The relationship between the Apostle Paul and the people of the Corinthian church was a stressed one. Although there was plenty of celebration and joy between them, there was also occasional distrust, frustration, disappointment, and correction. In fact, chronologically between the two Corinthian letters that are included in Scripture, there was an uncomfortable visit between Paul and the church where he confronted some of the primary issues. There was also a letter of specific correction from Paul that had a more frustrated tone than either of the scriptural letters. We learn about both in 2 Corinthians.
One of the primary themes Paul clarified with the Corinthians was that of personal sacrifice and humility. Many in Corinth were impressed by worldly success and power. They often degraded Paul for being poor and transient. They doubted whether Paul’s influence was equal to the more “successful” leaders living in and around Corinth.
Paul’s lesson for the church on this topic is a timely truth of which we must also regularly be reminded. The leader’s focus must be to proclaim Christ and play the role of servant. 2 Corinthians 4:5 summarizes this theme. Let’s walk through it together.
“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Paul made it very clear that uplifting ourselves is the literal opposite of the Christian motivation. Anyone in Christian leadership would do well to heed Paul’s warning and regularly check themselves to make sure that “what we preach is not ourselves.” This defining clarification is more challenging than it might seem. Just as Paul had to prove himself trustworthy to the Corinthians, we may need to prove ourselves to those we lead. In this lies the tricky reality.
How do we keep the right focus when proclaiming Christ and also when proving ourselves? It’s a big question. It’s an important question. And it’s a question every leader must face. Paul gave wonderful clarification in this verse that can guide us in our quest to deal with this self-defining reality.
His primary clarification was to make sure we lead and motivate by proclaiming Christ and not ourselves. It’s not about us. It’s really not about us. This is the paramount realization from this passage. Paul also wrote about the temptation to have the wrong motives in proclaiming Christ in his letter to the Philippians.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).
With these truths in mind, let’s revisit the issue of proving oneself as a leader. What about ourselves are we supposed to be communicating? How do we prove ourselves as leaders without preaching ourselves instead of Christ?
We must remember that we are proving “ourselves as your (the church’s) servants for Jesus’ sake.” The text breaks this down into two specific focuses.
The first is that we are serving the people of the church. Leaders are servants. Teachers are servants. If you are reading this devotional, you are intended to be a servant. And it is wonderful to prove yourself as a worthy servant. This helps people understand that our motivation is not to build ourselves up, but to build up those we lead and serve.
The second subsection here is that all these things are done for Jesus’ sake. We bring Him honor and glory when we serve the people in our care. When we proclaim Jesus and play the role of servant, we present honor and glory to Jesus.
Serve well this week. Serve well as you proclaim Christ and lead the people of your ministry for the glory and honor of Christ.
Dr. Brad Henson has served as a church planter in Kentucky. He is also a very thankful husband and father; he and his wife of 26 years, Stephanie, have two teenage sons, Bradon and Jackson.
*Image by Brooke Cagle at Unsplash.