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Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Success in ministry

The resume is staring you in the face

Part 4 of a series on defining success for a missionary.  Part 1 demonstrated that we, like Paul, can be confident in our ministry, despite all our detractors and critics. In Part 2, we saw in 2 Corinthians that Paul repeats the phrase “commend ourselves,” to identify key criteria that he uses to demonstrate that his ministry is credible and successful.  In Part 3, we explored Paul’s first criterion of successful ministry, that of clearly proclaiming the Gospel.

The church’s existence is proof that I am successful

Besides reminding the Corinthians that he clearly and even simply proclaimed the Gospel, Paul argues that the very presence of a Corinthian church was ample evidence that he was, in fact, a successful apostle and missionary.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:1–3


Paul didn’t need to update his resume and send it to the Corinthian church.   His resume or letter of introduction was already there, staring them in the face.   His resume was the church itself.  The believers in Corinth were proof positive that the Spirit was working through Paul.

Imperfect yet transformed.

Yes, the Corinthian church was far from perfect.  But it was made up of people who were being transformed by the Spirit of God.   Formerly they had practiced idolatry, adultery, and homosexuality. Some of them had been known as thieves, drunks, and swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-11)   Now they were God’s holy people, worshiping God with a whole variety of the gifts of the Spirit clearly evident in their worship services (1 Cor. 1:5-7, 14:26).   The evidence of changed lives was clear to everyone.  Paul says that their testimony is “known and read by everyone.” (2 Cor 3:2)

The immaturity of the Corinthian church was evident from the way they tolerated immorality among their members (1 Cor 5), to the court cases between members (1 Cor 6), to the way they segregated themselves during the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11).  Maybe most seriously, their immaturity was evident in the way they elevated their own worldly wisdom and criticized the apostle who had brought them the Gospel.  But it was also evident that the Spirit was at work in them, bringing them to repentance (2 Cor 7:9-11).

That this church was a church that Paul loved is evident throughout the Corinthian epistles.  The church was written on his heart (2 Cor. 3:2). He had opened his heart to them and had displayed amazing transparent in his affection and vulnerability with this church (2 Cor 6:11-12, 7:3-4). Because he was so emotionally attached to this church, he was torn up inside, as he heard about the many conflicts and much immaturity (2 Cor. 2:12-13, 7:5).   The church gave him heart pains.

Proud of his accomplishments

But in Paul’s mind, there was no question about the genuineness of their faith.  Twenty-three times he calls them “brothers” (or “brothers and sisters” in the NIV).   He calls them justified and sanctified, and a residence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:11, 3:16).

So, despite his frustration with their immaturity, Paul took pride in this church (2 Cor. 7:4).   The existence of the church and their personal transformation was the result of his work.   Of course, God had done the saving and Christ had built the church, but Paul had been God’s chosen instrument.   He had planted the seed that had sprung to life (1 Cor 3:6), and built the foundation of the temple that was now indwelt by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 3:10, 16).  He had taught them, sought to convince them (2 Cor 5:11), rebuked them, prayed for them (2 Cor 13:7).

Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 9:1–2

We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

2 Corinthians 10:13

Paul could legitimately boast in what God had accomplished through him in Corinth.  This was the field to which God had assigned him, and he had faithfully proclaimed the Gospel there, and now there were people there who had been transformed because of his ministry.

Paul’s definition of success is intimately tied up with the existence of a new church that he and his missionary team planted.   His sense of God’s approval is not dependent on whether the church is strong, large or mature.  All that matters is that this is God’s church, and God is at work in it.   God used his missionary preaching, plain and simple as it was, to bring spiritual life to these former immoral, deceitful idolaters, and that meant that he could be proud of his work.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, David Garland says,

Paul insists that his boasting in his authority over them (2 Cor 10:8) is not out of bounds but is based on the work that he has done in Christ in the region that God assigned him. Corinth is God’s field (1 Cor 3:9), and God assigned him to work there as God’s servant. He planted; God gave the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Therefore, Paul appeals to the indisputable fact that he founded the church in Corinth. His rivals could not claim this. In fulfilling this divine assignment as apostle to the Gentiles he came to Corinth, “and the success there of his missionary work in calling a church into being was proof that God had approved of his work.” … The reason he can boast is that his ministry to the Gentiles and its success is not his own doing but “the work of God’s grace in his life.” The rivals might point to their letters of commendation and exhibitions of spiritual power and rhetorical wizardry to corroborate their claims to divine authority. Paul appeals to the incontrovertible existence of the church in Corinthians, a church founded by his missionary preaching. Their boasts are based on evidence manufactured from their own fantasies about themselves. What objectivity is there when they simply cite their own accomplishments as the norm? Paul’s boast is based on undeniable fact.[1]

What does Paul say to us as missionaries?

