The current spirit of the age has led us to embrace the dangerous phenomenon of the celebrity pastor. The people have come to expect a measure of it, and unfortunately, pastors have also fallen prey. So much of my burden as a church planter, I can trace back to my own expectations influenced by the age of the celebrity pastor.
I didn’t realize how much I had been influenced until the scripture exposed my thinking and expectations. By comparison, my thoughts about ministry didn’t line up with the Lord’s thoughts. How we really need to let it settle deep within that the Lord’s thoughts and ways are just not like ours. If we do not let scripture continually shape our views of the world, then we can be sure we will be conformed.
A Lowly Proclaimer
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself. 2 Corinthians 12:7 (NAS)
Paul’s thorn in the flesh passage is familiar, but until yesterday, I had not noticed that he was given the thorn because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation. I was stunned by what I had never seen, but what was plainly there. The Lord determined that the surpassing greatness of the revelation that the apostle was tasked with sharing, would cause him to exalt himself. The greatness of the message would bring an opportunity to deflect the exaltation onto the messenger. And thus the ever-present thorn, the messenger of Satan, the torment, to keep him from becoming a celebrity apostle.
In fact, the reason Paul is sharing his thorn in the flesh with the Corinthians is because they had judged him less credible because he didn’t behave like the more eminent apostles. They expected him to commend himself to them again. It seems the age of the celebrity didn’t begin with us. Paul understood, however, that people would attribute to the messenger, what was rightly due to the surpassing greatness of the message. And through his own torment, thorn, Satanic messenger, and weakness, he refused to play that game. Suffering has a way of lowering our tolerance for foolishness.
The Power in Weakness
Concerning this, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:8–9 (NAS)
The Lord would not take the torment from Paul. The power of Christ would be perfected in the preacher’s weakness. In the Lord’s mind, He needed the apostle weak, not powerful. In fact, the power of Christ could not be perfected in a powerful messenger. It wasn’t enough for Paul to consider himself weak, he had to be weak. He had to remain weak, thus the thorn from which he would not be delivered.
There has been much speculation about the nature of the thorn in the flesh. Whatever the thorn was it kept him from exalting himself. No one would, and evidently didn’t get the impression he was a super apostle, despite the surpassing greatness of the revelation given by him. Whatever this torment was, all Paul would be given would be grace. The grace would be enough. It would be sufficient.
Content With Weakness
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NAS)
While giving a surface reading of the passage, I was annoyed by this verse. After the many thorns that left me low and weak, this struck me as insensitive and patronizing. It rang as hollow as making lemonade with your lemons. Then I remembered who these words came from, and I had to dig in to try to understand.
Paul came to accept and to be well content with what was clashing with my powerful celebrity pastor worldview. I was not only not content with my thorns and weakness, but I continued to pray, to the point of disillusionment, that they might leave me. I was convinced that what kept me weak was hindering my ministry, oblivious to the biblical reality that the power of Christ was being perfected by them and that they may have been there for just that reason. I kept striving to be strong thinking my thorns were there because I was weak. The really successful pastors, I thought, did not have these struggles. They projected such strength and control. The Corinthians would have favored them more than me.
How far we are from the mind of God. This truth must somehow get into my spirit for good. I must let it rest there; find a home. God chooses and uses the least of us. And that’s me, one of the least. The great power of God is that He uses the useless, and that also is me; the useless. He calls the weak and not the strong. His glory is not found in the life of the messenger, but in the surpassing greatness of the message, given by a lowly proclaimer. In the mind of God, there is only room for One to be celebrated.
Written by Trevor Calhoun