I have always been intrigued by people’s responses to 2
Corinthians. I’ve heard comments about how “proud” Paul seems to be due to all
his “boasting” (cf. 2 Cor 10). This reaction is strange because it completely
misunderstands what Paul is doing in the letter.
Paul wants to make a
point: Christians must be willing to “lose face” for the gospel of the glory of
Christ (cf. 2 Cor 4:4).
Who do you want to give you “face”?
2 Corinthians 4:1–12 is typical of much of the rest of the
letter. Paul intentionally uses “honor and shame” to demonstrate how his
ministry reflects the gospel. When we see what Paul is up to, we gain insight
in how Paul understood the gospel and his mission. Naturally, this understanding
should shape (or reshape) our own perspectives.
In 2 Cor 3, Paul affirms that “we all, with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from
one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”
Therefore, Paul is bold to forsake the honor/shame standards
of this world. Christian ministry is not a vehicle for self-glorification. Church
leaders do not now allow the surrounding city or even their congregations to become
the court of approval. Only God can judge the worth of both Paul’s and our
ministry (2 Cor 4:2).
Whose approval do we seek?
No doubt there are many ministry methods are quick paths to
getting “face.” However, tampering with God’s word distorts the nature of true
glory, which is found in the gospel of Christ. We must be careful that we not
begin to complete with God for face.
Seeking glory is not the problem
As Paul made evident in chapter 3, we ought to desire glory,
. . . but the right kind. We foremost want God to honor us; only then does it
matter what others think of us.
In 2 Cor 3:7–11, Paul illustrates an important principle
“Now if the ministry of death, carved
in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at
Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not
the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in
the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it
in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no
glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was
being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have
Notice how Paul frames his comments. The problem with those
who boast in the Law is that they settle for what is “merely glorious” when
they could enjoy the glory that is without end.
Moses hid his face because the glory he had was fading. How
often to we ourselves hide, make excuses, tamper with God’s word, or make other
compromises because we are afraid that we will be ashamed of what others would
think of us if they saw the fading glory of our own achievements and titles?
Our problem is not that we seek face; the problem is that we
don’t want enough honor!
Honored through Shame
2 Corinthians 4:7–11 expresses Paul’s philosophy of ministry
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the
surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every
way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted,
but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body
the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our
bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’
sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Christ was honored through shame. This becomes a fundamental
axiom that shapes all that Paul does. Philippians 2:5–11 illustrates this point
Naturally, Paul then seeks honor through shame. Throughout
the letter, he attempts to vindicate his apostleship by “boasting” about his
so-called “shame” (according to worldly standards). His weaknesses and
suffering are the very means of God to “manifest” the life of Christ. Amid all
the conferences, books, and methodologies for doing ministry, where does this
Do we intentionally seek to serve people in a way that makes
us “lose face” in order that Christ may be honored?
When people think of us and our ministry, do they think of
our strong speaking ability, our knowledge, or the large number of people that
are around us?
Or, do they think about how God’s grace shines in us despite
the many ways that sin and weakness make us appear “shameful” in the eyes of
the watching world?
Who do we want to give us “face”?
Jackson Wu (PhD, SEBTS) teaches theology and missiology in a seminary for Chinese church leaders. Previously, he also worked as a church planter. He has just released his second book One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization. In addition to his blog, jacksonwu.org, follow him on Twitter @jacksonwu4china.