Pastors: Some Implications From Paul's Defence
For it is not the man who commends himself who is approved, but the man whom the Lord commends2 Corinthians 10:18
The problem that the apostle Paul faced in his relationship with the church at Corinth was an extraordinary one by any standards. It was through his ministry and labours that the church had been founded. Having sought, week by week, to persuade men that Jesus is the Messiah; having reasoned long hours with the Jews and the Greeks alike, initially some few came to salvation in Christ (Acts 18:8). Paul spent a total of eighteen months in the city, teaching them from the Word of God (v 11), despite the continued and abusive opposition of the Jewish contingent there. Gradually, by the work of the apostle in the power of the Spirit of God, this nascent fellowship became established in the things of the Lord. We can, therefore, imagine the shock, frustration and anguish of the apostle when, some time later, he found that his 'children in the Lord' were turning from him and were beginning, perhaps, even to despise him. The fundamental question that underlies the second letter of the apostle to the Corinthian church is instructive for us to consider.
Basically it is this: By what criteria do you judge? How do you evaluate spiritual things within the context of the church? Was that not the fundamental question and elementary problem at Corinth? It is true that interlopers, false apostles, had infiltrated the church in Paul's absence — but their apparent success in discrediting him uncovers the difficulty: the church had been duped into wrong methods of discernment and appraisal; and particularly with reference to the criteria with which to judge that which really commends a man and his ministry.
What were these 'super-apostles' saying? It amounts to five things. First, they claimed that the apostle was inconsistent in his dealings with them. This is the reason for Paul's comment at the beginning of chapter 10; 'I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away!' In other words, they claimed that the apostle was rather too dogmatic in his letters, and yet that he was afraid of them in personal contact (see verses 9 and 10). Second, the interlopers accused Paul of living, and arguing, by the standards of this world: he hadn't yet liberated himself from this age (v 2). Third, it seems as though Paul's standing as a Christian was being questioned (v 7). The implication drawn by these unscrupulous men was simply that it was difficult to know (for sure) if Paul was actually saved! Fourth, having put the apostle down in the eyes of the Corinthian believers, the false apostles then set about commending themselves (v 12); and, fifth, they claim and boast of work done by others — probably, principally, by Paul himself. The point is this. In seeking to lower Paul in his friends' esteem — in accusing him of being an ineffective leader, and, conversely, in attracting attention to themselves by boasting of their own abilities, achievements and prestige — the interlopers employ entirely false criteria by which to judge. Of course, by their example, they taught and encouraged the church to do the same.
In the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians we have the apostle's response to this dreadful situation. It reaches its point, perhaps, in verse 18 of the crucial tenth chapter: 'For it is not the man who commends himself who is approved, but the man whom the Lord commends'. On the basis of this statement, let us ask the question, 'What are the characteristics of the man whom God commends?' What are the marks of the true servant of God? There are, of course, several ways we could gain an answer. For example, we could approach it from Paul's outline of the characteristics of a godly elder in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1; or we could follow the argument of the apostle in the second letter to the Corinthians as he labours to win them back to a spiritual discernment of the situation. However, I have found it very instructive to see that Paul, almost incidentally and unconsciously, gives illustration after illustration of this point in the way in which he deals with the believers in Corinth, that is, by his own example.