Is God pleased even if the flaws are plain to see?

If we have been used by God to start a new church, regardless of how immature or small that church might be, we can be assured that God is pleased with our work.  That is such a radical statement that I can hardly believe it myself! Of course, we should qualify the statement by saying that if the immaturity or lack of growth is because we did not faithfully teach the Scriptures, then we could be numbered among those who build with wood, hay or straw (1 Cor 3:12-15), and therefore will not receive a reward.   If we talked a lot but didn’t love the people to whom we spoke, we also have no reason to boast (1 Cor 8:1, 13:1-3).

But if we have taught the Word and loved the people, and a few people have come to faith, experienced regeneration, and are now meeting regularly, we can be assured of heaven’s applause.

But what about support roles?

Not all of us can say that we have planted a church.  Some of us serve in a support role for those who are church planters.  Others have come alongside an existing church in a discipling or teaching ministry, building on the foundation of others.

But we don’t have to be the pioneering church planter and team leader for this criterion to work for us.   Paul’s team included Silas and Timothy as “expatriates” and Priscilla and Aquilla as local believers (Acts 18:1-5).

Paul says that Timothy, despite his timidity, his lack of experience and his “intern status”, had been faithful (1 Cor 4:17), was carrying on the work of the Lord, JUST AS Paul did (1 Cor 16:10) and was included in those who proclaimed the Gospel to the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:19).

Priscilla and Aquilla did not have an upfront ministry, but had more of a discipling ministry, supporting Paul’s church planting efforts.  They partnered with Paul in a small business in Corinth that enabled Paul to support himself as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-4) in the early stages of the church plant.  Later this couple privately mentored Apollos so that his preaching would be more Gospel-centered.   Still, later they hosted a church in their home in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19) and then again in Rome (Rom 16:3-5).

All of them played a valuable part, using the different gifts that God had given them (1 Cor 12:18-26).   All of them rejoiced together at what God was doing through their team.

Building on someone else’s foundation is good.

Paul unequivocally stated his ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was unknown and to not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom 15:20, 2 Cor 10:16).  But he values those who faithfully build on the foundation that he laid (1 Cor 3:6-8, 10-14).   Paul wants Apollos to return to Corinth (1 Cor 16:12) and values his ministry, even though he was more of a teacher than a church planter (Acts 18:24-28, 1 Cor 3:5-6).  If we faithfully water the seed, we also will receive our reward and heaven’s applause.

The bottom line

Does our ministry result in people being transformed, regardless of what role we play in the ministry team or how much our ministry profile is in the public eye? Can we point to specific people that have changed, that have become useful servants in the Kingdom, as a result of their interaction with us? Is it clear to everyone who knows them that they are not the same people that they used to be, and that the change is moving them toward greater Christlikeness?

We are not talking about numbers here. What is important is not how many converts we can list, but that the life change is evident and undeniable, even if only a few people have experienced the change. God’s work must be evident in the hearts and lives of the people we have taught. We are not talking about people being plastered with a Christian label but staying pretty much the same. We are talking about a change that only God can do, a regeneration of the heart.

Yes, it must be a change that God brings about. If the change is only due to our persuasive powers and winsome charm, God is not about to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If the change is primarily in that they now speak English, and like pizza, heaven is not clapping.  But if the change is something that can only be explained because the Spirit of God has given them a new heart, and somehow we had a part in bringing about that change, we can consider ourselves successful as missionaries.

Then we have a resume that heaven approves!

Would you agree?  Why or why not?

[1] David E. Garland, vol. 29, 2 Corinthians, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 454-5.

