The Work of the Apostles
1Think of us as servants of Christ who have been given the work of explaining God's mysterious ways. 2And since our first duty is to be faithful to the one we work for, 3it doesn't matter to me if I am judged by you or even by a court of law. In fact, I don't judge myself. 4I don't know of anything against me, but this doesn't prove I am right. The Lord is my judge. 5So don't judge anyone until the Lord returns. He will show what is hidden in the dark and what is in everyone's heart. Then God will be the one who praises each of us.
6Friends, I have used Apollos and myself as examples to teach you the meaning of the saying, “Follow the rules.” I want you to stop saying one of us is better than the other. 7What is so special about you? What do you have that you were not given? And if it was given to you, how can you brag? 8Are you already satisfied? Are you now rich? Have you become kings while we are still nobodies? I wish you were kings. Then we could have a share in your kingdom.
9It seems to me that God has put us apostles in the worst possible place. We are like prisoners on their way to death. Angels and the people of this world just laugh at us. 10Because of Christ we are thought of as fools, but Christ has made you wise. We are weak and hated, but you are powerful and respected. 11Even today we go hungry and thirsty and don't have anything to wear except rags. We are mistreated and don't have a place to live. 12 We work hard with our own hands, and when people abuse us, we wish them well. When we suffer, we are patient. 13When someone curses us, we answer with kind words. Until now we are thought of as nothing more than the trash and garbage of this world.
14I am not writing to embarrass you. I want to help you, just as parents help their own dear children. 15Ten thousand people may teach you about Christ, but I am your only father. You became my children when I told you about Christ Jesus, 16 and I want you to be like me. 17This is why I sent Timothy to you. I love him like a son, and he is a faithful servant of the Lord. Timothy will tell you what I do to follow Christ and how it agrees with what I always teach about Christ in every church.
18Some of you think I am not coming for a visit, and so you are bragging. 19But if the Lord lets me come, I will soon be there. Then I will find out if the ones who are doing all this bragging really have any power. 20God's kingdom isn't just a lot of words. It is power. 21What do you want me to do when I arrive? Do you want me to be hard on you or to be kind and gentle?
Christian culture seems fixated on leadership. Books, journals, training programs and conferences abound for leaders, but you’ll look long and hard for resources for people who just want to follow and serve. I even wonder about the term “servant leader”. Why don’t we say “leader servant”? Could it be that we, like the rest of the world, are addicted to power?
Jesus spoke rarely if at all about leadership, but often about discipleship. Here, Paul dismantles the typical view of what power looks like and how it operates in the kingdom of God. An Apostle, you say? We should be regarded as servants, Paul responds, (a word that means literally an under-rower, a slave plying an oar on the bottom tier of a galley) and stewards, managers of the Boss’s assets.
Think of all the time and space devoted online and in Christian media to the dogmas and comportment of well-known Christian “leaders”. Much of it is dripping with vitriol, the kind of judgment that Paul says affects him hardly at all – because he’s a servant, and has no position to defend. Those who sling mud at him do so because they are drunk with their own self-importance, while the true apostles are willing to become the scum of the world.
Real power, in the kingdom of God, is not resident in incessant self-promotion, aggressive management or even the ability to deliver a brilliant sermon, but in a willingness to love. And anyone can do that.
Almighty God, whose power is ever and always bent to the service of love, who is himself Love, relieve me of my lust for worldly power and my inclination to judge those who have it, so that I may love powerfully and humbly, just as Jesus did. Amen.