The Pastor in Relation to God
It should go without saying that of paramount importance is the call of God to the man of God. The only justification for leading the Lord's people, for preaching and teaching, is the God-given confidence that the Lord has both called and equipped the man for his work. Calvin puts it well:
Two things are requisite in anyone that would be listened to in the church, and would occupy the place of teacher; for he must be called by God to occupy that office, and he must faithfully employ himself in the discharge of his duties.1
The apostle begins his letter with a similar implication, 'Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...' (1:1). The first fundamentally essential qualification for a pastor is that he has been made that by God, not by men. He has the burden for the ministry because and as a result of the call of God's grace and the appointment of the Lord Jesus Christ through the effective operation of the Holy Spirit. Here, of course, the whole gracious Trinity is intimately involved: the Father's will (2 Corinthians 1:1), the Son's enablement and gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). A man must examine himself thoroughly before daring to take upon himself the heavy responsibility of leading God's flock: 'Am I called by God?' Better, by honest and open self-inquiry, to come to terms with this before entering the ministry, than to find after much hardship, sorrow and, perhaps, disillusionment that the call came, not from God, but from a desire — however sincere — that was self-originated. In contrast, Paul's confidence rests on the calling of God alone. 'Since through God's mercy we have this ministry', he says, 'we do not lose heart' (4:1).
Paul is able, by God's grace, to rest on the certainty of the Lord's calling. In chapter two he stands firm against those whose ministry is of Satan (see 11:13-15). When the apostle speaks or writes he knows that he does so in Christ with sincerity and like a man 'sent from God' (2:17). That is, subjectively, his heart and conscience testify that he is right, whilst, objectively, his ministry is derived from the Lord. In confidence, then, he stands not only before the Corinthian believers, but also, and more significantly, before the Judge, the great tester of motives and of sincerity (see 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2:13).
Paul expresses this idea of calling and relationship to the Lord in the ministry in one word — that of 'ambassador'. He states, 'We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…' (5:20). An ambassador is one chosen by his sovereign, trusted and sent. Hodge, rightly, points out the fact that within this concept of an ambassador is the idea of substitution 2— he is a representative of his sovereign, he speaks in his name. He acts and communicates not only on behalf of, but also in the place of, his master. He therefore represents his master in a very close way with direct authority in his commission. In another metaphor, and to put the same thing another way, the apostle describes the pastor as God's fellow-worker (6:1).
If the pastor's relation to God necessarily includes the calling and delegation to his task by God, then it is equally true that the pastor in the Lord's church must also be holy before God. His integrity, purity, sincerity, uprightness and sanctity of character and life must be beyond question. Paul says, 'Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God' (1:12). There are two areas here — the holiness of the man of God in the sight of God, and the evident holiness of the man as an example and as a ground for confidence in his relationship to his flock.
It is, then, a requirement that the servant of God 'be above reproach' (1 Timothy 3:2; see Titus 1:6). It is vital that we who plead with men and women to be pure and righteous in every area, are so ourselves. How do we dare to exhort to godly living, to purity of conscience and life, to prayer and a delightful relationship with the Lord, if we ourselves are devoid of these marks of God's grace? The divine life in the pastor with its origin in God — not in himself — must be the first requisite of the man called by God if he is to know the blessing of the Lord upon his pastoral labours.
We should remember, as well, that godliness is to be seen by others — in order that they might be the more constrained to recognize our integrity and therefore the credibility of our message; and this for two reasons: positively, that our ministry may be effective; negatively, that our ministry may not be hindered. The former reason is that what we seek to say from the pulpit and in private conversation may be used of the Holy Spirit to the saving of men and women and to their growth in grace and godliness. In the words of Thomas Brooks, 'The lives of ministers oftentimes do convince more strongly than their words; their tongues may persuade, but their lives command'.3
Our people have every right to expect godliness in us. It is vital, then, not only for himself, but for his flock as well, for the pastor to cultivate and sustain a living relationship with God that will issue evidently in godly living day by day. Paul realizes this. He emphasizes it with regard to the practical concern of monetary affairs: '...we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men' (8:21). It is not enough simply to do right — the apostle recognizes the importance of appearing right. The latter reason for integrity is that our ministry may not be hampered or ruined by inconsistency in our lives. Richard Baxter has much to say about this subject in his classic work on the Christian ministry, The Reformed Pastor.4
He comments, 'It will hinder your work, if you contradict yourselves, and if your actions give your tongue the lie, and if you build up an hour or two with your mouths and all week after pull down with your hands'. And, again, with telling and characteristic imagery, 'One proud, surly, lordly word, one needless contention, one covetous action, may cut the throat of many a sermon, and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing'. Why is this? He tells us with some force, 'If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you'. The people of God look, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not, for example from their leaders — if they find that which is contrary to the exhortations of the Scripture, and of the sermons, then the whole appears a sham losing its credibility and its authority. Live as you preach, preach as you live. Robert Traill's sermon, 'By what means may ministers best win souls?' contains much warm, but pointed application at this juncture. He asks, 'Doth not always the spirit of ministers propagate itself amongst the people?' His conclusion is, 'A lively minister, and lively Christians'.5We might add that a godly minister, a man evidently seeking righteousness, a man in whom the Spirit of holiness is obviously at work, will produce believers who find holiness attractive and who will seek it for themselves.
