The Church in Corinth was established around 51 AD through the preaching of the apostle Paul. We read in Acts 18 how Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in their tentmaking business. Every week for 18 months Paul preached in the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah. Crispus the leader of the synagogue and his entire household became Christians and many others were also baptised and the church in Corinth was born.
Some years later Paul received a letter from Corinth telling of all kinds of problems in the church there with the church dividing into factions. We don’t have that letter, but we do have Paul’s reply and we know that as his first letter to the Corinthians. In that letter he teaches them many things about the church as the body of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. He answers their moral and ethical questions and teaches them about true worship, the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and many other things. We looked at 1 Corinthians in Home Groups last week.
The Corinthians answered Paul with another letter which again we don’t have but we can work out what they said because we do have Paul’s reply and that is 2nd Corinthians. In a nutshell the Corinthians challenged Paul’s authority to teach them. Since he had moved on from Corinth, other men had come along claiming to be apostles bringing false teaching leading which was leading the church astray. These so called “super-apostles” claimed special revelations from God. But Paul describes them like this.
11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
So the second letter to the Corinthians is first and foremost Paul’s defence of his own ministry against the claims of the false apostles. How do we distinguish a true apostle from a false apostle? How do we know which preachers to trust and which to reject? How does a church choose its minister and how does a denomination know who should be accredited as a minister and who should not be?
These are things I have talked about with different churches when I served them as a Moderator guiding them as they were looking for their next minister. I have talked through the same questions with newly accredited ministers with whom I am serving as Mentor. And these are the issues a number of us are wrestling with as we are in the process of creating the new professional organisation for ministers, the College of Baptist Ministers. What are the true marks of ministry? So how does Paul defend his own ministry? What evidence does he put forward to demonstrate he is a true apostle?
The things we will look at here should be true of all Christians. What we are saying should apply at some level to every one of us. But these things should especially be true of those who are called to serve the church and lead the church as Ministers, Evangelists, Youth Workers, Missionaries and Deacons. 2 Corinthians points us to at least 3 marks of ministry.
The servant of God is an Ambassador for Christ
5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. …. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
A minister should be an ambassador for Christ. All Christians are ambassadors for Christ, but Ministers, Pastor-teachers, Missionaries, Evangelists are especially set apart by God to be his ambassadors. They represent Jesus, they speak on his behalf and listen on his behalf. They are Christ’s messengers, his go-betweens. Not just the preaching and teaching, but every aspect of a minister’s life, should reflect the Saviour he represents. Like the apostle Paul, ministers have been especially entrusted with the message of reconciliation. They carry the message of how God puts people right with Himself. So a mark of a minister is that under their ministry people come to faith in Christ and their lives are touched by Christ.
I have conducted probably approaching a hundred funerals but one a few years ago will always stick in my mind. At the end of the thanksgiving service before we moved on to the Crematorium the granddaughter of the lady asked me to pray with her. I thought she might just have been very distressed by grief. In fact the young lady wanted to recommit her life to Christ. She had realised during the service just how much she needed God in her life. Ambassadors for Christ.
We could all name literally hundreds of famous people. Monarchs. Politicians. Sports people and entertainers. The influence of ambassadors representing our country is enormous, I can only name one. He is Andy Sparks, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Nepal. We happened to be at college together, incidentally alongside our BMS Missionary in Nepal Jerry Clewett. Most of the time we haven’t a clue who our country’s ambassadors are. The glorious task of an Ambassador is to draw attention to the one they are representing, not to themselves. So equally a minister will not want draw attention to himself or herself. The Minister’s task, the Missionaries’ task, the Christian worker’s task is to point to Christ.
The servant of God is not in it for the money
2:17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
11:7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.
You sometimes hear people introduced on TV or radio or on the platform of some Christian conference as “a great servant of God”. That is an oxymoron, a self-contradicting statement. A person can be a servant of the great God! But by definition servants are never great – they are simply servants.
