A criticized preacher can quickly get defensive.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“But I did my best.”
“Why don’t you try get up there?”
We seem to hear some of this defensiveness in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.”
The rival ministers in Corinth were comparing the apostle to themselves. They were polished speakers with impressive personalities, while Paul was awkward in character and stilted in speaking.
He had apparently given some poor performances in situations of public speaking. Perhaps some in the congregation still remembered his preaching from the eighteen months that he first spent ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:11), or they recalled the sermons that he delivered during a later visit to the church.
Plainly, some aspects of his preaching were underscored by his opponents as being significantly inferior and wholly uninspiring.
Paul is contrasting himself with his Corinthian opponents when he says, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” The implication is that these other ministers were happily proclaiming themselves, seeking acclaim and adoration. They probably wanted people lining up after the worship service to offer a fresh round of compliments.
They liked to see the admiring glances and hear the whispered comments as they walked past, “There goes Pastor Demetrius. He’s a noble man, a strong leader and a polished speaker!”
But Paul says that if these pastors are serving themselves, then they are not serving Christ. If these pastors are preaching themselves, then they are not preaching the cross. This is the fundamental reason that their criticism moved Paul to defend his ministry of preaching. He was eager to do so, not because the Corinthians were rejecting him, but because they were rejecting the gospel he preached. By denigrating the messenger, they were ridiculing his message at the same time.
For if you want an impressive preacher, you will probably also want him to bring a entertaining message—and this is simply not what the true gospel or what true ministry is.
Ministry is not about “preaching ourselves,” for the message of Christ is so much more weighty and praiseworthy than the weak human messenger who proclaims it.
The Corinthians had a hard time remembering the true measure of preaching, and the difficulty is ours as well: it is the problem of expectations.
When it comes to preachers and pastors, we can embrace false ideals and improper standards.
Just as in the days of the Corinthians, much value is placed on a speaker’s charisma, eloquence and appearance. We all have a deep-seated preference for the superficial. We like best the things that look lovely and sound pleasing and we gravitate towards people who are outwardly appealing and often agreeable.
This preference is probably a reflection of how Western culture has become a celebrity culture. We receive constant updates about the dynamic, exciting, accomplished and good-looking people of the world of music and sports and film.
Before we dismiss this as empty worldliness, we should acknowledge that the values and moods of a celebrity culture can also sway the church. How are our lowly and ordinary-looking preachers received in such a culture of fame and style?
Even within the context of many reliable websites for Christian resources and ministries, a local pastor has become just one humble voice among countless other authorities on Scripture. What is more, he has been brought into competition with the preachers on YouTube who are clearly excellent at what they do.
How does a congregation view their modestly gifted pastor in comparison with all the skilled preachers and conference speakers of our time?
If we have false or worldly expectations for Christian ministry, then pastors and congregations alike should prepare to be disappointed. For the bottom line, Paul says, is that a preacher cannot preach himself.
You cannot be the star of your own sermon.
Ministry simply cannot be about you, but about the glory of God revealed in Christ. A preacher may not build his message on the back of his own experiences and opinions. Neither should he constantly have one eye on the positive feedback he wants to receive. For it is not about the preacher, and it must never be!
In Paul’s view, such self-abnegation and admiration-redirection actually make sense. As he might say, “Of course we do not preach ourselves—we are but earthen vessels!” (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). A pastor is a weak and breakable servant, a humble receptacle for the splendid treasure of Christ’s gospel. Pastors have nothing to boast about, for they are frail and dependent creatures.
Why would a pastor ever put himself at the center of attention when he has begun to realize that he is helpless and incompetent?
A preacher does not preach because he is a good preacher, but because he has been sent by Christ with a wondrous gospel to announce. A minister who has a grasp of true ministry realizes that it is not about him and his reputation, but it is all about the preeminent Christ. Him we proclaim!
[Adapted from Weak Pastor, Strong Christ]