The chief motivation in the pursuit of holiness, we should emphasize, is not that men may imitate us. This is a by-product, if you like, but it is never the motivation. Rather, Paul shows in this letter that the reason for his concern with godliness is that he wishes to please God and that he fears him. 'So we make it our goal to please him' Why? 'For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad' (5:9-10). The word that the apostle uses here — translated 'we make it our goal' — is very suggestive. It denotes labouring for a required end, but it implies much more than that. It signifies, literally, an ambition — a consuming ambition, a motivating force — in the life of the apostle Paul. It is his burning ambition, in other words, to please Christ. He is diligent in his efforts to that end. The logic is simple enough: if Christ is to judge us for the manner in which we conduct ourselves in the present, we will make it our ambition to gain a positive judgement from the Son of God. This is the stimulus, the incentive, to godly living and ministry. Calvin, commenting on 10:18, applies it helpfully,
Let us, therefore, leaving off all other things, aim exclusively at this — that we may be approved by God, and may be satisfied to have his approbation alone, as it justly ought to be regarded by us as of more value than all the applauses of the whole world.6
The minister's godliness is vital to success in the ministry; but who can cope with this? Who can maintain a consistent ministry and be an example daily before a people who are inherently interested, sometimes critically, in the things we do? Who is sufficient for the task? Briefly, we need to notice that Paul rested in God's power, not his own. Chapter 12, of course, is important here, but in the context of the requirements of the pastor, 13:4 is equally helpful. Notice the turn in thought:
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.
The apostle's weaknesses have been stressed throughout the correspondence (1:8, 4:7f, 6:4f, 11:23f, 12:5f; see also 1 Corinthians 2:3) yet here he explains that the all-sufficient grace and power of God in Christ is manifested as the apostle lives for them. He has shown that Christ's power rests on him conspicuously when he feels most weak; it pitches its tent upon him, as it were, but now he stresses this in relation to them. So in relation not only to yourself but also in relation to your flock you can know and prove Christ's power and grace to be entirely sufficient for you. This is a significant sign of the Lord's initial calling to the work and an encouragement to both you and your church.
Enough has been said, perhaps, to show the importance of the minister's relation to God — in his initial call; in his continuing holiness before Christ, consciously aware of the coming judgement, seeking to please him; in his perception of the power of Christ whilst he knows only too well his own weakness. This is the first area that is implied through Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.
The Pastor and His Message
First, it is clear that the person and work of Jesus Christ is central to the message of the apostle Paul. In a sense this is obvious, but we take note of it briefly. At the beginning of 2 Corinthians Paul expresses this in these words: 'For the Son of God, Jesus Christ ... was preached among you by me and Silvanus and Timothy...' (1:19). As Calvin observes, the apostle's preaching 'contained nothing but Christ alone. Paul held forth Christ pure and undisguised'. It seems then that Paul's entire being was given over to the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Truth of God. He did not preach himself — as the interlopers at Corinth were evidently doing (2 Corinthians 4:5) — but he preached the person of Christ: not to attract attention to himself, but, by the gospel, to bring men to a saving knowledge of the Son of God. He expresses this forcefully in his first letter to them, 'I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified' (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The gospel is the gospel of Christ. The obedience to which Paul longs to bring the believers at Corinthians is obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). He labours, and has laboured, to bring their minds and wills, their lives and words, into submission under the lordship of Christ for he has promised them all to him as their 'one husband' (2 Corinthians 11:2).7In other words, the message is totally Christ-centred and is a Christ-dominated one. At every turn, given any opportunity, the apostle delighted in presenting 'the whole Christ to the whole man'. If he sought their salvation, it was Christ he preached. If he struggled to gain their sanctification and further godliness, it was Christ he preached. If his goal was to bring them to a greater understanding and knowledge of the truth, it was Christ he preached. This is ever the main aim of the servant of God — to present Jesus Christ to his people.
