It’s a danger for any church planter. We suddenly realize that the focus of our heart has shifted, that we’ve started to functionally trust in the wrong things.
Of course, we don’t plan to do this. But as time passes, and the trials of ministry begin to take their toll, we can compromise on crucial convictions we once held. Like car tires that lose their traction, our hearts veer toward ministering in worldly ways.
Perhaps as the core team initially gathers there’s a humble, daily realization of our weakness and dependence on God. But then, more people start to come and momentum gathers and websites need designing and flyers need printing and . . . you know what I’m talking about.
Desperate dependence on God can all too easily morph into subtle self-reliance. Our concern shifts from the pursuit of holiness to drawing crowds. We become enamored with worldly marketing tactics, spending inordinate amounts of time deciding which font looks best or whether it’s worth paying for online advertising.
Allure of the World
In light of all this, Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth ought to be required annual reading for any church-planting pastor, because he’s writing to a church who’s experienced the allure of the world. He also wants to address the issue of the “super-apostles,” whose model for ministry was sounding plausible and attractive.
Humble dependence upon God can all too easily morph into subtle self-reliance.
To visit Corinth in Paul’s day would in many ways be like touring various global cities today. Boasting two harbors used for trade, it was a city of exceeding wealth. Social elitism and rampant sexual sin were everywhere. Thus the city provided ample opportunity for superficial satisfaction.
When Paul visited Corinth in Acts 18, it was the largest city in Greece. Large, powerful, and impressive. It would’ve been so easy for the young Christians to feel overshadowed.
Wisdom vs. Weakness
Consider the significance, then, of how Paul begins his first letter to this church:
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified . . . and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:2–5)
See Paul’s tactic? Knowing that the Corinthians cherished wisdom, eloquence, and power, he deliberately de-emphasizes such things. Paul knows the culture; he’s aware of people’s proclivity to trust in communication over content, style over substance. So he intentionally shows how the gospel subverts such ideas.
It’s as if he’s saying: I know what you’re impressed and enticed by, Corinthians. Majestic rhetoric and lofty ideas. So what will I give you? None of that. I’m going to come to you in weakness and need, in order that you might understand where—and with whom—the true power lies.
Then, in Paul’s second letter, it seems the ideas that reigned in Corinth have actually seeped into the church. “Imposter apostles” had come and gained the ear—and perhaps the trust—of God’s people.
But as you read the letter—all 13 chapters—there’s little on the content of the super-apostles’ message. There’s no obvious heresy to confront. This isn’t Galatia, where God’s people are turning to a different gospel (Gal. 1:6). Paul’s concern for the Corinthians has more to do with philosophy of ministry.
Paul clearly shows that ministers are weak and unimpressive jars of clay.
A number of Paul’s statements reveal this concern. His ministry doesn’t rely on worldly wisdom but on divine grace (2 Cor. 1:12). He doesn’t distort the truth, but sets it forth plainly (2 Cor. 4:2). He looks not to what is seen, but to what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). Ministers are weak, unimpressive jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). We don’t wage war as the world does (2 Cor. 10:3).
Fix Your Eyes
Such ideas are foreign to the super-apostles. Their ministry model mirrors what’s trendy in Corinth. They treasure eloquence. They’re impressed by strength. So when they look at Paul, they see a laughably unimpressive man (2 Cor. 10:10). And in Corinthian terms, they’re right. But in gospel terms, Paul is simply following the model of Jesus.
It’s challenging to consider how easily we can become Corinthian in our thinking, especially in the West, where we’re increasingly marginalized and sneered at. How easy it is for us to want to appear wise, eloquent, powerful, and impressive. What church planter doesn’t want that reputation?
But the sucker punch comes at the end. The super-apostles weren’t well-meaning ministers with slightly errant ideas about Jesus:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13–15)
So take care, church planter, lest you fall. Fix your eyes on Jesus—or else your heart’s navigation system will veer in the wrong direction, and you’ll end up trusting in the wrong things.
Ministry models that aim at being impressive may indeed gather large crowds. They may even seem superior. But remember where true power lies (1 Cor. 2:5), and don’t fall prey to the one who disguises himself as an angel of light.