Who Should Lead?
A sermon on 2 Corinthians 10 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/22/04
What do churches look for in a pastor?
Suppose you were on a pastoral search committee and received an email from a candidate that read like this:
Are you looking for the pastor who will take your church to the next level? Do you wish your church could have the dynamic ministry of an RC Sproul, a John MacArthur, or a John Piper? Is your church ready to be transformed into the ultimate machine for giving glory to God? Does your church have the courage to bring in an experienced, successful, well-trained expert who will change its entire atmosphere and ethos overnight?
If you can answer yes to those four questions, look no further! With my experience of taking three churches from the pits to the pinnacles, with my superb education preparing me for any eventuality, with my innovative techniques of organizing and equipping the laity, there is no way that God will fail to bless your church a hundredfold.
What’s wrong with such self-promotion? It’s common enough in the secular world, isn’t it? And don’t many of our sports heroes routinely say, in one way or another, “I’m the greatest!” If we really want to glorify God as a church, shouldn’t we want people in leadership who are excellent at what they do? And if they know they are excellent – isn’t a statement like this just acknowledging what’s true?
How should we go about answering such questions?
At DGCC, our core values say we are Bible-saturated. Our doctrinal statement says that “the Scriptures are the supreme and final authority for testing what is true and right.” Therefore, it is only through the Scriptures that we can answer such questions.
So what does the Bible say? Biblically, what are the characteristics of a true spiritual leader?
We are making our way through Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, and today come to chapter 10. After two chapters addressed to Paul’s supporters in Corinth, encouraging them to show that they really belong to God by giving cheerfully of themselves and of their resources, Paul returns to a prominent topic in the first several chapters: the dispute between himself and some self-appointed leaders in the Corinthian church. You may recall from our earlier sermons that these opponents were arguing that Paul was no apostle – indeed, that he had no basis for exercising any authority over them. From what Paul says, we are able to discern that they argue in several ways:
In this chapter, Paul highlights four characteristics that are important qualifications for a true spiritual leader. Although Paul is an apostle, and although these do not constitute a complete set of criteria, nevertheless these same four characteristics are vitally important for any church leader. And these characteristics are dramatically different from those claimed by the job applicant above.
The first two characteristics of God’s servant/leader are found in the first 11 verses:
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ- I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!- 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. 9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account." 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.
His opponents had charged that in his letters, Paul was bold and threatening, seemingly powerful, but when he was actually with them, he was meek and gentle. He wouldn’t harm or threaten anyone! The opponents explain this by saying, “Really, he has no power. He has no authority. He just appears that way in his letters, but when it actually comes to doing anything, he’s weak and powerless. He’s not strong enough to carry through on threats.”
Do you see how Paul makes reference to these charges in the text?
I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account."
So this is the charge. How does Paul respond? How does he justify the seeming difference between his letters and what he does in their presence? Why is he not consistently threatening or consistently forbearing?
Paul makes three arguments. We’ll take them in a different order than Paul presents them:
First Argument: “I am consistent:” He questions the basis of their accusation. See verse 11:
Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.
He says, “I may look like I am acting differently, but always, always, there is an underlying consistency in my actions.” We’ll see how he is consistent through the other arguments
Second Argument: “I am acting like Christ.” Paul entreats them in verse 1 “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. Think about Jesus. Is He meek and gentle when faced with sinners? Sometimes, as in John 8, when confronted with the woman caught in adultery. Or during His passion: the soldiers spit on Him, mock Him, and beat Him, but He does not retaliate. Even on the cross, He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Yet at other times, He Himself confronts sinners. He is weighty and strong and ready to administer punishment:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. Revelation 19:15 (See verses 19-21 if you want more details of what he does with the sword coming out of His mouth.)
So Jesus Himself is both meek and mighty, gentle and vengeful. Thus, Paul too can be both and still be Christlike. Indeed, he must be both in order to be Christlike.
Third Argument: Paul says “There is a right time and a wrong time for judgment, and I will be ready to judge at the right time.” We see this in verse 6: “being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “for everything there is a season” Paul is waiting for the right season to punish disobedience.