A clear proclamation of the Gospel

Part 3 of a series on defining success for a missionary. Part 1 demonstrated that we, like Paul, can be confident in our ministry, despite all our detractors and critics. In Part 2, we talked about Paul’s need to once more prove his credibility as an apostle to the Corinthian church. By repeating the phrase “commend ourselves,” he points to some key criteria that he uses to demonstrate that God is pleased with his ministry.

The first criterion that I want to highlight is found in 2 Corinthians 4:1-2.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

We have already noted that Paul was being accused of being a deceiver or even an imposter (2 Cor. 6:8). Paul says that these accusations are not based on evidence. As the Corinthians knew from observation, he proclaimed the truth rather plainly. He was not known for flowery speech or emotional arm-twisting (1 Cor. 2:1-5). In fact, the Corinthians had likely compared him unfavorably with the rhetoricians and philosophers of their day who were known for their eloquence and rhetorical skill. In contrast, Paul’s messages were amazingly unadorned, simply Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1). Rather than apologizing for his lack of eloquence, Paul says this plain and clear message was actually proof of his credibility as an apostle.

The glorious, transforming message

It is clear from 2 Cor. 4:3 that the truth that Paul sets forth plainly is the Gospel, the message of reconciliation as he calls it in 2 Cor. 5:19. Sometimes the message is not understood by the listeners, but Paul says this is not because his message is ambiguous or obscure. No, the only reason that people do not understand his plain proclamation of the Gospel is because Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Cor. 2:4).

What is even more startling is that Paul equates the Gospel he preaches with the knowledge of God’s glory. When people hear and understand his message, they see the very glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). Since Christ is the image of God, these hearers are actually seeing the glory of God (2 Cor 4:6) as they behold the beauty of Christ presented in Paul’s Gospel message.

This view of the glory of God in the Gospel message is transformative. When you see the glory of the Lord in its true light, as something infinitely beautiful and desirable, you cannot remain the same. Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

The convinced but humble messenger

This was what Paul himself experienced on the Damascus Road. The Lord Christ shone in his brilliant glory into Paul’s darkened mind and soul (2 Cor 4:6, Acts 26:13), and he never was the same again. His message was primarily based not on what he had read and studied, but on what he had personally seen and experienced. Because he was personally and completely convinced of the message’s effectiveness, he did not need to hide his own personal life from his audience. Paul was not like an actor taking a big gulp for the camera, and then spitting out the drink when the camera is turned away!  He was still thrilled with the Gospel, still found it glorious.  This was why he had no need for any type of subterfuge or any of the gimmicks of false advertising in order to “sell” his message (2 Cor. 4:2). He could present the Gospel plainly in its true light without any add-ons, and was confident that the Gospel would do its revolutionary work in the listeners whose minds and hearts had been opened by God.

But Paul did not ever forget that the transforming power of his message in no way suggested that the messenger himself had any inherent superiority. In the next breath, he said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7. Paul was a simple clay pot holding an amazing treasure.   Whatever happened as a result of his proclamation was totally God’s doing. His competence as a missionary/ apostle was grounded in the powerful message he proclaimed, not in his powerful oratory, his brilliant arguments or his creative methods. He knew God was pleased with his ministry because he faithfully and clearly spoke about Jesus as Lord, and kept the focus on the glory of God, not the glory of the messenger.

What does Paul say to us?

Does Paul have anything to say to us as missionaries as we seek to determine what it means to be successful? Do we ever use our speaking abilities (in the national language or in English) as our measuring stick of success and competence? Have I ever been tempted to consider myself a “good missionary” or a “poor missionary” because my ability or lack of ability to speak fluently without grammatical mistakes and glaring errors in pronunciation? Yes, often! Have I ever envied another missionary’s creativity of presentation or natural ease in front of people? Definitely! Have I ever judged the value of my ministry on the basis of how many people responded to the invitation or complimented me on the sermon or lecture? Unfortunately, yes.

We can’t stay silent.

But Paul’s example is not only encouraging to those of us who are less than dazzling orators. Paul reminds us that we are called to proclaim a message, not just be good neighbors. The Gospel must be declared clearly if we are to “commend ourselves” using Paul’s criteria. Now, to be sure, most proclamation does not happen from behind a pulpit or a lectern. We can “set forth the truth plainly”, probably even more plainly and clearly, if we share the Gospel across the kitchen table with a couple of coffee mugs between us and the next person. We also need to recognize that proclamation is multi-faceted, and in an evangelistic event, the person up front doing the speaking is only part of the whole team effort. But proclaim we must.

