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One of the issues that Paul faced in A.D. 50 Corinth had to do with what the congregation wanted in their leaders. Their culture highlighted three primary values in leaders.
(1) Dress – The appearance of a speaker added to the status of speakers in Corinth. They wore elaborate hats and the finest of clothes to accentuate their importance.
(2) Eloquent Speech – The content of a speaker’s message was not as important as how it was delivered. Speakers trained their voices in particular ways in order to impress their audience.
For example, the Greek orator Demosthenes practiced talking with pebbles in his mouth and shouting above the roar of the ocean waves to improve his speech.
(3) Knowledge from Visions and Dreams – Knowledge that was hidden from the general public, but was given to speakers through visions and dreams was an important way that speakers set themselves apart from others.
Even today, appearance continues to have a degree of importance in church life. Being able to keep the interest of the congregation is highly valued. Knowledge that is possessed by the minister alone is another clear distinction.
If Paul were to evaluate these three standards, what would he say?
Following a luncheon given by a prominent pastor, I was walking to the parking lot with one of my pastor friends. As we walked my friend said to me, “He is definitely excellent at self-promotion.”
Paul was excelled at self-promotion, but with a significant difference.
He knew that if people didn’t trust him, they would turn from his message to one that was delivered by impostors.
That is why Paul wrote, “We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6.3).
To Paul the ministry was of paramount importance. In no way did he want his personality or any other aspect of his behavior to detract from the message.
His life was characterized by self-giving love. He embraced a cross-like-life for the sake of extending the good news to people.
Paul could say, “As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . .” (2 Corinthians 6.4-5).
Let’s not miss the contrast between Paul’s qualifications and that of good appearance, pleasing speech, and special knowledge.
When looking for a minister, self-giving love should be paramount.
The Minister’s Character
If self-giving love is the overarching category when looking for a minister, then sub-headings should include what Paul wrote in the next verses.
“By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,
“Truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left . . .” (2 Corinthians 6.6-7).
One of my best friends in the ministry never dressed to impress others. He wasn’t a great communicator, but he was full of knowledge and wisdom.
What was most striking about him was his character. As I look at Paul’s list in these verses, my minister friend exemplified these traits like few people whom I have met.
When looking for a minister, we would do well to ask if the person we are following has the traits that Paul mentions in these verses.
Self-Giving Love Emphasized
As if we have forgotten the great value of self-giving love, Paul returns to the subject.
He fully embraced the self-sacrifice and self-giving love of Jesus Christ. As such, he could point to these aspects of his life.
Paul said this about his life: He lived “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
“As unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;
“As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6.8-10).
The Smokey Mountain Slum is home to 30,000 people. The slum is located on the landfill for Manila Philippines. A pastor and his family live in the slum and scavenge for food like all of the other people there.
When I read Paul’s words, I think of this pastor and his family.
Self-giving love doesn’t always go to the lengths of this minister, but it certainly needs to resemble the love of Jesus Christ in every way.
Again, Paul’s words remind us to look for this kind of love in ministers.
A Wide Open Heart
I can’t imagine from my vantage point of 2,000 years of church history that people would want someone other than Paul to show them the way to live the Christian life.
Yet, Paul had to defend his ministry to secure his message. He formulated the conclusion of his appeal like this:
“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.
“There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.
“In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6.11-13).
When looking for a minister, look for someone who cares deeply for people. Look for the condition of their heart.
When they live in self-giving love, they free us to open our hearts to their message and ministry.
We All Are Ministers
I have aimed the theme of this article at ministers. I think it is important to use the proper criteria when we follow the leadership of pastors and minister.
However, as you know. We all are ministers. These words should be true of all of us, who follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
May We Pray for You?
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