Friday, August 17, 2007

Surprising Sources of Joy in Pastoral Ministry, 4

Okay, I'm busted. Not only am I busted, but I'm genuinely challenged by the Apostle Paul's joy in this statement:
That important thing is taht in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Phil. 1:14)

My first reaction is: Paul didn't have TBN in his day! But then I'm reminded that he saw and confronted false religions, idolatry, and perversions of the gospel that are almost unimaginable to me. Seems TBN has been around a very long time.

So, I'm really surprised and caught off joy by this source of the Apostle's joy: Christ being preached by people preaching the gospel with wrong motives.

I'm inclined to distrust, confrontation, and even anger at false teaching and wrong motives in the ministry. On the one hand, it's a form of self-righteousness I need to crucify. On the other, it's a necessary pastoral reaction that Paul obviously shares (see Gal. 1-2). Here's the tension for me: How to biblically examine wrong motives in the preaching of others, and yet find joy that Christ is preached despite motives.

It's discouraging to see folks who appear to be zealous for themselves and their reputations gathering large crowds to hear platitudes and man-centered self-help talks. And it's even more discouraging when that affects my own people who are drawn after such things. How do you fight for joy in the ministry when that happens?

A few meditations based on Paul's words.

1. Distinguish between false teaching and wrong motives. I don't do that well. I lump them together. However, Paul makes a distinction. In one case, the message itself is fatally flawed, the gospel is corrupted. In the other case, the gospel is accurately proclaimed but the messenger is flawed. When the message goes forth clearly and Christ is exalted, I need to rejoice. The Savior is being proclaimed and that is always cause for joy. Certainly the Lord uses men of imperfect ability and imperfect hearts. He is gracious and powerful that way. So, Thabiti, rejoice.

2. Don't think of myself more highly than I ought or more highly than others. Pride is always lurking. And I'm tempted to find all the soft spots in another man's life and conclude (wrongly!) that those are not my errors. "I've got that under control," I tell myself, "and he's ruining everything because of his attitude." That's just naked pride. I need to rejoice that I am that man with the corrupted motives, and nevertheless the Lord has given me the privilege and grace of preaching Christ. And I need to pray that despite my mixed motives the Lord would grant grace to preach Christ clearly and powerfully. (I can't shake the chorus, "I'm lookin' at the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways." Hee-hee. Sorry).

3. Take joy in the ability to direct people to the essential things that may be present in the teaching of people with wrong motives. Like a trial attorney, the pastor gets to redirect. There may be many things about a preacher's motives that would seem to disqualify him. But I want the sheep focused on the message, not the man (not the man to the obscuring of the message). If the man preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have the joyful privilege despite the man's imperfections of focusing folks on Christ. And in the end, that's my only task anyway--pointing to the Savior wherever He is proclaimed. I think Paul understood this and could rejoice even amidst insincerity. He could say in passing, "some men teach Chrsit with false motives," and then move on to major on Christ himself. That's a good strategy to adopt.

Here's an almost pragmatic, Machiavellian approach to the advancement of the gospel. Paul almost seems happy that some people are "doing what works" even though their hearts aren't sound. And he almost suggests that the "end justifies the means." And he rejoices.

Surely this would be a wrong attitude in the gospel ministry. But Paul is discussing the preaching of Christ in the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If pragmatic means preaching this gospel correctly because it is that power... perhaps we should rejoice at such pragmatists. If preaching the gospel despite the wrong motives is a bit Machiavellian, the gospel end justifiying the imperfect means, perhaps we should rejoice more when it happens and complain less.

I'm not free from the impulse to critique preachers. I'm not free from pride. But the word of God surprises me. I can find cause to rejoice in the ministry even when someone appears to preach out of a wrong motive. This gospel is glorious--more glorious than the petty motives that move us. Though they fill stadiums with teaching that is not what it ought to be... rejoice when Christ is lifted up.

That's surprising for me. But I'll be working on it.

No comments: