In 2 Corinthians 4:5, Paul writes, “For what we proclaim (or preach) is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord ….” Reynolds, in his sermon “Preaching Christ” (volume 5 of Reynolds collected works) lists four ways in which “men may be said to preach themselves”.
First, men proclaim themselves when they “make themselves lords over the flock” (349). This point is based upon Peter’s instruction to leaders in 1 Peter 5:2-3, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Reynolds describes this domineering as those who “exercise dominion over the consciences of those that hear them: as if a ministry were a sovereignty; or as if the sheep were their own to be ordered and disposed as they please” (349-350).
Harnick in his delightful commentary on 1 & 2 Peter notes that the decline of social prestige for the ministry in the culture broadly (in the West) “may have the good effect of discouraging Chrisitnas from taking up church leadership for the sake of public prestige and power. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of opportunity within the church for its leaders to acts as hired hands, rather than as true shepherds after the model of the ‘chief shepherd’”.
Reynolds compares such men to the son of perdition in 2 Thessalonians 2:4; to those who loved to be called “teacher” in Matthew 23:8-12. Peter likely had Jesus’ instructions concerning leadership , that a leader is to be a servant (Mark 10:42-45).
Rather, the model of leadership is exemplified by Paul, “24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” 2 Corinthians 1:24 (ESV).
Second, men proclaim themselves when they proceed into ministry without a true call to ministry.
Third, men proclaim themselves when “they make themselves the matter of their preaching; prophesying lies, and the deceits of their own heart (Jeremiah 23:16, 26); teaching for doctrines the traditions and commandments of men (Matthew 15:9); making said the righteous and strengthening the hands of the wicked by their lies, following their own spirits (Ezekiel 13:3, 22)” (350).
Fourth, men proclaim themselves when they “make themselves the end of their preaching; making so holy an ordinance subservient to their vain glory, or ambitious pursuits, or filthy lucre, or plausible compliance, or private interests” (351).
This may happen in a more subtle way than many would imagine. It is a temptation to twist things to make one comfortable, or to avoid trouble. A friend who interviewed for the position of pastor at a particular church was told not to “preach against the football gods”. Another man was cautioned not to preach so as to discomfort a particular family (whose wealth upheld the church). It can be a powerful temptation to “tamper with God’s word” (2 Corinthians 4:2).