He is willing to wait, willing even to make himself look weak, as he waits for their “obedience to be complete” – that is, as he waits for the repentance of all those who have opposed him. And when that is complete – when no more are repenting – at that point, and not before, he is willing to judge.
So this third argument is closely allied with the first two. Jesus too is perfectly consistent; Jesus too has perfect timing concerning mercy and judgment. He gives mercy and exercises judgment –at exactly the right time to every individual. The One who could destroy us at the first blasphemy from our lips, at the first sin in our heart, graciously withholds judgment on us individually; the One who could have wiped out this country for slavery or for abortion graciously allows us to continue – but one day, His wrath will come.
So Paul shows us here that a true spiritual leader is not always disciplining; he is not always meek and gentle. The true spiritual leader is consistently Christlike – and so, like Christ, shows forbearance when that is appropriate, and is firm in his discipline when that is appropriate. God’s servant leader shows forbearance, yet administers discipline.
Look again at verses 3-5:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
What weapons is he talking about? Paul says they have “divine power.”He says they “destroy strongholds” and then explains what he means by saying these weapons destroy “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God”, and “take captive every thought to obey Christ.” So the “strongholds” Paul talks about are arguments, opinions, and thoughts which are opposed to God.
What spiritual weapons will attack and overcome such opposition? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood Ephesians 6:11-12
Paul goes on to tell the Ephesians to take up only one offensive weapon,
the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God Ephesians 6:17
What divine weapon destroys arguments and ungodly opinions? What divine weapon will overcome disobedient thoughts? The Word of God! As God says through Jeremiah,
Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29
Paul is talking about the power of the Word of God, the Gospel. God’s servant uses God’s Word as His offensive weapon. The power and authority of that Word will overcome all opposition.
We wield that weapon in different ways:
But in all cases we are using the weapon of the Word.
Oftentimes 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 is quoted in reference to the battle to control our individual thought life. And certainly we want to take every one of our thoughts captive, to have them controlled by the Word. But look at the passage again. In context, whose thoughts is Paul talking about? His own? No, his enemies’! Paul is saying he doesn’t want to come to Corinth and confront them, but he will do so if necessary. And when he comes,
Instead, he will use the Word to destroy their every argument. It is their thoughts and pretensions that he will attack and overpower by God’s Word.
So this is an example of church discipline – not an example of someone privately dealing with sins in his thought life.
So God’s servant leader shows forbearance, yet administers discipline. God’s servant leader uses spiritual weapons: The Word of God.
Of the four points I am bringing out this morning, this point is emphasized explicitly the least in this passage. Yet it is implicit throughout. Paul mentions this idea explicitly in verse 8, and then again – with a twist - in verses 15-16.
8: For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.
Paul emphasizes that his authority, which he is threatening to use for the disciplining of the disobedient in Corinth, is intended not for their destruction, but to build up the church. He aims not to destroy, but to strengthen.
Paul says this clearly in Ephesians 4:11-12:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12
The goal of God’s servant leader is not to enhance his reputation
The goal of God’s servant leader is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And we spread that passion by equipping the saints, by building up the body of Christ, by taking people deep with God and then spreading that depth to others. God’s servant leaders don’t focus on numbers – they focus on depth.
Thus, in our Core Values statement, we include in the “We are NOT” section:
We are not spectators. We value an atmosphere in which our elders and staff equip us for ministry, with each person being encouraged to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God, as He develops the gifts He gives to each believer.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Coty, you gave us the first part of our mission statement: ‘We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things’ – where is the rest of the statement?” Look at verses 15-16:
We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence. 2 Corinthians 10:15-16, emphasis added
So there is our entire mission statement: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.” Paul wants the Corinthians to grow to the point that they can play a key role in Paul’s ministry beyond them, as he spreads a passion for God’s supremacy to all peoples. If the church in Corinth is full of fighting and disputes and false teachers, Paul is hindered from fulfilling his calling. But if the faith of the Corinthians increases, if they resolve this problem of false teachers, if they grow in the Lord, then they can be a positive sending force, helping him to move on to the many unreached peoples of the world. They can be actively involved in spreading a passion for God among ALL the nations.
