My wife tells of her undergraduate days and the testimonies during the Sunday Christian Union fellowship meetings. It was typically held at night to give students a chance to attend their various morning church services.
As it was and is customary in our fellowships, various firebrand Christians would give testimony of what happened “at church”, or they would inquire of other Christians, “I did not see you at church!”
The other common trend was to quote ‘the Pastor’ as if he was the only one to preach that Sunday.
If you did not hear ‘the pastor’ preach, you certainly missed the anointed message of the day. It was implicit in such questions that there was ‘the church’ and there was ‘the pastor’ that every Christian needed to have heard! Others were anything but pastors worth listening to!
This leads me to the age-old Christian pastime of comparing churches and pastors, which was the subject of Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 1-3.
The Corinthians battled with each other for the supremacy of Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter). Each had followers they never solicited in Corinth. These followers soon got into heated debates about who of the apostles was better than the other.
This was understandably puzzling to Paul. What merits did either of the apostles have to command cultic loyalty? What had they done for the Corinthians that their hearers owed them? Paul argues that the apostles including himself, had no merits for their faith, and the hearers owed them nothing. Not even their apostolic position ranked them higher than an ordinary Christian!
That may shock some Christians today who follow their superlative apostles. But a godly preacher is a man under orders to deliver a message and has no claim to glory.
Paul gives three reality checks for any congregation to consider.
The first is that we know too little to make any judgment about who is better! Comparing or preferring one preacher to another involves judgment.
All human judgment is based on partial knowledge, which limits its objectivity.
The only valid judgment belongs to the LORD who knows us exhaustively.
He knows what we think and why we think it, that is, He knows the substance of our thoughts as well as the motives behind such thoughts.
Therefore His judgment brings to light what is hidden and weighs it to arrive at a fair judgment of the preacher. As long as we know so little we are wiser postponing our judgment and comparison of preachers.
Secondly, pride is implicit in such preferment as it determines that we know we are right while others are wrong.
The Corinthians were puffed up by these vain comparisons. We can hear each group taking pride in these men saying,
“Paul is better because he came first and performed miracles”, or “Apollos is a better orator and preacher than either Paul or Peter”, or “Peter lived, walked and ate with Jesus and so he must be better.”
But Paul did not reinforce his own popularity or affirm the pride of those who preferred him. He did not draw attention to any of the preachers for this would have given the Corinthians reason to boast. Instead he showed the vanity of their pride; it was baseless.
Finally, all ministers have the ministry because they have received it from the Lord. Paul, Apollos and Peter were agents who received the mandate from the Lord to preach Christ.
There are no grounds for boasting when we have been equipped and sent. Earlier, Paul argues against such hero worship because there is no salvation in any of the preachers.
The fundamental reason is that none of them was crucified for us. Every minister needs to understand his place, as a messenger with a delegated mandate for which we shall all be accountable.
We are sent to preach and show forth Jesus Christ crucified and Him alone. Besides Him we have no reason for pride. There is no better preacher, but there is One Saviour who was crucified for our sins.