We live in an age of celebrity. People listen to what a “Big name” says and follow what he or she teaches because they are famous, not because what they are saying is true. There is a dreadful temptation to judge the truth of a message just on the basis of how popular or successful the preacher or the author may be. Christians must beware of being dragged into believing that best sellers are more true than more obscure books. Dan Brown – the Da Vinci Code – need I say more. I was speaking last week at the Christian Union at Writtle College and somebody mentioned Rob Bell and his ridiculously popular book, “Love Wins.” Rob Bell argues that God’s love is so great that ultimately He will never allow anybody to go to hell. Many Christians look at the fact that “Love Wins” sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the first few months and conclude that what the book says must be true. That is nonsense! While God sometimes blesses Christians with prominence and wealth and prosperity that is not always the case. In particular when we look at ministers and preachers who are rich we need to remember what Paul made abundantly clear to the Corinthians – ministers should never be in it for the money!
In this age of celebrity, being successful and famous is a two edged sword. Too many of today’s so-called great and famous evangelists and preachers are led astray by the money! Paul asks
11:7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?
Paul has aleady discussed the situation of apostles and Christian ministers in 1 Corinthians 9. He has taught that the Corinthians do have an obligation to meet the needs of those who serve them as ministers.
1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
But then Paul goes on to explain that he is also entitled to waive those rights. So the church should not listen to an apostle or a minister just because they are paid, or reject a ministry because the minister does not demand to be paid.
15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
So a true minister of the gospel isn’t in it for the money! This applies of course to all church leaders, Missionaries and Evangelists and even Deacons as well.
1 Timothy 3 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. …. 8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
Not a lover of money! Popularity and success and wealth are not evidence of truth. Marks of ministry – the servant of God is not in it for the money!
The servant of God is a suffering servant
We live in a world which worships success. But ministers of God follow Jesus Christ, the suffering servant who gave up his life as a ransom for many. The servant is not greater than the master. They persecuted Jesus and they will persecute any true minister of God. So when Paul seeks to defend his ministry he does not talk about his successes. The number of churches he has planted. The number of people who became Christians as a result of his preaching, surely in the thousands and including the founder members of the Corinthian church themselves. Paul doesn’t even mention to the Corinthians what he talked to the Galatians about. No talk here of his commissioning to be the apostle to the Gentiles by the appearance of the Risen Jesus Christ Himself on the Damascus Road, a unique experience none of the “super-apostles” could ever claim.
Instead Paul talks about his sufferings. The proof that his ministry comes from Christ the suffering servant is that Paul Himself has suffered and continues to suffer for Christ.
4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Paul says, we have to die so that people see Jesus living in us and through us. Often when Christians suffer illness or persecution or rejection or even just accidents we ask, why me? And in very many situations the Bible answer is that it is only as we experience a tiny glimpse of the suffering which Christ endured for us that his resurrection life can shine through us.
In the third century, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote to his friend Donatus: “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians… and I am one of them.”
For the apostle Paul, suffering is not a sign of failure but a mark of ministry.
6:4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Suffering is a mark of ministry and in a broader way a mark of Christian faith. So many of the books of the New Testament are written to encourage Christians to hang on to their faith in difficult times! As well as so many places in 2 Corinthians we could think of James chapters 1 and 5, 1 Peter chapters 1 and 2, Hebrews chapters 11 and 12, Romans 8 and of course the whole of the book of Revelation. Suffering is part of human life and it is part of the normal Christian life and as believers God calls us to put our trust in him and rely on his grace in our times of weakness. Paul speaks about one particular aspect of his suffering, the thorn in his flesh. We don’t know what that illness or disability was. Some people think it may have been very poor eyesight..
2 Cor 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The message of 2 Corinthians is that God WILL give us his grace and his power, but only through our weakness and our times of suffering. If we are Christians we will suffer for Christ. Even more, those who are called to serve and lead the church can expect to suffer. The false apostles in Corinth were exploiting the church. So Paul’s defence of his ministry is the catalogue of the ways he has suffered for Christ.
11:19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! …. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. … 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” How much more is this the case for the ones Christ calls to be ministers and evangelists and missionaries!
So here according to Paul are the Marks of Christian Ministry:-
The Servant of God is an Ambassador for Christ
The Servant of God is not in it for the money
The Servant of God is a Suffering Servant
The marks of every minister – and in many ways the marks of every believer too!