It’s not about us

We also are reminded that the message we proclaim must essentially be about Christ and his glory. In the end, the focus must be on his attractiveness, not ours. Making a lot of friends, and having everyone speak of you in glowing terms, has no eternal value if people do not come face to face with Christ and the beauty of his holiness and perfection. I remember walking down the streets of a town in the Philippines, and hearing my name being called from all sides by people I did not know. Everyone knew the white guy in the neighbourhood, and many wanted to be his friend. I even had a grandfather once thank me profusely for saving his country from the Japanese in the Second World War! (I was born 15 years after the war ended, and my relatives were all Canadian conscientious objectors, so it was not a big temptation for pride.) But the measure of my success is not what they think about me, but whether I have introduced them to my Lord.

Not just evangelism

Let’s not limit this criterion of clearly proclaiming the Gospel to what we call “evangelism.” The Gospel must be proclaimed throughout the process of discipleship. People must be presented with the perfections of Christ over and over again as they grow in maturity and become more and more like Him Paul testified, “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Tell me a story

Let’s also remember that a clear presentation of the Gospel may not involve a 3-point sermon, based on Grudem’s Systematic Theology and The New International Commentary of the New Testament. It may well be a simple story, appropriately addressing the worldview of the people to whom you are speaking.   I am in the process of learning more about story-telling, and how we as missionaries can train ourselves in communicating through story.   I was amazed to learn that 60-70% of the worlds’ population cannot, will not, or prefers not to learn through the printed page.   These people (and maybe some of us) will only really hear the good news in a meaningful way if it is communicated through stories.

So have you clearly proclaimed the Gospel? Whether or not there is a positive response, we are called to set forth the truth plainly, and this truth must be clearly centered in Christ. If we faithfully proclaim the message, through our lives and through our words, we can be confident that on that day, Christ will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Do we really need to demonstrate our credibility?

Part 2 of a series on defining success for a missionary. Part 1 demonstrated that we, like Paul, can be confident in our ministry, despite all our detractors and critics.   We can be assured that God is pleased with our ministry.

The Apostle Paul had a problem. His authority and credibility in the Corinthian church had been severely attacked and critics were dismissing the value of his ministry. He had been accused of deceiving people (2 Cor 4:2), of exploiting them (2 Cor 7:2), of being an impostor (2 Cor 6:8). Unless he could reestablish his credibility in this church, his ministry there was finished. More seriously, as this church turned their back on Paul, they were also turning their back on the Gospel that Paul had preached. The integrity of the church depended on Paul proving that he was in fact a faithful apostle, approved by God, or in other words, a successful missionary.

How Paul goes about demonstrating his credibility and the credibility of his ministry is very instructive for us as we seek to define what it means to be a successful missionary.

Of course, he was hurt by the idea that he, the apostle who planted the church in Corinth, would need to reestablish his credentials in the Corinthian church. They already knew him, and should have been able to trust him and even offer letters of recommendation to others on behalf of Paul. But Paul does not give up on the church, and goes about the painful, uncomfortable process of proving once more that he is an apostle worthy of commendation.

In 2 Corinthians 3:1, Paul asks, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?” This is the first of a whole series of references to the expression “commend ourselves” in this letter. It is found 6 times (2Co 3:1, 4:2, 5:12, 6:4, 10:12, 18) but nowhere else in the New Testament. Paul is referring to the common practice of their day of carrying letters of introduction when seeking to build a friendship and relationship of trust with people one did not know well (for example, see Acts 18:27). It was comparable to today’s practice of presenting or sending one’s CV or resume. Paul was not opposed to using these letters of recommendation. In a way, the book of Romans is Paul’s self-introduction to the Roman church, a church where he wanted to do some “support discovery” before he travelled on to Spain (Romans 15:24).

But in the Corinthian situation, Paul does not pull out a stack of references and testimonials from other apostles, government officials and “satisfied customers”. Instead to commend himself, he points to evidence that the Corinthian believers already had witnessed themselves.  The evidence could be found in his previous ministry with them.

