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Mohler charges graduates: Minister as slaves of Christ

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Considering oneself a captive slave of Christ should be the attitude of ministers of the gospel, President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told graduates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during its Dec. 12 commencement service. Such ministers will “manifest the sweet aroma of Christ” in their ministry, Mohler preached.
Observing its 180th commencement, the seminary granted degrees to 122 students from its four graduate schools: theology, Christian education and leadership, church music and worship and the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
The Billy Graham school and the Christian education school awarded their first doctor of philosophy degrees during the ceremony held in Alumni Memorial Chapel on the Louisville, Ky., campus. The Graham school was established in 1994, while the Christian education school previously had awarded only doctor of education degrees.
Preaching from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, Mohler gave the commencement address titled, “The triumph of Christ in the sincerity of ministry: preachers, not peddlers, of the Word,” although he told the graduates he would rather the address be considered his “charge” to them.
Acknowledging the Corinthian passage is the subject of much scholarly debate concerning its proper translation, Mohler contended the Apostle Paul’s statement in verse 14, “But thanks be to God who always leads us to triumph in Christ,” must be interpreted in light of the imagery of the first-century Roman “triumphus.”
Having conquered a nation, the victorious general was honored in Rome as his troops and the vanquished foes, taken as slaves, were marched before him. While the general would receive adulation and praise, the slaves were degraded, humiliated and sometimes even put to death, Mohler explained.
“I think if we take this text seriously, Paul is not saying, ‘I triumph in Christ.’ Rather, he is saying, ‘God in Christ has triumphed over me.’ I think there is a very important word for ministry Paul is setting forth here,” Mohler said.
While Paul’s detractors in the church of Corinth had attacked him because of his unimpressive physical stature, lack of charisma and failure to use classical rhetoric, Mohler said the apostle answered his critics by gladly counting himself “among the captives, not among the conquerors.” This was consistent with Paul’s self-description in other New Testament letters where he calls himself a “slave” of Christ, one who is “not merely allied with, but belongs to, is obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler noted.
Calling it “great news,” Mohler told the graduates, “As you consider the ministry which is now before you, the question may come, ‘Will you be triumphant?’ The answer you know is, ‘No.’ We will not go marching out here as victors, but as captives.”
One of the “major scandals of the contemporary church,” Mohler added, is the “triumphalism” found among many evangelicals who believe they can do anything, “if the church can just get the right formula or the right program or could just harness enough of its own energy … when the reality is we can do nothing.”
In a metaphorical shift from the Roman triumphus to the imagery of the Old Testament sacrificial system, Mohler said Paul urged the Corinthians to “manifest the sweet aroma of Christ in every place. … An aroma that will be unmistakable. An aroma that will be undeniable.”
The response to such a ministerial fragrance will differ between believers and unbelievers, the Corinthian text teaches, Mohler said.
“There are some who receive that fragrance as a message of death to death and others who receive as life to life. To those who are perishing, to those who will not receive the Lord Jesus Christ, to those who are not his own, the sound of the gospel and the effect of your ministry will be as a fragrance which leads from death to death. And there is not a thing you can do about that, anymore than could Paul,” Mohler admonished the graduates.
“But to those who are being saved, to those who are in Christ, to those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, that aroma is fragrance which leads from life to life.”
Mohler said this “marvelous promise” is also a “shocking reminder that the gospel is not received by all.” An authentic ministry, Mohler added, will produce the proper aroma. “The world can sniff it out and the redeemed will always recognize the aroma of Christ spread through the sincere and genuine minister.”
Like the “peddlers of the Word” the apostle warned against, Mohler said another scandal of evangelicalism is ministers who believe their own charisma and marketing skills can sell the gospel. “The world is full of peddlers of the Word, those who preach not of sincerity and those who preach not through the sufficiency of Christ, but are out hawking the gospel or something they call the gospel as if it is a commodity to be sold out on the market,” Mohler asserted.
The only ministers who are “sufficient” for genuine ministry are those who recognize their own inadequacy for the task, Mohler said. “A part of what we must do as ministers of the gospel is admit our inadequacy, our insufficiency. … As you go, you are not adequate, but Christ is sufficient.”

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  • James A. Smith
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