Here is a verse that caught my attention yesterday: “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Cor. 8:18).
There are many things we’d like to know, but don’t know about this verse.
1. We don’t know who this brother is. Could be Luke, Apollos, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, or Mark. Others suggest one of the entourage mentioned in Acts 20:4–Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Tychicus, Trophimus, or Gaius. Some names are more likely than others, but at the end of the day we just don’t know who Paul has in mind.
2. We can’t be sure why Paul did not mention this brother’s name. Paul might have been trying to lower this man’s profile or maybe Paul hadn’t appointed him directly or perhaps this famous brother because was from Corinth or had been instrumental in the church at Corinth and needed no introduction. We shouldn’t read too much into the anonymity one way or another.
Although we don’t know everything about this reference, we can draw some conclusions that are relevant for us, especially as we try to think through this whole “celebrity pastor” business.
1. There have always been men who gain a certain notoriety for their preaching of the gospel. The ESV uses the word “famous.” Other translations speak of this brother being “praised” in all the churches. Here was a man who was well known and well regarded for his powerful preaching. No doubt, there were other teachers and other preachers, but this individual must have been particularly gifted, effective, and recognized.
2. Whomever this person was, “the brother” was known to the Corinthians. Or he was about to be known. He was part of the delegation going with Titus to administer the collection. If it wasn’t obvious from the letter that Paul was talking about Barnabas/Tychicus/Apollos/whomever, then it would be obvious when he arrived with Titus in Corinth. The point of not mentioning his name can’t be to keep his identity secret (though it could be to sound less flattering).
3. Paul appears to reference the brother’s fame as a way of commending him to the Corinthians and thereby assuring the church that Paul’s plan was trustworthy. Three men are mentioned in this delegation: Titus in verses 16 and 17, “the brother” in v. 18, and “our brother” in v. 22. All three are commended by Paul–Titus for his earnest care, “the brother” for his famous preaching, and “our brother” for his testing, earnestness, and confidence in the Corinthians. Paul alludes to their character, their track record, and their reputation as a way of helping the Corinthians receive them and trust them as they should.
The take away from 2 Corinthians 8:18 should not be an unbridled enthusiasm for “celebrity pastors.” We know from 1 Corinthians that some Christians were dreadfully misguided in their allegiance to specific teachers and leaders. We also know from the Corinthian correspondence that ritzy “super apostles” were impressing Christians for all the wrong reasons. So clearly, fame comes with many dangers, both for the followers and for the famous ones.
And yet, verse 18 demonstrates that if “celebrity” simply means notoriety or recognition or high regard, then celebrity preachers are not new. There have always been men–like this fellow and like Chrysostom or Knox or Whitefield or Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones or ten thousand others–who have been “famous among all the churches for [their] preaching of the gospel.” It is not a capitulation to culture to admit this fact. And it’s not bad to acknowledge these men and commend them to others. Could actually be quite biblical.