father” to its members (Acts 18:1-11). Some time later, other so-called “apostles” had moved into his territory, claiming credit for his work, challenging his apostolic credentials and authority, and encouraging the Corinthian church to follow them rather than him. For a fee, of course.

They had come to town to make a name for themselves. They set themselves up as “God’s men,” those who could do “great things for God” in Corinth. Want proof? They could provide impeccable credentials and speak of what God had shown them in sensational visions and experiences. They had presentation firepower too. They were renowned for their eloquent rhetoric and persuasive speech. They were strong “leaders” who looked down on servants like Paul as “losers.” Paul didn’t have the right stuff like they did. The Corinthians would never develop into a “great church” under a man like that, they claimed.

The true professionals had come to town.

In our last meditation we heard Paul criticize these “apostles” for depending on the wrong tools to encourage faith and build the church (2Cor 10:1-6). In today’s post, we read about their motives, their marketing efforts, their self-promotional tactics, and how they were playing the game of “spiritual one-upmanship,” denigrating Paul before the the Corinthians and exalting themselves in order to win the church’s confidence (2Cor 10:7-18).

The spiritual danger they pose to the Corinthian church forces Paul to write in a way that is uncomfortable to him. The interloping “boasters” have been lifting up their own “brand” and demeaning Paul. This presents a dilemma for the apostle. He does not believe in “boasting” about one’s accomplishments as a spiritual leader, but if he doesn’t somehow answer these opponents, they will say, “Aha! We told you he was weak and ineffective as a leader!” On the other hand, if he starts “boasting” about what God has done through him, he will be no better than his opponents.

Throughout the rest of 2Cor 10-13, Paul walks a tightrope of trying to answer these opponents without falling into the trap of exalting and commending himself. He is so concerned for the spiritual well being of the Corinthian church, so afraid that he will lose them to “leaders” who don’t have their best interests at heart, that he is willing to mount the high wire.

As Paul takes up his “boast,” in 2Cor 10:7-18, he seeks to set himself apart from the false apostles trying to make a name for themselves by reminding the Corinthian believers of four facts that we might summarize as follows:

  • I’m not interested in propping myself up through self-promotion, but in building you up through wise pastoring. (10:7-11)
  • I’m not interested in comparing myself with others, just doing what God called me to do. (10:12-13)
  • I’m not interested in “stealing sheep” from others, just reaching people with the Gospel (as I did with you) and then going into other unreached areas. (10:14-16)
  • I’m not interested in winning awards, just hearing God say, “Well done.” (10:17-18)

These are fundamental commitments for a minister of Christ, and they may be even more difficult to maintain now than they were in Paul’s day.

For we live in a day when narcissism rules and self-promotion is considered a virtue. With mass marketing and multimedia technology, it is easier than ever to commend ourselves and build a following. Find an attractive, charismatic leader who can get his or her message across, surround that person with lieutenants who have some business savvy and a passion to be on the “cutting edge,” put a kickin’ band on stage, and you can build a megachurch by attracting people away from their “dull” congregations with plodding pastors. Pretty soon we’re the “hot” church, on our way to being a “great” church.

In this text, Paul decries the way of self-promotion and encourages us to “simply judge ourselves by that line of duty which God has marked out for us…”

• • •

Today, I did something I haven’t done for awhile. I took the bus downtown. Next week is Super Bowl week, and Indianapolis is hosting the game this year. Downtown has been transformed into a “Super Bowl Village.” We are going to take our grandson down there soon for some of the events, and so I thought I’d make a “dry run” on the bus to spy out the land so we can make a plan.

I’d forgotten what riding the bus is like. I like it actually, but I’ll also admit that it’s not very exciting, and I would imagine if you did it day after day after day it could become pretty boring. Most of the folks who ride are simple, ordinary people. Some are poor and don’t have cars — they take the bus everywhere. Some are trying to save gas and parking expenses and the hassle of commuting. You sit next to people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Young people, old people, they all ride the bus. All in all, it’s a democratic mode of transport — there aren’t any reserved seats, no first class or business class sections. It doesn’t cost much. It doesn’t offer any amenities. You have to wait for it to pick you up alongside the road, and only in some locations do they have covered shelters, so there’s a chance you’ll get wet or cold. It only goes on certain routes, so you might have to walk a bit to catch it or to get to your exact location once you’ve disembarked.

I don’t hear people boast about taking the bus. There’s nothing flashy about it. It’s as basic as basic transportation can be. Still, it gets you where you’re going. If you ride often enough, you might even make a few friends.

I think Paul was a “ride the bus” kind of guy. If he had worked in downtown Corinth, I’ll bet he would have taken public transportation. He would have plopped down next to the working guy and working woman, and he would have fit right in. He would have been kind and friendly. He wouldn’t have acted as though riding the bus or sitting next to anyone on it was beneath him.

The so-called “apostles” who were troubling the Corinthians and trying to steal their loyalty away from Paul were most definitely not “ride the bus” people. That would not make the right impression! It would not add value to their brand. Can’t ride public transportation and be on the cutting edge. Better to arrive in a way that will wow ’em.