Secondly, we may notice that Paul preached the message clearly. He assures the Corinthians that when he presented them with the gospel he did so by 'setting forth the truth plainly' (4:2). This is so important. W. G. T. Shedd speaks of this as the first fundamental property of style, for, he says, no one can be affected by truth unless he apprehends it.8The truth must be put over in an intelligible manner or it will simply be unproductive of any good. The caring pastor will be determined to make this a matter of examination and conscience to ensure that his speaking is plain, that is, to the capacity of his hearers. There is no benefit in using theological jargon, for example — it will leave our people cold and frustrated. There is no real usefulness in pitching illustrations and application away from the actual experience of the hearers. In this we need to be creative: it will take time, thought and much prayer. It will, above all perhaps, require a closer knowledge and friendship with those to whom we minister — a point to which we will return below. Simplicity, however, does not imply lack of the need to prepare — that is, 'simplicity' is not synonymous with 'superficiality'. Plainness will not require us to give up reading good (and difficult) books: commentaries, theology, biography and the like. Rather, it will demand of us that we turn our study into that which can be digested by those to whom we minister.
Thirdly, the pastor will look for and expect results from his labours in the Word. Paul teaches, and he himself realizes, that the sovereign purpose of God in the gospel's proclamation to the world is the reconciliation of the world to himself (5:18, 19), and he clearly anticipates results corresponding to the task that God has given him, for example. This is as it should be. We are sometimes suspicious of those who talk a lot about results — and with some justification. Yet how we need to expect the risen, living Lord to fulfill his purposes through his servants (see Romans 10:14-15). Baxter is dogmatic at this point. He says, 'If your heart be not set on the end of your labours, and you long not to see the conversion and edification of your hearers, and do not study and preach in hope, you are not likely to see much success'. 9
Here we must be cautious — not everything that masquerades as success is success. Bridges warns against that which only appears like success, such as when people crowd to hear the Word, the flock's love for the pastor, general confessions of sinfulness and temporary interest in the sermons. These are not necessarily visible symptoms of real success. Today, sadly, the need is to warn against less subtle forms in our success-orientated society and age. Too many are content to measure success by size, or by personality. Lamentably, many today are being taught to see success in wealth and talent, or in, so-called, 'signs and wonders' in the church. It is necessary to remember that our goals are not temporal and finite, but are everlasting and immense.
That is, success, rightly conceived, extends beyond present appearances — its seed is to be observed now, but its result is far greater. More concretely, Dabney puts it well, 'The end of every ovation is to make men do'. Later, speaking of preaching he says, '... it aims to produce a practical determination of the hearer's will'.10
We preach that the Lord might convert, that he might so grip the mind and the will of his people that they long to be holy, that the vision of Christ received from the Word through our speaking may move men to practical godly living in this generation in which we live (see James 1:26-27). We labour to persuade believers and unbelievers alike to be doers of the Word of Almighty God.
