Some things in life are gained not by aiming at them directly, but by aiming at something else. These things become a consequence of aiming at something higher. In my last post, I talked about how this applies to leadership. Christians should certainly hold positions of leadership, but Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples in Mark 10 is a signal that there are other things we need to seek first. If we “seek first the kingdom of God,” we’ll become leaders along the way if that is what God wants for us.
But how do we seek the kingdom of God? What behaviors and core commitments should we seek first in order to have the influence that God wants us to have?
Paul’s defense of his authority
Paul’s defense of his own authority in 2 Corinthians is helpful here. The book is, in many ways, Paul’s response to his opponents’ claims that he was not really called by God. Paul tells his readers that he is truly an apostle, called by God and speaking God’s message, in spite of his opponents’ complaints that his credentials are inadequate.
Called by God
For example, he says in 2 Corinthians 3, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?” He is somewhat apologizing for the fact that he’s trying to defend himself. He continues, “Or do we need, as some [apparently do and have argued that Paul ought to have], letters of commendation either to you or from you?” (2 Corinthians 3:1) Paul’s apostolic credentials have been questioned, and there are numerous indications of this throughout the text. He repeatedly insists in chapter 3 that he has been called of God.
God has given him a position of leadership.
For example, in 2 Corinthians 3:5 he says, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy [our calling, our competency to be an apostle] is from God, who also made us adequate [or competent] as servants of a new covenant.” Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 4:1 he says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry . . .” God has given him a position of leadership.
There is also the well-known passage in chapter 5, verses 18-20: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us [that is, to Paul and his apostolic team] the word [the message] of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ . . ..”
Paul is defending the Gospel.
Paul repeatedly argues for his status as an apostle because he fears that if the Corinthians reject his apostolic status and authority, they will also reject the gospel that God told him to preach to them. In chapters 11 and 12 in particular, Paul is embarrassed at the fact that he has to put forth his credentials—but here’s the catch: In chapters 6 and 11, he offers them anyway.
Note: The preceding is adapted from Dr. Sloan’s remarks at Southern Seminary on September 6, 2011. A video of the original remarks may be viewed here.