Is it ok for Christian leaders to be open, honest and transparent about their failings? Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians illuminates his perspective in his conflict with the influence of the super-apostles.
Paul appealed to Christians that willingly submitted themselves to authoritarian false apostles that proclaimed themselves as Lord, peddled the word of God for profit, and engaged in underhanded methods as part of their “ministry.”
Paul paints the super apostles as spiritual abusers in his appeal to the Corinthians.
For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing.
(2Co 11:20-21 NET.)
How Paul responds to influence of the super-apostles is nothing less than remarkable. He doesn’t proclaim to the Corinthians he is more super than the super-apostles. He doesn’t appeal to a higher human authority, credentials or recommendations. He doesn’t commend himself as superior…he reveals his weakness.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
(2Co 1:8-11 NET.)
Some guys roll in to a church Paul planted with letters of recommendation in hand, start pointing out Paul’s weaknesses and commend themselves as superior. Less than 10 sentences in to Paul’s response he admits he was burdened beyond his strength in a certain situation. He went through something he admits he couldn’t handle.
But there was a method to his madness.
In Chapter 3 Paul describes a new covenant ministry in which people are transformed as they behold and reflect the glory of the Lord. Because it is the Lord that transforms people Paul rejects all sorts of trickery and underhanded methods. There is no need to use the methods of human influence to try to change people’s behavior. People are not changed through the application of force or manipulation. It is the Lord that transforms. Our part in this process is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord unveiled. The Lord’s glory is best reflected in weakness.
Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’sake. For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
(2Co 4:1-7 NET.)
One of the key differences between Paul and the super-apostles was that he believed that as a leader the best thing he could do was a mirror image of the glory of God as revealed in the miraculous progression and transformation of his own life. He aimed to reflect the Lord’s glory, not to proclaim himself. He did not say that people must follow him because he represents Christ to them. His goal was to be open, honest, and transparent even in weakness and he trusted that people would see the work of the Lord in his life and then be attracted to the same transforming glory or presence.
People are not transformed by human strength, power, or authority. They are transformed by God. Our role in this is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord without distortion, amplification, projection, or manipulation.