Paul is the exemplary missionary, evangelist, church planter, and pastor. He is a type-A individual used by Christ to find thousands of converts and plant dozens of churches. When his earthly ministry comes to a close, a majority of the Roman Empire is radically affected by the beautiful Gospel of God. Paul of Tarsus is a powerful example of God’s grace, and a wonderful minister to be emulated. From 1 Corinthians 4, several characteristics of this remarkable pastor can be noticed:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. 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. I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (1 Corinthians 4)
First, Paul hungers to be approved by God. He is not tremendously concerned over the appraisals of his peers, his people, or even himself. What he longs for is a worthy commendation from his Lord and Savior. Using the words of one minister, “Paul has nothing to prove and only one person to please.”
Secondly, Paul seeks to be humble regarding his giftedness and success. Though he is one personally converted by Jesus Christ, appointed to be an Apostle, and carrying with him a fantastic ministerial resume, he recognizes the danger and deplorability of being puffed up over his pastoral success. No man should boast in any giftedness and success, because all knowledge, skill, and accomplishments come from the beneficent hand of the gracious God. All men ought to be humble, especially those understanding the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God.
Third, Paul expects to suffer as a faithful minister, and he shrinks not from his calling. If Paul were speaking using today’s vernacular, he might say, “Pastoral ministry is not sexy.” According to him, serving God and God’s people is often like being on death row or in the local sanatorium. The consequences of faithful ministry are often poverty, slander, persecution, depression, and death.
Fourth, Paul ministers, not as a mere spiritual guide, but as a tender father. He is less the paid psychologist able to leave his burdens at the office, and more like a father who carries the burdens of his children on his chest. He is not one who merely writes from his ivory tower or preaches from his lofted pulpit, but one who walks in the shoes of his parishioners and encourages them to follow after his model. He is a minister who is comfortable in, with, and amongst his people.
Fifth, Paul ministers with righteous indignation. He loathes Satan and his devilish friends, and he is passionate to defend Christ’s sheep from self-serving, fallacious teachers who would fleece the Lord’s flock. Arrogant ones, who would dishonor Christ and harm Christ’s church, should expect to find divine fire in Paul’s eyes as he comes back into town to safeguard God’s house and God’s friends.
Sixth, Paul can be bold, harsh, and shameful, but he would rather be gently meek and admonishing. He can play the role of the hammer and put people in their place, but he would rather play the part of a grandfather and gently encourage his congregants to make their own adjustments in their spiritual walk and worship.
Therefore my ministerial friends, from this one chapter, we can learn much about good and acceptable ministry. As elders and men of the cloth, let us be humble, tender, bold, angry, sufferers who are faithful and approved of God.
However, there is something for those in the pews to learn. Paul ends this portion of his letter with a question, “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” Dear friends, why do you make it so tough on us — your pastors and elders? Why must we discipline instead of disciple? We do not like to confront and chastise, but you force our hands. We find no pleasure in asking you to refrain from the Lord’s Table, but it must be fenced. For us who bear your burdens on our chest, there is nothing more frustrating than a brother or sister who will not come, hear, learn, believe, and adjust their lives according to God’s Word. Your sin, arrogance, and incorrigibility is killing us. Yes, we want to be kind, loving and fun. We want to be friendly. However, Scripture tells us that a true friend wounds out of love. And on top of all this, if we must choose, we are more interested in pleasing our Heavenly Father than keeping the peace with you. Therefore beloved brothers and sisters, we will come with the rod of God’s Word if necessary, but we would rather walk through life with you with a spirit of gentleness. Why don’t you become teachable and make it easy of us to take it easy on you.