Paul covered a lot of ground in just one decade. Roland Allen notes, “Before AD 47 there were no churches in [Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia]; in AD 57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support” (Missionary Methods p.3). What an astonishing statement. We’d call this an exaggeration, except Paul says it himself, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:19–20). Paul sees his ministry to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and plant churches as fulfilled in such a large region. Where does the credit go for this incredible work?
In April 2020, The Last Dance docuseries about the final season Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls aired on Netflix. The Bulls won 6 championships in 8 years during the 1990s, one of the best runs in NBA history. While having the best player matters more in basketball than other sports, it is still a team game. The best players need great teammates to win championships. Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s Hall of Fame teammate, recently said the series “glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to my proud teammates and me.” For Pippen, the team won the title, but all the praise rested on Jordan.
Paul could have been like Mike, taking all the praise for himself. But instead, he points away from himself and points towards the triune God. He celebrates God’s work in three ways as he looks back on his ministry.
First, he grounds his pride in Christ and his goal in the glory of God. “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God” (Romans 15:17). Warren Wiersbe says, “The apostle did not serve and suffer as he did just to make a name for himself, for he had a much higher purpose in mind. He wanted to bring glory to Jesus Christ” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1, p. 563–564.) Paul saw himself as a steward and not a star, whose ministry was for God’s glory, not his own (1 Cor 4:1-2).
Second, Christ was working through him. “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed” (Romans 15:18). The good Paul accomplished came about by the work of Christ through him.
Third, his ministry was attested to “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God’ (Romans 15:19). The power behind Paul’s ministry was not his ability as a preacher – even though he was gifted. The power behind his ministry was the power of the Holy Spirit. As Ezekiel’s preaching could not make the dry bones live without the breath of God, the effectiveness of Paul’s preaching depended on the Holy Spirit.
Everything Paul accomplished was for God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The credit is God’s.
The temptation to take credit for our accomplishments is as enticing as fresh meat to a hungry belly. A few months ago, I went through a ministry transition. My roots went deep at my former church, and over those years, I was blessed to be part of an incredible ministry. During my last month or so, the members were so kind and encouraging as they expressed their thankfulness for my family and me. It felt good, and redirecting credit back to God was not easy (I didn’t always do the best job at it). The temptation to take credit hung in the air like a piñata ready for me to crack open. One brother, for whom I am deeply thankful, helped give credit where credit was due. He told me many times, “I’m thankful for all God has done through you here, and I’m sure he will keep working here when you are gone.” Credit did not belong to me; it belongs to God.
This applies to more than just ministry. It applies to our parenting, Bible study, work ethic, school work, and much more. All we do is for God’s glory and through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians find their greatest joy in celebrating Jesus. Please take a moment today and pause to reflect on and celebrate what Jesus has accomplished for you and, like Paul, what he has accomplished through you.