“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #90
“Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1-2)
The argument in 1 Corinthians now turns to the subject of ministerial support, and Paul begins this discussion by mentioning his office, his apostolic authority. This is the starting point—he asks rhetorically whether he is an apostle. He then adds the ramifications of this. If he is an apostle, then is he not free (to receive support)? That is his statement of the question that this passage addresses in detail.
Paul then goes on to cite two grounds of his apostleship. The first is the qualification of his call and commissioning. Not only did he see Jesus Christ after His resurrection, he also heard Him. Jesus did not appear to him in a silent and mysterious vision—he appeared to him and gave him explicit marching orders. Just as Jesus told the other apostles on Mt. Olives to disciple the nations, so He told Paul on the Damascus to disciple the Gentiles (Acts 9:5ff; Acts 22:7ff; Acts 26:15ff). So Paul is a true apostle, commissioned by Christ directly, alongside the other apostles.
But Paul also points to another set of qualifications that authenticate his calling as well. He points to the Corinthians themselves, indicating the fruit of his ministry with them. Despite all the problems that particular church had (and they were not insignificant), Paul is still pleased to use them as the seal on his ordination papers. Their very existence as a body of believers verified his apostleship. Ministerial authority is therefore personal. Biblical credentials include living, breathing people . . . and how they are doing with the Lord.
It is not a bad idea to supplement biblical standards with, say, educational graduate school standards, but it is a terrible idea to replace biblical standards with such things. While we must always remember that we are evaluating character, not counting rocks, at the same time it is necessary to take personal realities into account. This is why Paul requires a minister’s grown children to be faithful Christians (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Tit. 1:6). If a man cannot disciple his own children, how can he be expected to do a good job with anybody else?
At the same time, it has to be said that those Christians who pay any attention to this elder qualification at all tend to do so with a perfectionistic and jaundiced eye. If a minister has a child who put up a stupid Facebook post, then it is thought by certain particular saints that we have now come to the end of days. For this group, let us remember not only that Paul measured his apostleship with transformed lives, he also made this point by claiming his legacy in a church that had problems with incest, drunkenness at communion, catfight lawsuits between parishioners, and new members who had to be told to stop sleeping with pagan hookers.
Ministerial credentials are therefore personal, transformative, holy . . . and kind of messy.