COLUMN: More than we can see

Published 4:30 pm Monday, June 17, 2024

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Sometimes if you asked the apostle Paul how he was doing, you might get more answers than you wanted. We’ve picked up just about where we left off last week. So this week, our scripture is found in 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5: 1.

Whatever else I do in the next few paragraphs, I want you to remember that this is a message of great hope. You may have to hold onto that for a little while, though. Because we all know that life isn’t always pretty and gentle and good. 

Do you want to know what Paul was coming under fire for at Corinth that he was addressing in this letter? You know that working with people is often complicated. It can be challenging, irritating, defeating, and exhausting, and it can also be happy, rewarding, fulfilling, and inspiring.

Scot McKnight reminds us in his comments on this scripture that from chapters two through seven Paul has explained, cried, defended, pleaded and prayed about this complicated church at Corinth that he loved so much.  

Here’s what he seems to have been dealing with as 2 Corinthians unfolded: a charge from the church people that he wasn’t showing enough charisma in his style. Paul was showing too much substance and evidently not enough style — those poor, shallow Corinthians.

I mean, he was okay until some other people came along purporting to also have wisdom and spiritual insight to offer them. That, and the fact that he wasn’t physically with them in Corinth at the moment, and these new potential leaders were. 

Moses delivered the people from generations of enslavement, hundreds of years of captivity at the hands of the Egyptians, only to have many times in their Exodus journey where the people rebelled and looked to push him aside. Read the story for yourself. It’s all there in our Bibles. 

Jeremiah, Daniel, and other prophets were all criticized even though they were sent by God. My goodness, Jesus even got crucified with the permission of his followers. Paul wasn’t the first to have a fickle and ungrateful humanity turn on him from within a faith movement.

These other guys may or may not have had a thing of substance to offer. But the Corinthians were thinking of following them now. They may or may not have been capable of leading in a responsible and faithful way. But at least they were young and exciting, evidently. 

Apparently, they were fun. Or they were charismatic. Paul wasn’t acting in an appealing enough way for the Corinthians. Or, he wasn’t making the gospel sound entertaining and exciting enough for them. 

I am thankful to serve a mostly healthy congregation who take good care of their ministers. I can only speak from within my own perspective as a fulltime educated and trained member of the clergy. I serve a mainline congregation from within what we Baptists identify as the Charleston tradition. 

There is no perfect church. Also, because there is a generational shortage of ministers in most denominations these days, let me apply some of what we could learn here. In my own sermon this week, I called this “Four Ways to Love Your Pastoral Staff Better Than the Corinthians Loved Paul.” Here goes.  

First, welcome your staff and help them get established. But don’t forget them. Don’t take them for granted as time passes. Second, support your church staff with your actions and sometimes with your toughness. Don’t tell your staff you love them and then sit back and watch them get mistreated by people who are clearly out of line. 

Next, show your staff you value what the church does. Don’t tell your staff you love them and then never show up. You may be busy. You may have a passel of grandkids. You may have the good fortune of traveling a lot. Good for you. But don’t leave us wondering why you’re rarely around. We’ll get discouraged. Finally, be careful that you don’t let people on the Internet or your TV supersede the pastor you have. 

Here’s the beautiful thing, and what I want us to notice. Paul owned his gifts that were being gained by the passage of time and experience with God. His hope did not fade because God was strengthening him. 

You see, there was more here than the Corinthians could see, as they only looked at things on the surface. The real gift is in Paul’s faith that was feeding not off of the approval from a wishy-washy and sometimes disappointing congregation.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.