The seventh post in 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 the third, fourth and fifth posts, we looked more closely at Paul’s criteria of successful ministry, that of clearly proclaiming the Gospel, seeing lives changed by God’s power through our ministry, and joyfully enduring hardships in ministry. In the sixth post, we look at some typical, yet flawed definition of success.
Part 5 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. In Part 4, we looked at the second criterion, that of seeing lives changed by God’s power through our ministry.
As I said in my last post, Paul thought he didn’t need to commend himself to the Corinthians. They knew full well what had been accomplished through his preaching in their lives and in their church. His ministry was credible in every way; in fact, it could be considered glorious (2 Cor 3:7-11)
Equipping the Corinthians to defend their apostle
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.
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.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. – Romans 1:8–13
Observation: Paul has heard about the faith of the Romans, and it encourages him (Rom 1:8). He prays for the church regularly (Rom 1:9-10). But he really wants to visit them, so that he can make them strong through his ministry of the Spirit in their midst, so that he and the church can be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith (Rom 1:12), and so that he can have a harvest among these Gentiles (Rom 1:13). Why does he need to come to Rome in order to minister to them? His epistle to them is obviously already an encouragement and a help to the Romans to make them strong. It is Paul’s most complete explanation of the Gospel. Why could possibly be still lacking in his ministry to them? Why does he need to go to Rome when he can send this excellent, inspiring and doctrinally sound “sermon” or article to them? Paul apparently does not know much about the specific problems and needs in the church and wants to interact with the Roman Christians to get to know them, and then address their situation more specifically. He wants to enjoy their company (Rom 15:24); he wants to be refreshed in their company (Rom 15:32). In order to do so, he needs to see them.