Pastors, we are not in a talent show

I love watching America’s Got Talent.

We are spoilt for choice between ventriloquists, singers, choirs, walking dogs, magicians, dancers, acrobats, and whoever else one could think of.

The contestants obviously seek to outperform each other by being more entertaining, more appealing, and getting more Facebook likes.

A similar scenario was happening in the church in Corinth in the Apostle Paul’s day.

False teachers (so-called “super-apostles”) had breezed into town and had infiltrated the church (2 Cor. 12:11). They preached a different gospel, a different Jesus and a different Spirit (2 Cor. 11:4).  They used Christian words, but it was an unchristian message. 

Note the irony in the Apostle Paul’s words when referring to these super-apostles: 

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. (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Perhaps a better way to translate this verse is:

Here’s the difference: when they measure themselves, using themselves as the standard, and compare themselves with one another, they are clueless. (Translation by George Guthrie1)

Some leaders in the Corinthian house churches were behaving as if they were in a glorified talent show. 

The super-apostles put great emphasis on what is seen, on externals, and on appearances (2 Cor. 5:12).  Rhetoric, language skills, use of words and eloquence in speech played the foremost role in their ministry, even to the point of trying to outdo each other and comparing themselves with themselves. They totally discounted the Apostle Paul as a weak, unimpressive, and unsophisticated speaker.

The super-apostles had a better gospel, a better Jesus and a better PowerPoint presentation.

Paul did not mind a well-prepared sermon with a good introduction, good grammar and good language skills.  He didn’t speak badly on purpose!

Nevertheless, he did say that our confidence must not be in those things. 

Our confidence must be in the gospel, because the gospel is God’s powerful message to save and change people. (E.g. 1 Cor. 1:18)

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

The message that Jesus came as King, died to save us from our sins, rose rule, and will return to judge, may sound silly and weak, but it is actually God’s powerful message for salvation and sanctification.

We simply speak the truth about Jesus and that’s what God uses to save and change people. 

The super-apostles were trusting in their own language skills and presentations, even trying to outdo each other for the most trendy website and best sermon with the most entertaining illustrations.

Again, we (like the Apostle Paul) are not against trendy websites, good sermons or helpful illustrations, it’s simply that our confidence should not be in those things.

This truth is extremely liberating: we don’t need all the bells and whistles or the latest programme with the latest app.  We simply need to tell people, including little people (children), the truth about Jesus.  

Who was Paul’s confidence in?

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17)

Elsewhere Paul wrote that in ministry, someone may plant and another may water, but it is God who gives the growth. (1 Cor. 3:5-7)

Who is the one commended by God?  Who is the one who has God’s stamp of approval?

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:18)

Not the one who commends himself, like the super-apostles did.  

It’s always easy to commend yourself because you can always find someone worse than you. But the opposite is also true.  It’s very easy to become discouraged because there will always be someone better than you.

Paul says that it’s not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

The question I should ask is not, “How do I compare with others?”, but rather, “Am I being faithful to Jesus in what he has called me to do?”

If you are involved in ministry, a good litmus test is to ask:

  • Would I still do what I do if nobody thanked me?
  • Would I still do what I do if nobody knew about it? 

Our approval, significance and self-worth comes, not by comparing ourselves to others, but from our grace-based, friendship with Jesus.

Christianity and Christian ministry is not a talent show.

  1. George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Baker Academic

(Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash.)