carpetbagger noun / car pet bag ger
: a Northerner in the South after the American Civil War usually seeking private gain under the reconstruction governments.
“We don’t sell miracle water,” Paul chimes (2 Co 2:17). Home of the brave Christians can relate, right? Do you need convincing that 2 Timothy 4:3-4 is fulfilled today in the United States? It’s happening. Antiquity had its portion too, and Paul wanted no part in it.
But differentiating himself from peddlers of the word of God (2 Co 2:17) meant beating a dull drum. What vivid, vital evidence could Paul provide that demonstrated he ministered as from sincerity?
Why not the Corinthians themselves? “Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter” (3:1-2). If you wish to know the legitimacy of an acclaimed minister of the Word, look to those he has ministered the Word to. Regenerate members are Christ’s letter of commendation for a minister: “You are a letter of Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v.3).
The Spirit of the living God writes the entire text. His paper is the human heart. What a wonderful thing to see ancient promises fulfilled in one’s lifetime – the Law of God written on the hearts of True Israel. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).
You would be hard-pressed to confuse Paul with Benny Hinn. “Look: we’re not carpetbaggers. It is our ambition to be faithful Gospel ministers… Oh, you want proof? Let our work testify to you.”
I know what you’re thinking – or should be thinking – what about William Carey? Is fruitfulness really a test of sincerity? Perhaps this text is meant to be taken as a Proverb: it is generally true that your ministerial fruit bears witnesses to your ministerial faithfulness. And “fruit” doesn’t have a numerical or monetary value. We’re talking about true, ripe, sweet fruits of God’s Spirit.
I’m opting for another, more controversial, interpretation: we should accept this passage at face-value. If we take Paul’s reasoning seriously, a principle seems implicated: faithful Gospel ministry always bears fruit. It may not be when we expect or how we expect it, but it comes. And when’s/how’s are fairly irrelevant, aren’t they? God doesn’t play by our rules and schemes.
Would it bring you joy, minister, to know that God is fulfilling eternal promises through your ministry? Be resolute in the Gospel and your labor shall be vindicated. Most importantly before Christ, but people also will notice. And the ones that matter can spot Yankee hawkers, I assure you.