The consequence of this is that the pastor ought to minister under a divine compulsion. I well remember the impact on my own ministry of the short passage in The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney 11in which Thomas Johnson recalls a time when Dabney received a letter of encouragement from his friend, Rev William S. White, in which he wrote, 'I know of no means of building up and extending the borders of Zion but the truth studied, learned, communicated, and then followed by prayer. Preach as if your preaching was everything, and then pray as if it were nothing'. It is this sense of genuine urgency, this sense of preaching as if it was everything, that we find so often in the apostle's letter. See how this permeates his exhortations to the Corinthians: 'We try to persuade men' (5:11), 'We urge you' (6:1), 'I appeal to you' (10:1). The basis of these urgent admonitions is vital to grasp. The apostle leaves us in no doubt why he speaks in this manner. He says, 'I believed; therefore I have spoken' (4:13). In other words, it is because he knows and has faith in the truth of God that he seeks with all his energy to proclaim it to others. He is under a compulsion of the heart: he knows, both 'intellectually' and experientially, that God is faithful to his word — he will, for example, raise believers with Jesus to his own presence. At 5:11 he lays the foundation of his urgency in the knowledge which he has of the genuine fear of the Lord, therefore he tries to persuade them. At 5:14 the apostle rests his appeal on the fact of his own knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ which thus compels him to speak. At 6:1-2 Paul urges the Corinthians on the basis that 'now is the day of salvation'. Does this kind of inner knowledge and spiritual experience of God produce in us an urgent compulsion to speak to others? Do we find that our own understanding and relationship with the Lord drives us on to minister? Is it evident, then, in the pulpit, or in the home?
Dabney has a great deal to say on this particular point. He writes of 'power', 'energy' and 'force' as characteristics of a genuine preacher. For example, he defines 'eloquence' as 'the emission of the soul's energy through speech'. He speaks of the preacher projecting 'the force of his volition ... upon the will of the hearer'. 'Not only must the orator's reason perform the processes of perception and logic, his heart must be powerfully actuated by those processes of emotion which he seeks to propagate...' He comes to this salutary conclusion, 'If your discourse urges the hearer merely with excellent reasons and inducements, natural, ethical, social, legal, political, self-interested, philanthropic, if it does not end by bringing their wills under the direct grasp of a "thus saith the Lord", it is not a sermon; it has degenerated into speech'. 12
Shedd speaks of this powerful compulsion or urgency as 'penetration'. He says, 'Force is electrical: it permeates and thrills. A speaker destitute of energy never produces such a peculiar sensation as this'.13
The strong note of urgency which is so evident in Paul's preaching and pastoral counselling comes from the deep understanding of God's truth and the experience of it, as we have said. But it also springs from a real compassion for those to whom he writes and ministers. It is with this in mind that we turn to the last area of concern: that of the pastor and God's people.
The Pastor and God's People
There is no room for a cold, detached, impersonal professionalism in the Church of Christ — that is obvious, yet all too often known in its breach rather than in its practice. We need to see here, as well, that Paul implies a very different attitude altogether.
The pastor should be recognized as one who affectionately hungers for the spiritual good of his charge. His admonitions should be received by them as outpourings of a compassion which cannot be restrained.14
So it is that the apostle Paul evidences his love for the Corinthians. Unrestrained devotion, love and friendship seem to be the hallmarks of this letter. We see again that this love and empathy for the believers — even those beginning to question his own position — pervades the entire letter. Writing to them concerning their sin, in the authoritative way that had been necessary, hurt the heart of the apostle Paul: 'I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you' (2:4). His affection for them is made abundantly clear (6:2), '...you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you' (7:3) and Paul can say that it is known by God himself (11:11). This compassion causes Paul to feel the hurt and the joy of his brethren (see 1 Corinthians 12:26) and to grieve over their sin as a father would over the sin of his children (11:29; 12:21).
Now, what does this sort of commitment entail and demand? Here is an area which many of us find difficult. Yet three vital principles can be suggested: the minister must gain his people's affection; he should reciprocate this in compassion; he should foster a pervasive contact amongst the believers of his church.
- First, then, he must gain the affection of his people. Baxter clearly sees this as a fundamental necessity for success in the ministry.
