In ministry, what matters most is not the container, but the content. “Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, ‘Light up the darkness!’ and our lives filled up with light as we saw and under stood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at” (2 Cor. 4:5-7, The Message).
As a minister, I have an odd job. Don’t misunderstand I love it. But it is an odd job, and that is because of the two realities Paul states in the above passage.
NOT ABOUT US
The first reality appears in these words: “Our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master” (2 Cor. 4:6, The Message).
In 2 Corinthians, Paul defends his call to apostleship. Some have depreciated his call to ministry, questioning his apostolic credentials, so he addresses the issue. In so doing, he speaks to any called to ministry: “This call to ministry is not about us, it’s about someone else.” This is the reverse of what is commonly the case in professional life. Ministry, there fore, is an odd job, first of all, because it’s an upside-down job.
It’s upside down to the way we normally do things. We say, “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will.” Our world is pock marked by shameless self-promotion. In the world we work to advance our own agendas, not those of other people.
Throughout his football career, Deion Sanders was a flashy, brassy personality. A while back, Sanders, a Christian, stated that the position he plays on the football field ought to be renamed. Instead of calling it “cornerback,” Deion says that he has so redefined the way this position is played that it should be called by his name. In other words, when a professional football scout asks a prospective player, “What position do you play?” the player shouldn’t respond, “I play cornerback.” No, says Sanders, the player should now simply answer, “I play Deion!” Maybe this is just part of his act. Most would never be so brazen. Yet we all are tempted to self-promotion. Even our most noble accomplishments come from mixed motives. But Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves. We preach Christ.” In fact, we’re simply errand runners, delivering messages for the King.
D. M. Canright was a gifted but vacillating and volatile preacher in early Adventism. During the summer and fall of 1880, along with a number of students from Battle Creek College, Canright attended Professor Hamill’s School of Oratory in Chicago. Canright and his friends sought to fine-tune their develop ing oratorical skills so they could communicate the gospel more successfully in the pulpit.
Each student was assigned a critic. Canright’s teacher and critic was D.W. Reavis. During the time they spent together, they became quite well acquainted.
A gifted speaker, Canright was invited to preach in many Chicago churches. Reavis attended to analyze his application of oratorical principles. Canright was so accomplished that invitations flowed in, and eventually he accepted invitations only from the largest and most popular churches.
One Sunday night he addressed more than 3,000 people in the largest church on the westside of Chicago. When he finished, people mobbed him, thanking, praising, and lauding him. It took some time for the crowd to disperse so that Canright and Reavis could leave.
Finally, at a late hour, they went to a park where Reavis could offer his criticisms and suggestions. But he had been so absorbed in Canright’s presentation of Bible truth that he had no criticisms to offer, no suggestions to extend. They talked for a while, when suddenly Canright sprang to his feet. “D.W.” he said, “I believe I could become a great man were it not for our unpopular message.” Reavis replied,
“D.M., the message made you all you are, and the day you leave it, you will retrace your steps back to where it found you.”
Canright’s wish? “If I could do my own thing, be the source of the missive and not just the errand runner, I could become great!” But Paul steps in and says, “We do not preach ourselves. We preach Christ.” We’re delivering mes sages for the King. In this job, we don’t promote ourselves. In fact, the whole job is about Someone else.
CONTENT, NOT PACKAGING
Paul adds a second reality about the ministry of the gospel that warns us that it’s an odd job. Not only is it an upside-down job; it takes place in an inside-out world. He says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” This job is not about the package, but about what’s in the package. It’s not about the jar of clay, but about the treasure inside the jar. In the world of ministry, the value of what is done cannot be judged by what it looks like on the outside, because it is what’s on the inside that counts.