As for me, I think I might make taking the bus a habit. Will you join me?

Comments

  1. Hmmm, thanks.

  2. There is a modern day evangelical preacher who does a web study each week. It features him, his wife and one to three other people around a table. Nothing is done for dazzling affect. He probably gets 10 or 20 views (guessing). He has been doing a similar type small ministry since the 1970’s when he turned pastor of our vagabond store front church in New York. He has probably never pastored more than 40 people at any one time. He has done misssionary work around the globe, with minimal support, to mostly small groups. You couldn’t make a “name” out of him if you tried. Anyway, his work played a vital role in my early Christian life. Christ is glorified in the small and doesn’t need money, fame and glitz to get the message to those who are truly seeking. I mention him to say that the tradition which Paul started of ‘Christ, and Him crucified’ does indeed continue today. There are more like my friend who work in anonymity to the world but center stage to the heavenly hosts. The last shall be first. When everyone’s headin’ north, go south young man.

  3. The woodpecker story reminded me of the ass that bore Jesus into Jerusalem. Didn’t he think himself quite the man about town with all those people throwing palm leaves at his feet. As the bearers of Christ we do well to associate ourselves with our fellow asses. The ado has not to do with us.

  4. Steve Newell says:

    In St. Louis, there are billboards for churches with the picture of the pastor being prominent. I have no problems with a billboard as a way to “advertise” but why is the pastor’s picture needed?

    • Do they maybe have public access ministries or radio ministries? If so, they might want to clue people in that this church has “that guy” as pastor. It used to be used to distinguish that a church offered traditional black spirituality (the pastor would be black about 99+% of the time). Those would be my guesses.

  5. I recall N.T. Wright talking about this in his book Justification–how Paul is establishing his Apostolic chops, building his case, but doing so in a humble way.

    Clement, bishop of Rome in the late first century, wrote a famous letter to the church in Corinth, who were trying to oust the rightful leaders and put their own in. Clement denounced this and explained that Christ had sent the Apostles and then they had sent other worthy men to succeed them, all this in an orderly way, and so those are the men to be followed, not just whoever tries to seek authority outside this process. That letter was read in the church of Corinth for 500 years, and many in the early Church though 1 Clement should be part of Scripture.

    • The bible would certainly be more interesting if I Clement were canon:

      I Clement 25:
      “Let us consider the marvelous sign which is seen in the regions of the east, that is, in the parts about Arabia.

      “There is a bird, which is named the phoenix. This, being the only one of its kind, liveth for five hundred years; and when it hath now reached the time of its dissolution that it should die, it maketh for itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and the other spices, into the which in the fullness of time it entereth, and so it dieth.

      “But, as the flesh rotteth, a certain worm is engendered, which is nurtured from the moisture of the dead creature and putteth forth wings. Then, when it is grown lusty, it taketh up that coffin where are the bones of its parent, and carrying them journeyeth from the country of Arabia even unto Egypt, to the place called the City of the Sun; and in the daytime in the sight of all, flying to the altar of the Sun, it layeth them thereupon; and this done, it setteth forth to return.”

      “So the priests examine the registers of the times, and they find that it hath come when the five hundredth year is completed.”

    • While the phoenix would have been a colorful addition to scripture, the letter of I Clement bears similarities to other written works of the early gentile church fathers. In particular, the theme of “obey your bishop” recurs with predictable regularity.

      I’ve often heard (or read) the Orthodox assertion that the early gentile church fathers knew the Jewish apostles and were commissioned by the Jewish apostles to foster the growing gentile church. I’d be more inclined to believe that if these early gentile writings of “obey your bishop” were tempered with some limitations on the behavior of the bishop in question.

      What if Mark Driscoll was your bishop, fer’instance? Or Oral Roberts?

      Just sayin’…

  6. It’s a shame the Christian journey is not as exhilarating as the NFL.

    Or maybe it its.

    The game is enveloped by pomp, pageantry and punditry, not to mention the tailgate parties, but the legitimate contest is on the field – fierce, unrelenting, savage, armor-clad warriors as often as not carried off the field and lost for a season, or worse never to compete again. Strategies radioed in from coaches high above a sea of screaming witnesses. Nobody steps onto an NFL field unless they’re prepared to lose it all in unrestrained combat.

    Could be worse – it could be the MMA. 🙂

  7. What I like about this website is the wonderful nuggets of truth that challenges me to think and adjust the hidden attitudes that aren’t worthy of the name of Christ we are graced with. Thank you

  8. As a regular bus rider, I have to say this is spot on and wise to boot. The chance of finding someone flashy or full of themselves on the bus is just about zero. I’ve made some good friends on my morning commute. And I’ve met more than a few ordinary saints.

  9. That woodpecker illustration looks like it came from the old Bill Gothard “Character Sketches” coffee table book.

  10. I’ve never attended a seminary before, so I’m just curious.
    Are pastors in training even being taught the biblical model of servant leadership these days, or have the mass marketeers and the “bigthink” people taken over the whole shebang?
    Are they, at least, offering that class as an elective?