“With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” (2 Corinthians 8:18)
Most of us who serve all of our lives in ministry will not be asked to speak at a conference or write a book or give a radio interview. For the majority of us, our ministries are a long obscurity among the local and unheard of. In a celebrity and consumer oriented church culture this fact can take its toll on a pastor. We wear down as the autograph lines always form outside another’s door and never our own. It is no wonder that amid these cultural pressures even Jesus preachers can be tempted to use their ministries as a means to compete with and outshine others. (Phil. 1:17). The thought of an overlooked life knocks the wind out. Maybe this is why I come back to these sentences of Paul.
After all, when Apollos preached the place was packed. But when Paul came to preach some people slept in. Seats were left vacant. It was hard to find enough volunteers for the nursery on the mornings Paul preached. The apostle’s pulpit presence was simply unimpressive. Closeness to God and measures of generational relevance were tied to the towers of oratory, spectacular influence and gathered crowds. Why bear with Paul when you could go down the street as it were and hear Apollos?
And now, with these words, Paul reveals that there is yet another preacher more impressive in the eyes of the congregations than Paul. It is almost like when the churches of that generation held a conference this famous brother would have likely been the keynote preacher, Apollos would have preached prime-time on the alternating nights, and Paul would have given a workshop or break-out session. But what some believers overlooked in Paul at times, Jesus saw clearly.
And what about Titus? It sounds rather humbling when we re-read the sentence. “With him,” (that is, “with Titus,”) we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches.” Titus was perceived by many as a lesser pastor all of his life. When he was with Paul people would have thrown their attention to Paul first, not Titus. When Titus was with this famous preacher or in the vicinity of Apollos, they and not Titus would likely get the first invites for interviews. Titus had years of experience in the ministry-trenches of Jerusalem, Corinth, Dalmatia and Crete. He had a great deal to offer. But in these Corinthian circles it was often others they would naturally prefer for their bible and missions conferences. Corinthian Christians tended to overlook the non-sexy daily love of a man’s character toward them. They seemed to forget that part when talking about the best sermons. What some believers overlooked in Titus at times, Jesus saw fully.
The irony here is that those the Corinthians tended to prize are relatively unknown to us today (Apollos and the famous one). While those the Corinthians tended to overlook are in Jesus our sure guides today (Paul and Titus). ”What then is Apollos? What then is Paul?” “Servants . . . as the Lord assigned . . . neither is anything . . . but only God who gives the growth.” (I Cor. 3:5-8)
So, by grace, we don’t let the celebrity opportunities that pass us by or never come, break us. Likewise, saturated in the grace of Jesus, we learn to discern that living a known life doesn’t necessarily equal having the kind of influence Jesus values. By grace then we don’t let the celebrity opportunities that come our way fool us either.
Questions rise. “If, for all of your labors and gifts and efforts for the gospel, you will remain unknown in your generation, why serve at all?” “Are you being tempted to give the Corinthian “over-look” to the unknowns or unimpressives? “Are you being tempted to believe that if you don’t matter to everybody you matter to nobody?” “Or because you matter to some you matter to everybody?” “Are you starting to believe that the praise or disrespect of some is synonymous with God’s view of you?” Obscurity tempts us to believe that having no celebrity equals having no lasting influence. What if Paul provided more grace in this statement than we first realized? “Timothy,” he said. Preach the word in the sight of God.(2 Tim. 4:1) Oh, the gracious eyes! The present presence! No pastor in Jesus goes unnoticed. None are unheard of. Our obscurity is His table. Our celebrity is His place of humbling prayer. There we sup with Him day by day.