As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,
In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.
While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.
Authentic Christian ministry is commissioned and empowered by God
Paul explicitly claims that God had commissioned Timothy and him commissioned (2 Cor. 2:17). God had also made them sufficiently capable and competent for ministry (2 Cor. 3:4-6). Furthermore, Christian ministry is given by the mercy of God (2 Cor. 4:1). The power for effective ministry comes from God, not from our skill or talent (2 Cor. 4:7). Christian ministry is a calling, not an achievement so we have no right to boast (1 Cor. 4:7).
Christian ministry is a ministry of reconciliation. First and foremost, the leaders themselves have been reconciled to God through Christ. Then they communicate this message of reconciliation in Christ to all others (2 Cor. 5:16-20).
So it is important that we help churches learn to discern God’s calling for those desiring to serve. This would involve understanding the qualities for leadership in 1 Timothy and Titus as well as praying for God to lead in the process.
Authentic Christian ministry builds up
Twice in Second Corinthians, Paul speaks of his authority that the Lord gave him for building up the believers (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). In 2 Corinthians 12:19, he writes, “It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your building up, beloved.” Paul is working for their joy (2 Cor. 1:24). Ministry is not self-serving but seeks to form in believers “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2,3). D.A. Carson writes,
We have much to learn from Paul. When in our hearts (and not merely in our verbal piety) our aim before God is to strengthen other believers, not to defend ourselves, we will not only succeed in revitalizing the church by our sacrificial ministry and example, but we shall also strike a powerful blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism, which is self in another guise. . . . May God raise up many Christian leaders whose passion is to build up the body of Christ. 2D. A. Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity, 2007, p 171.
Authentic Christian ministry is meek and gentle servanthood
Paul begins his defense of his ministry entreating the Corinthians “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). Carson comments,
. . . Paul understands that what was characteristic of Jesus’ public ministry was meekness and gentleness; and he believes the same characteristics must stamp his own ministry. 3Carson, p 43.
So in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, Paul gladly takes a servant role on behalf of the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:5; 6:4; cf. 1 Cor. 3:5). In the same way, our ministry ought to follow the model of our Lord. Triumphalism has no place in Christian ministry.
Authentic Christian ministry renounces manipulation
Paul is not a peddler of God’s word (2 Cor. 2:17) who spins the message to make a “sale.” Such spin is disgraceful and underhanded, involving cunning and tampering with God’s word (2 Cor. 4:2). Therefore, Paul will have none of that. Similarly, Christian ministry today must avoid any type of manipulation that clouds the open statement of truth. Contextualizing the gospel must aim at making it understandable, not at making it acceptable if that acceptance distorts the message.
Authentic Christian ministry proclaims the gospel
Gospel proclamation is not about the messenger. Instead, the messenger is simply a servant for Jesus’ sake. As a servant, he proclaims that Jesus is Lord (2 Cor. 4:5,6), that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself ” (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Thus, we can say that we have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). We are ambassadors for Christ through whom God makes his appeal to be reconciled to himself (2 Cor. 5:20). The basis for this reconciliation is Christ’s substitutionary death for us (2 Cor. 5:14, 21). Paul’s opponents were proclaiming “another Jesus,” “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
Authentic Christian ministry boasts in the Lord
Boasting appears to be a mark of Paul’s opponents (2 Cor. 11:12-15, 18-21). Paul insists that if we boast, we must boast in the Lord because his approval is all that matters (2 Cor. 10:17,18). Boasting in the Lord highlights God’s power at work through Paul. Above all, Paul’s weakness demonstrates this divine power (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9-10).
Authentic Christian ministry is fueled by God’s power, not by human talent or skill. Furthermore, God is the one who causes growth in our ministry (1 Cor. 3:7). Therefore, boasting in our weakness and in the Lord puts the focus on God who works in and through us for his glory.
Authentic Christian ministry is motivated by love
The love of Christ is a motivating and controlling factor in Christian life and ministry (2 Cor. 5:14,15). Paul writes to the Corinthians to let them know “the abundant love” he has for them (2 Cor. 2:4). His heart is wide open to them (2 Cor. 6:11). He lets them know that he does not seek their possessions but seeks them (2 Cor. 12:14). He will gladly spend and be spent for their souls demonstrating his love for them (2 Cor. 12:15). Christ’s love, shown through his reconciling death on our behalf, ought to shape and motivate ministry to others.
Cultivating authentic Christian ministry
More could be said about each of these characteristics. As we continue to follow-up with the churches we’ve planted, we need to remind them of Paul’s teaching and example of Christian ministry. More than that, we must cultivate and display these characteristics in our own ministry. Unless we set an example of these characteristics by our conduct, our teaching becomes just empty chatter. May we serve as called and empowered by God, for building up the body of Christ, in meekness and gentleness, renouncing manipulation, proclaiming reconciliation in Christ, boasting in the Lord, motivated by the love of Christ.