So God’s servant leader shows forbearance, yet administers discipline. God’s servant leader uses spiritual weapons: The Word of God. God’s servant leader aims to build up the body, locally and to the ends of the earth. Finally:
Let’s read verses 12-18. Note that the first sentence should be read ironically:
12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us: to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. We were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence. 17 "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
How are Paul’s opponents arguing that they are better than Paul? Verse 12 tells us they are “measuring themselves by one another” and “commending themselves.” They are thus using worldly standards:
Paul says all such comparisons are “without understanding”. For they don’t understand the nature of the call to gospel ministry. They don’t understand that there is a fundamental difference between being a minister of the gospel and being in any secular profession, for God’s servant leader is called by God, not appointed by men. As he says in verse 13: ”We will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us”. God has called Paul, and God sets the criteria for judging him. And it is God who has put Paul in Corinth to serve the church. God has not set up Paul’s opponents as leaders.
In verse 17, Paul loosely quotes Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Let’s look at the Old Testament text:
Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 9:23-24
The wise, the mighty, and the rich have nothing to boast about. They are simply the recipients of God’s gifts. So our boasting can only be in the giver. He’s the source! Our boasting can only be in knowing the giver, understanding the giver, loving the giver, delighting in the giver – that’s the only “boasting” that there is. Not in us. In the God of love, of justice, of righteousness.
Thus Paul concludes in verse 18:
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
I may look pretty good to men even while I look pitiful to God. As Paul says in his first letter to this church:
It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:4-5
God’s servant leader does not appoint himself, but God calls him; God’s servant leader does not commend himself, but God commends and approves him.
Let’s go back to the question posed at the beginning, but make it more personal:
My friends: I hope I serve DGCC for 20 years. But suppose that God changes those plans and a few months from now you have to search for a new senior pastor. What criteria would you use in the selection process?
A lot of churches will look with favor on:
What criteria would you use? How important would it be that this man is:
My friends, God’s servant leaders are not professionals. Yet most churches look for professionals for their pastors. Most churches use professional criteria when judging one pastoral candidate against another.
Permit me to read a lengthy quote from John Piper:
We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. . . . Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).
But our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping? Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally? . . .
We are to be filled not with wine but with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are God- besotted lovers of Christ. How can you be drunk with Jesus professionally? Then, wonder of wonders, we were given the gospel treasure to carry in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God (2 Cor. 4:7). Is there a way to be a professional clay pot? . . .
Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed. . . .
The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
God, deliver us from the professionalizers! . . . God, give us tears for our sins. Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation. Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation. Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28). Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life. Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it. May Christ be all in all (Col. 3:11).
Banish professionalism from our midst, O God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.
If you are a believer, know this: God has called me here to build you up, to equip you to serve others, to lead you deeper and deeper in the knowledge of the One who is the source of all true delight. I and other members here will do anything we can to help you along that path. If you are struggling, if you are hurting, if your marriage is not what it should be, if your devotions are dry – let me know. Don’t say, “Oh, I won’t bother him with that – he’s too busy.” I am not a professional. I am God’s servant leader for you. I personally may not always be the one best able to help you. But even then I want to know – and I will put you in touch with other people or other resources that can help.
If you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ – if you do not desire Him above all things, if He is not Lord and Master of your life, know this: Ask me and other members of this church any question you have. I am not a professional. I want to pray with you, to serve you, to open up to you the mysteries of God’s Word, or to introduce you to someone else who can do that for you. I am here to serve you.
My brothers and sisters: We are all slaves of Christ, servants of one another. Each of us is called to put aside all self-commendation, all self-congratulation, and to serve one another in love. Will you join me in this commitment?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 2/29/04. The fictional email at the beginning is based heavily on one I actually received. Scott Hafemann’s The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Zondervan, 2000) was helpful. The John Piper quote is from Brothers, We are NOT Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Broadman and Holman, 2002), p. 1-4.
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