In evaluating any ministry we need look at several dimensions to see if what is going on fits together with the greater story of New Testament ministry. The goal is not to come up with a checklist of do’s and don’ts to live up to, but to give us an indication if we are metaphorically drinking from the right wells. If we are abiding in Christ, if we are connected to the source of life, our patterns, values, and motivations will naturally follow in one direction. We are drinking from the well of grace. If we are drinking from the wells of shame, guilt, fear, pride or selfishness, then our approach to ministry will also follow a predictable pattern.
The fruit of one path leads to transformation, the other to condemnation. For Paul the hope of transformation, joy, comfort and clean conscience was found in Christ. He knew that the human tools of behavior modification were a dead end. Trickery, manipulation, self-promotion, authoritarianism and even rhetorical power were all employed by the super-apostles in Corinth. While use of such tools, along with legalistic condemnation, can drive people to try harder and dig even deeper wells of self-effort, they just result in death. Paul touches on this more in his letter to the Colossians and the Galatians but his understanding seems no different in than it does in his letters to the Corinthians.
For Paul personal weakness was a wedge issue. It was in this area we see a huge contrast between him and the super-apostles. It is a reliable indicator of which “well” someone is drinking from. Those who drink from the well of grace are confident that Christ is the one that will transform them and the people they minister to. They see no need to manipulate or even massage the truth. They can be open and honest without fear that those they minister to will lose faith in them. In fact they are intentionally open about their weaknesses because they know they can receive comfort and they know that God will change them, people will see that change and come to faith in God.
The super-apostles did not reveal their weaknesses. Because they haven’t discovered the grace of Christ, and live under the compulsion of condemnation, they live mostly in shame. While attempting to live up the ideals of the “letter” they used any tool at their disposal. They had to project an image of strength if they wanted to influence people. Many likely did not realize they were in fact proclaiming themselves as Christ and exploiting people. It becomes easily to rationalize methods that hurt people through careful misapplication of biblical text. Because Christ and his grace were not evident in their own lives they had to find meaning in financial gain and religious status. These motives irrevocably lead to the methods of the super-apostles.
In order to discern whether a ministry is on the right path we have to consider the big question of “why.” If we are ministering for our personal gain our methods and our teaching will eventually reflect this. We might be in it for fame, status, reputation, money, or religious success. We might be living out our own legalistic self-condemnation on others or reliving our own victimization through others.
Paul loved people and was so filled with the love of God it compelled him despite all the suffering and the risks. He lived with an open heart and a Godly jealousy for Christ’s people. He tried very hard not to be a burden and attempted to work with the Corinthians for their joy. He saw the Corinthians as partners to work in co-operation with, not just people to minister too.
I may be reading into the text here (and perhaps part of my own life in to the text) but I believe Paul was hurt by the lack of reciprocation on the part of the Corinthians. He worked hard to support himself and was faithful to God and treated the Corinthians with respect, yet he was rejected in favour of people who treated them with arrogance and exploited them. Paul suffered not just from external persecution but by the insensitive treatment by those he sought to minister to. It seems to bleed out especially later on in the letter where we makes some honest but biting remarks about the Corinthian’s willingness to let themselves become exploited.
Coming through this I see a few questions that are good to ask of myself and my ministry partners or potential ministry partners:
Which “well” am I drinking from?
Is it the grace of Christ leading to life, freedom and transformation? Or is it condemnation leading to shame, bondage and death?
Why do I do what I do? What are the motivations?
A careful examination of my heart and my actions will reveal clues to where my heart is? I will find my heart with my treasure so I should examine how I spend my resources (mental, emotional, material) and follow the “money trail” to the orientation of my heart.
Am I comfortable with my own weakness or do I need to project an image of strength to others?
Am I confident that Christ has transformed me and I have no need to fake it for others? Am I overly concerned with how people think of me?
Am I honest, open and willing to submit myself to conscious examination of others?
Do I use flattery, trickery or other methods to guide people? Do I do employ techniques that I feel need to keep secret from other people because somewhere deep inside I’m ashamed of them? Do I try to control what people think so I can guide the situation to further my goals whether they are altruistic or not?