Paul’s Impossible Credentials for Ministry

In this coming Sunday’s Epistles reading, the Apostle Paul lays out this impossible list of ministry credentials for servants of God:

We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Cor 6:3-10)

It’s quite the list. And, as I said above, it’s rather impossible, at least all the time. Even Paul at times struggled with “patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love.” It’s also a dangerous list, for without good self-awareness and understanding of wider context, this list can nurture an ego-centric persecution complex that tramples the needs of the genuine poor and vulnerable around us.

Rembrandt, Paul in Prison

But as impossible and dangerous as these kinds of lists might be, they are helpful. They are good for us to reflect on as followers of Jesus. What afflictions have we actually endured for the sake of the gospel? How we have we shown genuine love in our ministry, or truthful speech? Are we too concerned for our reputation to be effective servants of God? Do we have too much, are we too comfortable, to make others rich in Christ out of our poverty?