2 Corinthians 4:5
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.…
Two imputations had been cast on St. Paul during his absence from Corinth, and to each of these this verse contains a reply. It had been said that he sought commendation; and he answered that he set forth, not himself, but his Lord. It had been said that he tried to domineer over the Churches; and he answered that he was a servant of the Church for Jesus' sake.
I. THE PROMINENCE GIVEN TO THE LORD. "We preach not ourselves." By this disclaimer is not meant that the apostle excluded all reference to his own faith or experience, and maintained an altogether impersonal tone while delivering Christian testimony and instruction to the Churches. Extant specimens of his preaching and writing indicate the contrary. St. Paul freely spoke of his own experience of the mercy of God and sustaining grace of Christ, of his faith and hope, his sorrow and joy. So have all wise and successful ministers of the Word of life shown their own hearts to the people as holding the gospel precious. They have said, "What we preach to you we ourselves know and believe; what we commend to your acceptance we have ourselves accepted and proved; so we come before you, not merely as messengers by whom tidings are sent, but also as witnesses who can testify that those tidings are true." The apostle spoke and wrote freely of himself, but did not preach himself, i.e. did not set himself before the people as the leader or the Saviour. It was the fault of those factious teachers at Corinth, who tried to disparage the authority of St. Paul, that they commended themselves, taught their own speculations, eyed their own advancement, and drew away disciples after them. This was what the apostle disclaimed and abhorred, and what all preachers of the gospel must scrupulously, and even jealously, avoid. It is positively fatal to spiritual success to project one's self before the people instead of setting forth the all-sufficiency of Christ Jesus, the living Essence of the gospel. Some one complained to the excellent William Romaine of his constantly preaching Christ; and he answered, "We have nothing else to preach;" i.e. we preach nothing separate from him or disconnected with him. All sound doctrine converges towards, and all acceptable obedience issues from, the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. "Preach the Law," the Jews demanded of Paul; and he preached Christ, the end of the Law to every believer. "Preach wisdom," cried the Greeks; and he preached Christ as the Wisdom of God. "Preach practical virtues and good conduct," cry many modern critics and monitors; and we must preach Christ in order to make hearts new, and so make lives pure and upright from the roots. It is not enough to teach the existence of God, his attributes of being and character, his all-controlling providence, or even his universal fatherhood. We preach Jesus, the Teacher, the Healer, the Saviour, the Son of God. We preach him as Christ, the Messiah announced in ancient prophecy, who should suffer many things and so enter into his glow. And we preach Jesus Christ as Lord. He is Lord of all. He is Lord both of the dead and of the living. He is Lord "to the glory of God the Father." Do any think this impracticable? Do they point to the ignorance that has to be removed, vice to be restrained, selfishness to be corrected, and count it a mere waste of time to speak so much of a Personage who lived, and the things which he said and did in Judaea ever so long ago? Do they ask, "What good can this do?" We are bold to answer - If this will not do good, nothing will. Moral directions and monitions cannot lift men out of themselves or raise them above low levels of thought and conduct. There must be some new and near relation to God, some help from heaven; and this is gained only through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. In no other way have been produced powerful and permanent transmutations of human character. In no other way are men rescued from evil habits and made good, and kind, and just, and pure. Therefore we will persist in preaching what Paul preached.
II. THE PLACE TAKES BY THE APOSTOLIC PREACHER. We do not wish to lord it over the Church. "We are your servants for Jesus' sake." The factious teachers at Corinth sought their own advancement, and, judging St. Paul by themselves, alleged that he assumed more authority than he was entitled to, and wished to play dictator to the Churches. The sensitive and generous heart of the apostle acutely felt the imputation. He was, indeed, bound to assert his apostolate, but, absorbed as he was with the thought of his Saviour's authority as Lord, he abhorred the idea of claiming lordship over God's Church, and was careful to describe himself as a servant, and to associate with himself by name such fellow servants as Silas and Timothy. Much more are modern ministers of the Word, while maintaining the reality and dignity of their ministry, to beware of anything that savours of lordly assumption. They are servants of the saints for Jesus' sake. Not for the sake of men, or for any inducement or remuneration which men can offer. They are not employes of the people, engaged by them to do their religious work, and responsible to them for their conduct, in fact, they are servants of the people, and yet the people are not their masters. One is their Master, even Christ; and they serve the Church under his orders and for his sake. So Jesus Christ himself became the Servant of all because he was God's elect Servant. Among his followers it is always better and nobler to serve than to be served. What an example Paul showed as a servant for Jesus' sake! - wearing out his frame in severe and dangerous travels and voyages, caring for all the Churches, praying for them, writing to them, visiting and revisiting them, running all risks, enduring all things - even that which was hardest of all, the ingratitude and fickleness of those to whom he had ministered - that he might fulfil the service which had been assigned to him by the Lord Jesus. Others might spare themselves, but he never did. "I will most gladly spend and be Slant for your souls." It is a high standard; but we do well to keep lofty models before us, and try to rise to them according to the necessity and opportunity of our own time, and the ability which is given to us of God. - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.