Later in the book, Paul refers briefly to the supernatural marks of a true apostle – miracles, signs and wonders that accompanied his ministry (2 Cor 12:12). But he prefers not to use these to establish the legitimacy of his ministry. Why not? Maybe because these sign gifts fed his pride. Maybe because he didn’t want the emphasis to be on him as the messenger, but on the message. Maybe because he wanted to establish the credibility of all true Gospel messengers, regardless of whether they had the gifts of miracles.

Neither does Paul uses numbers and statistics to prove that he is a superior missionary and apostle.  Nowhere do we find Paul listing the number of churches he has started or how many people he baptized in a particular year.  On the contrary, he thanks God that he did NOT baptize the vast majority of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor 1:13-17).   Not once in Paul’s letters do we read how many members were in a particular plant or how many people attended worship services. It is not that Paul did not believe in counting.   For example, note the numbers in his report of the persecutions he has endured (2 Cor 11:23-25). But Paul did not base his understand of success on the numbers of people who had responded to his ministry.

So what does Paul point to as proof that his ministry is commendable? What are the criteria that he uses? As I analyzed Paul’s uses of the phrase “commend ourselves” in 2 Corinthians, I saw three clear themes appearing as Paul demonstrates the credibility of his ministry. Paul’s authority and ministry is validated by:

  1. His clear proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:2-7, 5:18-21) 
  2. The fact that the Corinthians believed and were changed by the Gospel he preached (2 Cor 3:1-3, 2 Cor 10:13-14) 
  3. His joyful acceptance of the hardships of being a missionary and apostle (2 Cor. 6:4-10, 11:23-30, 12:9-10) 

We will discuss these three demonstrations of Paul’s credibility in greater detail in future blog posts. But for now, let’s just think about how we determine the criteria to assess and validate our ministry.   What definition of success is acceptable?  Whose stamp of approval do we need?  Our mission leadership’s commendation?  Our home church’s blessing?  Our national church partner’s praise?  Or should we just look inside ourselves and base our evaluation on an inner sense of “having done our best?”  Although all of these are important and valuable, I believe that only God has the right to determine what are the “right criteria.”

Paul himself says, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:18)

As David Garland says in his commentary on 2 Corinthians,

“‎When others may criticize one’s ministry, one needs a clear measuring rod by which to appraise oneself before God. The critics will try to impose their own measuring rods to gauge the minister. If the minister is to remain faithful to God’s calling, then only God’s standards matter. In the face of the Corinthians’ challenge, Paul shows that he has a keen understanding of his place in God’s scheme of things. He knows whose he is, and consequently he knows who he is, a minister of the new covenant whom God made sufficient for his task.”

David Garland, New American Commentary: 2 Corinthians, p. 154.

One of my favourite quotations is by best-selling author, B. J. Hoff. I recently found an interview of her by Focus on Fiction. B.J. concludes the interview by saying,

I know that many of my readers are also in the ministry of “communicating Christ.” Some are writers, some are musicians or artists. Some are teachers or librarians or pastors or nurses or doctors or full-time moms and dads. Many work “behind the scenes” in the church or are part of the decision-making process in their local congregations. While a number of them are constantly in the “limelight” as they serve, most are among the “unsung heroes” as they work quietly backstage in Christian service. Whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing in their daily lives to share God’s love, I want them to have a copy of something I wrote years ago (which also appears in the front of Cadence, Book Two of the American Anthem). God pressed these words upon my heart during a time when many writing colleagues were undergoing an especially difficult struggle in their publishing experience–and I keep them always before me for my own encouragement:

“It matters not if the world has heard
Or approves or understands ….
The only applause we’re meant to seek
Is that of nail-scarred hands.”

“So we make it our goal to please him…”, Paul concludes in  2 Corinthians 5:9.

What is important to realize is that for Paul, this sense of divine applause is based on real-life, observable evidence, not just on a personal inner sense of satisfaction.   No, it was not presented in figures and statistics, but it was nonetheless objective and verifiable by others.


1 David Garland, New American Commentary: 2 Corinthians, p. 155.

How do we define success as missionaries?

