2 Cor. 6:4
In case you skipped it, let me repeat the question in the title: “When People see You, does God look Good?” Not many of us phrase it in precisely that way or even think in those terms. It’s far more natural for us to ask, “When people see me, do I look good?” Do I impress them with my charisma? Are they captivated by my wit? Are they attracted by how I dress? Did they take note of my intelligence? Do they still think of me an hour or two later?
We are obsessed with what others think of us. We are elated when they find in us something to praise and are crushed when they are offended. That is why we are so given to self-commendation, self-promotion, and self-improvement. So often our very identity and thus our value hang suspended on the opinion of those who “see” us.
But wait a minute. If this sort of concern for self is so sinful, why did Paul “commend” himself to the Corinthians here in 2 Corinthians 6:4a? And doesn’t this conflict with his earlier denunciation of self-commendation in 3:1? It would appear from these two texts that there are at least two sorts of self-commendation, one good (6:4a) and the other bad (3:1).
Let’s take a closer look at this passage (6:4a), for Paul does not “commend” himself and leave it at that, as if his efforts were devoted to securing a positive response from the Corinthian church. It is as “servants of God”, or more accurately, “ministers” of God, that he and his co-workers labor to elicit their approval. And the criteria to which he appeals as grounds for their acceptance are not very appealing: afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, hunger, slander, sorrow, etc. Not the sort of things one would typically include on a resume!
Evidently Paul believed that commending oneself as a minister of God was not only permissible, but mandatory, even godly. How so? What does it mean to draw attention to oneself as a minister of God and how does it avoid the sinful self-serving that Paul and other biblical writers so consistently condemn?
I want to suggest that commending oneself as a minister of God consists of living and acting and speaking in such a way that others think not of you but of him. They don’t so much look to you as through you, and in the light of your life see him. Again, to use the words of the title above, it means conducting yourself in such a manner that when others see you, God looks good! Let me explain this by asking a series of pointed (and painful) questions.
When you pray, do people comment on your eloquence or God’s excellency?
When you intercede in a corporate gathering, are those present impressed with your godliness or God’s goodness?
On those occasions when your life is subject to public scrutiny, do people think of the heights of your abundance or the depths of your need? Are they inclined to think about your devotion, and how fortunate God is to have you as his “minister”, or are they awakened to your utter dependency and God’s endless supply?
When people see how I spend money, do they conclude that God is a priceless treasure, exceedingly valuable above all worldly goods?
When people observe my relationship with others, are they alerted to the power of Christ’s forgiveness of me that alone accounts for my forgiveness of them?
When we open our mouths and speak of others in public (or private), are they made to think of Jesus in whose mouth no “deceit” was found (1 Peter 2:22), the one who, when reviled, “did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23)?
When we respond to injustice or mistreatment, are our words and ways the sort that lead them to glorify the God-man who “did not threaten” those who abused him “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23)?
When I am seen interacting with people of another race, do observers instinctively fix their thoughts on God’s love for all without regard to color of skin or ethnic heritage?
If I am complimented for some accomplishment, does the way I receive it drive onlookers to give thanks to the Lord?
Do I preach the Word in such a way that eyes are riveted on me or turned upward to behold the beauty of Christ?
Is my use of leisure time or devotion to a hobby or how I speak of my wife the sort that persuades others that my heart is content with what God is for me in Christ?
Does my reaction to bad news produce in you doubt or fear, or does it inspire confidence to trust in God’s providence?
When I feel disappointment or experience a shattered dream, is your trust in his promises diminished or enhanced?
Does my reaction to suffering inspire your comfort in him?
To use Paul’s word, when I “minister” among you, are you captivated by my credentials or energized to find satisfaction in God’s merciful sufficiency?
Paul couldn’t have cared less about his own reputation, unless by seeing him they savored God. If his weakness magnified God’s power, then by all means, watch. So long as his life was a window through which others might behold the goodness and grace of Christ, he was more than happy to commend himself to their scrutiny.
“Don’t look at or to me,” said Paul, “but through me, as a minister of God, to the fountain of all goodness and grace.”
So again, when others see you, does God look good?
– Sam Storms