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Here is a verse that caught my attention yesterday: “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Cor. 8:18).

There are many things we’d like to know, but don’t know about this verse.

1. We don’t know who this brother is. Could be Luke, Apollos, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, or Mark. Others suggest one of the entourage mentioned in Acts 20:4–Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Tychicus, Trophimus, or Gaius. Some names are more likely than others, but at the end of the day we just don’t know who Paul has in mind.

2. We can’t be sure why Paul did not mention this brother’s name. Paul might have been trying to lower this man’s profile or maybe Paul hadn’t appointed him directly or perhaps this famous brother because was from Corinth or had been instrumental in the church at Corinth and needed no introduction. We shouldn’t read too much into the anonymity one way or another.

Although we don’t know everything about this reference, we can draw some conclusions that are relevant for us, especially as we try to think through this whole “celebrity pastor” business.

1. There have always been men who gain a certain notoriety for their preaching of the gospel. The ESV uses the word “famous.” Other translations speak of this brother being “praised” in all the churches. Here was a man who was well known and well regarded for his powerful preaching. No doubt, there were other teachers and other preachers, but this individual must have been particularly gifted, effective, and recognized.

2. Whomever this person was, “the brother” was known to the Corinthians. Or he was about to be known. He was part of the delegation going with Titus to administer the collection. If it wasn’t obvious from the letter that Paul was talking about Barnabas/Tychicus/Apollos/whomever, then it would be obvious when he arrived with Titus in Corinth. The point of not mentioning his name can’t be to keep his identity secret (though it could be to sound less flattering).

3. Paul appears to reference the brother’s fame as a way of commending him to the Corinthians and thereby assuring the church that Paul’s plan was trustworthy. Three men are mentioned in this delegation: Titus in verses 16 and 17, “the brother” in v. 18, and “our brother” in v. 22. All three are commended by Paul–Titus for his earnest care, “the brother” for his famous preaching, and “our brother” for his testing, earnestness, and confidence in the Corinthians. Paul alludes to their character, their track record, and their reputation as a way of helping the Corinthians receive them and trust them as they should.

The take away from 2 Corinthians 8:18 should not be an unbridled enthusiasm for “celebrity pastors.” We know from 1 Corinthians that some Christians were dreadfully misguided in their allegiance to specific teachers and leaders. We also know from the Corinthian correspondence that ritzy “super apostles” were impressing Christians for all the wrong reasons. So clearly, fame comes with many dangers, both for the followers and for the famous ones.

And yet, verse 18 demonstrates that if “celebrity” simply means notoriety or recognition or high regard, then celebrity preachers are not new. There have always been men–like this fellow and like Chrysostom or Knox or Whitefield or Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones or ten thousand others–who have been “famous among all the churches for [their] preaching of the gospel.” It is not a capitulation to culture to admit this fact. And it’s not bad to acknowledge these men and commend them to others. Could actually be quite biblical.

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10 thoughts on “When Paul Sent the Celebrity Pastor”

  1. Chris Taylor says:

    Hate to say it, but I think the ESV’s dynamic side is showing through too much here. I like what you’re saying; I just wouldn’t limit it to preachers.

  2. sam says:

    I think the example you are using is flawed. These men were being sent out as missionaries to spread the Gospel. But today we see men out on the celebrity conference circuit and neglecting their local churches who are their first duty and responsibility. Yes, men have always gained some level of fame for their preaching of the Gospel. But in today’s American celebrity culture, we see a dangerous trend of elevating the man above the message that feeds into the narcissism of the age.

    We have local pastors that use their chuch to gain fame and then go on the conference circuit. This is not biblical. They neglect their flock that was entrusted to them. Their first responsibility is to their local congregation.

    Lastly, parachurch organizations like Catalyst put on carnival like shows and charge 100s of dollars and pastors use money from their local church to attend these events to be entertained and also try to network to join the conference circuit.

    The celebrity conference circuit is harmful to the Church. But people within that culture benefit greatly from it and will never speak against it for fear of losing it


  3. Amy says:

    Sam, beware of sweeping generalizations. Perhaps your post should have contained the word “some.” I attend a church of a pastor on the “circuit” you speak of, and not only does he not neglect his church, he also does not use it to promote himself. He faithfully preaches to our congregation and obviously labors for our body of Christ.

    Are there dangers of which you speak? Certainly. We cannot know each and every pastor’s heart that speaks at every conference. But to assume that each pastor on a circuit has nefarious motives that include self promotion is also dangerous.

    I can’t imagine that preaching at conferences is terribly easy. There are challenges that most of us can’t imagine. These pastors need our prayer more than our critiques and judgements about their hearts, especially when we can’t know their hearts personally. There are many who are working hard to spread the gospel to those who desperately need to hear it. Some who don’t, I agree. But we cannot lump all these men together, therefore dismissing the ones who need our prayer.

    I am encouraged, challenged and blessed by pastors walking hard roads to share the gospel. I think about Philippians 3:17 where Paul encourages those by saying “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” We are encouraged to imitate the godly qualities of Christians pursuing the life of Christ. And Paul encouraged others to imitate him, as He strove to imitate Christ. (Phil. 4:9, 1 Cor. 11:1)

    I’ll choose to learn from these men and hold them in proper perspective as the Lord uses them to teach me through His Word. And encourage others to do so also.

  4. donsands says:

    Good word Kevin. Thanks.

    Have one disagreement: “or Spurgeon”? CH was very different, to me anyhow. The Grace of our Lord was a bit more deep and special for the “prince of preachers.”

    And I have a favorite preacher-teacher celebrity: RC Sproul. Nothing wrong with this at all. I would rather be in my local church on Sunday, hearing my pastor’s sermon than anywhere else in the universe, unless I could have an Emmaus Road experience.

    Have a great week in our Savior’s joy and peace! e are a little closer to His return, and oh how I long for that Day!

  5. John says:

    I think the term “celebrity pastor” has been used by Trueman and Anyabwile to have more of a reference to pastors embibing 21st century American celebrity culture, rather than men being honored or “famous” for their preaching. The issue revolves around the church looking like the culture, not fame in and of itself.

  6. Phillip says:

    Celebrity, an interesting word.
    Within the Gospel, dressed in humility, robed in righteousness, preparing for return as a conquering King.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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