A question that we discuss at length during every Member Orientation is “How do you define success for yourself as a missionary?”   As disciples of Christ, who have been called and sent out to make disciples of others, we can only consider ourselves successful if we believe that we have accomplished what our Master told us to do.   Hearing the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” is our greatest hope and ultimate definition of success.   How should we live and serve today, so that we can be assured that we will hear those words when we stand before the Master and give account to Him?

My first extended time of reflection about this question happened about 5 years ago.   Our International Director stood with me in a cafeteria line at a LeaderLink training in Florida, and asked me how I would define success for SEND in Far East Russia.  I had no answer for him.   I had never been asked that question before.  But that question would not let go of me.  I returned to Russia, where I was leading our work in the Far East, and began to think deeply about this question.   Providentially, in my personal devotions, I was going through the book of 2 Corinthians, and I was struck by Paul’s amazing confidence in God’s approval on his ministry.

I ended up leading our team in Far East Russia through a series of studies of some key principles from Paul’s self-reflection in 2 Corinthians.  This process culminated in a formal definition of success that we adopted as a field at our annual conference in June, 2007.

In the next few blog posts, I want to share some of what I learned through that process, and what I am still learning as I read and reflect, and re-read Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.

Paul knew that God was pleased with his ministry.   Despite the onslaught of criticism from the Corinthian church and the “super-apostles” that were visiting the church (2 Cor 11:5-15), Paul was confident before God that his ministry was not lacking or inferior (2 Cor. 3:4).   He says that he is very bold (2 Cor 3:12), that he does not lose heart (2 Cor 4:1, 16), and that he is always of good courage (2 Cor 5:6,8).

Of course, he did not base his confidence on his own knowledge and abilities (2 Cor 3:5).   But he was not overwhelmed by the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16)    The Greek word translated as “sufficient” (ESV) is the same one used in 2 Cor 3:5, where Paul says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

Interestingly, that same Greek word is used in the Septuagint when Moses says to God, “I have not been sufficient in former times, neither from the time that thou hast begun to speak to thy servant” (Ex 4:10). In effect, Paul is saying that he feels an adequacy, a sense of competency, whereas Moses did not. But that should not be surprising because Paul goes on to show why the new covenant ministry is far more glorious than the old covenant ministry (2 Cor 3:7-11). Moses had a fading glory, but in the Gospel, we see the permanent glory of God displayed in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6).

Because those who really understand the Gospel, recognize and contemplate God’s glory in it, they are constantly being transformed into the image of Christ with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor 3:18).   Paul realized that his competence was not because of the quality of the messenger but because of the quality of the message.  The message, this unimaginably valuable treasure that he had embraced, had made him a glorious messenger, fit for the Master’s service.

Missionaries face many challenges to their sense of confidence.   Whether or not they are openly criticized for their accent or grammatical mistakes, they often lack in confidence that they can clearly and powerfully communicate their thoughts in the local language.   Particularly in the first term, missionaries struggle to say things that a child can say with no difficulty.  This limitation greatly undermines a missionary’s sense of confidence in their ability to teach, lead or witness boldly.   They often miss the cultural cues that alert a cultural insider to what people are really thinking or what their real needs are.   Although some cultures automatically grant a white foreigner status because of his race, education and financial resources, in many other cultures, particularly in Europe and Eurasia, credibility is earned only after many years of faithful service.   The missionary is viewed with suspicion, just because he is an outsider.   Then we have to deal with the question of what we do for a living, and the bewilderment, and maybe even disdain, of others when we identify ourselves as missionaries.

To people like us, Paul is a great encouragement and example.   He was not of Greek descent like the Corinthians.   His education, although definitely noteworthy in a Jewish context, did not resemble the training given to typical Greek rhetoricians and orators.  In many ways, he was an outsider to the church that he planted.   He was criticized for his lack of credentials and unfavorably compared to other orators and teachers, like Apollos.  He was accused of being an imposter (2 Cor 6:8) and subjected to all kinds of hardships and rejection (2 Cor 6:4-10).  Yet despite all this, Paul is confident that God not only can use him, but that he is a competent minister.  He remains absolutely convinced that his ministry is not only acceptable, but glorious, even more glorious than that of Moses!

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:4–6

Any reason why we couldn’t say those same words?

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