In my last post, I wrote about Paul’s defense of his own authority in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He presented some unusual credentials in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11. These credentials are especially relevant to those who are called to Christian leadership, and they’re not what you might expect.
To start with, Paul refuses to present a letter of recommendation. He is also reluctant to talk about miracles, which some think are the most important signs of a true apostle. What he does do is point to the behaviors and convictions that some of his opponents have scorned but that he says are the real mark of his leadership—his calling as an apostle.
He says in 2 Corinthians 6:3, “Giving no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited, but in everything commending ourselves [here are his points of commendation] as servants of God.”
What, according to Paul, commends him as a servant apostle? Well, it’s a strange list. You wouldn’t want to put this on your résumé, but Paul did.
Paul obeys God’s calling no matter what.
“In much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments…” Paul puts everything right out there: “Here’s my résumé. I’ve been beaten in the town square, and I’ve been in jail repeatedly.” He continues in verse 5 by saying he’s been “in tumults,” or riots, where he was the center of the riot. He was not an intentional rabble rouser, but others provoked social unrest because of him. He completes the list in verse 5 with “in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger.”
Paul tells his readers that he will obey the calling that he has from God to preach the gospel no matter what the cost to him personally. He has endured physical pain, social ostracism, and public humiliation. These are not the world’s idea of qualifications, but the mark of those who have influence in the kingdom of God is that they know God’s will and do it above all else.
Paul does God’s work God’s way.
Paul will do the work of God, and he recognizes that he must do it in God’s way. He’ll do whatever it takes, except that he will not violate God’s commandments. He says in 2 Corinthians 6:6-7 – here’s what commends him – “in purity, in knowledge [he knows it’s God’s will], in patience, in kindness, in a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, [counting on the truth of God] in the word of truth, in the power of God; using God’s weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left hand.”
The truth, the gift of salvation, the word of God, the Spirit of God, moral integrity, purity, honesty, love, kindness – these are the weapons of God. They don’t usually stop bullets, they don’t usually stop tanks, and they won’t stop the cat-o’-nine-tails at the end of a whip, but they are the ways that God has called us to do his work in the world, to do whatever it takes with moral, theological, and spiritual integrity.
No matter what society may say
Not only does Paul do God’s will, with integrity and at any cost, but – and here are further points of commendation in verses 8-9 – he will serve God no matter what anyone else says about it. To paraphrase: “I can be abused socially, I can be mocked [he has opponents who have mocked him wherever he goes], and I can be rejected.” He will labor irrespective of public opinion, gossip, malicious lies, or social ostracism: “by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet we are true.” No matter what the social standard may be, and no matter what others may say, this kind of leader acts because it is God’s will for him to do so.
Paul goes on to refer to the paradox of how God sees him versus how the world sees him. I paraphrase him here: “As unknown by the standards of this evil age, yet well-known to God, as dying, yet behold, in Christ we live; as punished, abused [it looks as if we’re under the wrath of God when we’re whipped in public!] yet God has sustained me. I am abused, yet not put to death, and I have the resurrection future in front of me. As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing because I know by deep conviction that, no matter what the pain, what the suffering, I’m still doing the will of God, and I rejoice in the hope that I have in God through Jesus Christ. As poor, having nothing to give, yet on the other hand I’ve made many rich by doing the will of God, by passing on the truth of the gospel that God has given me. As having nothing yet possessing all things.”
Leave it to God.
Do you want to be a leader? Leave that to God. If he puts you in a formal leadership role, fine. If he gives you a stewardship, fine . Use whatever gifts you have. Above all, do whatever God tells you to do. Know God, know his will, and obey him, no matter what that obedience may cost you. When you do that, God will put you into positions of leadership if—and only if—that is where he wants you to be.
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.