I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. (2 Cor. 13:6-9)
Paul is a gospel-centered minister who has been mocked for his gospel-centrality. He’s accused of being weak and a one-trick pony. In the opinion of the Corinthians, Paul is a theological twerp who only seems to talk about a crucified Jesus. They’d like to move on to the deeper and more significant things. On top of all this, his life is one marked with suffering and shame. He’s not the ideal for them to follow.
As I read the New Testament, I see Paul and the other apostles intimately tied into the gospel. To reject the apostles is to reject the gospel. This is why I’m shocked by what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13. As one commentator has put it:
“I would be quite willing to let you go on thinking that I am very weak as an apostle, that I really do not amount to much, that I am only a paper tiger, as long as your behavior changes in line with who you really are.”
Paul would be completely fine with them debasing his ministry, that is – fully misunderstanding him, so long as they actually fulfilled the aim of his ministry. There is something in this for us to learn. And I think this is a lesson especially for those of us who have a desire to be gospel-centered in our ministry. One mark of a truly gospel-centered pastor is the willingness to be seen as a complete fool so long as Christ is honored.
How can this be? Isn’t my gospel witness inexorably connected to my reputation? If I’m being slandered, or misunderstood, or misrepresented, shouldn’t I defend myself or my ministry?
This is a fine line and one I’m not sure I fully understand, yet. But, I will say one thing I have noticed is that whenever a minister/ministry becomes focused on itself, it never ends well. As an example, I would consider it a significant misstep for a recording artist to transition from songs all about Jesus to singing songs all about defending their ministry choices. But such a thing is not unique to the celebrities among us.
I’ve often felt this pull in my own ministry. Whenever you make a particular change to the structure of a church, or change the way things are being done, or work to see a culture change it is easy to start focusing on these things instead of on the goal; namely, seeing Christ as the only boast of this generation. If I spend all of my time defending my ministry or my decisions, I’m not able to spend time doing the things that really matter. It’s another way to drift off the mission.
And this is what I see with Paul. He will defend himself or his ministry whenever it is tied to the gospel itself. But, he is less willing to defend whenever an issue is tied to his decisions, his leadership, his reputation, or even the way in which the mission is being accomplished. This is what it means to be a gospel-centered minister.