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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Christian celebrities, the ultimate oxymoron.

The apostle Paul lacked personal charisma – and he knew it. And his opponents were quick to point this out.

“His letters are weighty and forceful,,” they claimed, “but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Corinthians 10:10). These were the ‘super-apostles’ and they knew how to hurt.

Alarmingly these ‘super-apostles” (Paul is being sardonic) had infiltrated the Corinthian church with the aim of undoing the apostle’s teaching on grace by undermining the apostle himself. For Paul there is only one Gospel, that of the crucified Christ.

His worry is that these false teachers clearly had an allure, they could pull in the crowds. They had a presence. And so Paul is on the back foot.

“But if you put up with these big-shot ‘apostles,’ why can’t you put up with simple me?” he writes plaintively. “I’m as good as they are. It’s true that I don’t have their voice, haven’t mastered that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much. But when I do open my mouth, I at least know what I’m talking about.” (2 Corinthians 11:6f)

However, Paul had learnt the most basic lesson of ministry – and you can’t say this too often: God is at his best when we are at our weakest.

So he offers his CV as an apostle of Christ, he actually gives us a list of his so-called achievements. Not the huge crowds he may have drawn – unlikely as that may seem. Nor some of the powerful miracles he had performed. Nor even the power of epistles he had sent.

“If I must boast,” he writes, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Hence his list of setbacks and humiliations, the imprisonments, the floggings, the times he went without food.

Even so there was always the temptation to promote himself, to show off. After all, by the world’s standards he has an excellent pedigree, a Roman citizen no less. This is where his ‘thorn in the flesh’ comes in.

So he explains: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

“At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:8)

But we don’t need to know what the thorn was, only that it was God’s way of keeping Paul wholly dependent on him.

It worked.

I’ve often wondered why Paul’s parents gave him his Hebrew name, Saul - naming him after Israel’s first king. Strange, because Saul as king was a total disaster.

Why did things go so wrong? Well, we are told at the very outset that this “son of Kish was the most handsome man in Israel. And he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land!” (1 Samuel 9:2). The young Saul already had celebrity status – and that was the problem. He knew it.

And in our own era we too need to be alert to the danger of super-apostles, so-called celebrity Christians. Sadly yet another Christian scandal has made the national press, causing much hurt and heart searching, even making the Sunday Times and triggering a tempest in the Twittersphere.

“No more Christian celebrities, not even the vulnerable ones, not even the ones who come to us in weakness and fear and with much trembling!’ blogs Lucy Sixsmith, angry and aggrieved by these recent revelations. So many have felt let-down, a profound sense of betrayal.

Clearly there are particular temptations on being a so-called Christian celebrity, an oxymoron if ever there was one. The reality of course, is that not many of us (actually, none of us) would be able to handle the pressure.

However, the big temptation for such ‘celebrities’ is when their personality becomes part of the message. And this is when we need to be most alert, to be most wary.

A pertinent quote here from pastor and best-selling author, Max Lucado, who would qualify as a Christian celebrity: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”

Certainly that was the example that Jesus gave us, on turning his back to the crowd. He is in Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. John doesn’t give us the details but simply says that “many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” (John 2:23). The crowds loved him.

“But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them—for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature.” (John 2:24. JBP translation). He refused to work the crowds.

But it is for all of us, each follower of Jesus, to refuse to seek popularity, even acclaim, through our own particular gifts and ministry.

“Not to us, Lord, not to us

but to your name be the glory,

because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

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