If ministers were content to purchase an interest in the affections of their people at dearest rates to their own flesh, and would condescend to them, and be familiar and affectionate, and prudent in their carriage, and abound — according to their ability — in good works, they might do much more with their people than they ordinarily do...15
Robert Traill sees the same thing,
Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people's love to their persons. And this is best done by the loving of them...16
Notice the words in Baxter's comment, 'be familiar and affectionate' and the corresponding idea in Traill's, 'by the loving of them'. In other words the pastor is to be very close to his people. There is sometimes a feeling of safety, or security, to be found in a certain aloofness, in a detached manner of conducting our business. This is very bad for the church. Security is found, first in Christ; but second, in reciprocal love within the church.
Second, there is that which Dabney terms 'the phenomenon of instinctive sympathy'. Ministers must have a compassionate empathy with their flock, every one of them. Empathy is that ability to put oneself in the shoes of another — to cry with the sorrowful, to rejoice with the jubilant. Paul, the apostle, knew this as we have briefly observed.
- Third, the pastor should actively foster friendly and pervasive contact between the members of the church. The words of Jay Adams are to the point here,
God expects an all-pervasive contact among the people who have come to know one another deeply and intimately in the things of the Lord. They have developed such a deep concern for one another that Paul says they are members of the same body... Adams then warns, This unity comes hard, however. It comes only to those who are willing to pay the price, and that price is to become vitally involved in each other's lives. This involves regular daily contact on a level of depth.17
Is this not the picture we derive of the New Testament church, from the Book of Acts, for example? And how are believers in the church going to learn this if they are not set an example by the pastor? Cliques, divisions, unhealthy individuality are all, from one perspective, the result of a lack of seeing the church as a family in which everyone knows everyone else well.
How are these things to be achieved? It will, undoubtedly take time and a great amount of prayer before God. But, perhaps less obviously, let me also point out that it will take the following three virtues as well: genuine friendship with our people, openness and a genuine attachment.
Genuine friendship is so important between pastor and people. Adams asks the following relevant question, 'Friendships are so important; why do some pastors try to do without them?'18
Too many pastors seem to prefer isolation and insulation. The very real danger is that our people see us as 'that man who preaches', rather than as a brother and a close friend in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our lives will give our preaching and teaching practicality and illustrative example only if we allow them to be seen. As the apostle writes to his son in the faith he instructs him concerning the matters that concern the elder and says, interestingly, '...give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress' (1 Timothy 4:15). How can this be unless people know us?
Openness is also important: we could almost term it 'vulnerability'. Again, we see it so clearly in Paul. Throughout the letter he appears vulnerable, yet he does not simply defend himself in a closed and 'stand-offish' way. No! The apostle is at pains to show them that he is open with them: he is more concerned with their welfare and growth in the Lord than with his own position and security. He says, for example,
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide your hearts also.2 Corinthians 6:11-13
He communicates his love, affection and genuine attachment, not merely to advance his argument, but to tell them that he does actually care for them in Christ Jesus. 'Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?' he asks.
We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 2 Corinthians 12:19
We began our article by asking the question, 'By what criteria do we judge our ministry?', or, to put it another way, 'What is it that commends a man's ministry to the Lord?' We have seen from the example of the apostle Paul as he seeks to deal with the problem that faced the Corinthians that there is much on which to examine ourselves. Our relationship with God is of primary importance; the way in which we tackle the ministry of the Word of God itself; and our relationship with the people amongst whom the Lord has made us overseers. These are crucial areas of concern for the man who would truly commend himself and his labours to the Lord Jesus Christ. As we have observed, it is no easy task that has been given to us. The ideals are stringent: but if we do not aim for them, with prayer and in the power of the Spirit of God, we can only fall far short of what is required of us. Let us so study and live, both with as well as before the fellowship of believers, that we bring only good to them and glory to our risen Saviour , the Head of the Church