All posts

Hidden in Plain Sight

It happened in my hometown, in a Washington DC Metro station. And I’m sure, had I been there, I would have walked past it without a single glance.

In 2007, the Washington Post organized an experiment. During the morning rush hour, world-famous violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito in the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and played a brilliant classical repertoire for forty-five minutes. It was, as Post reporter Gene Weingarten explained, “an experiment in context, perception and priorities—as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste.”¹

Joshua Bell routinely fills up concert halls worldwide. Days before, an audience in Boston had paid around $100 apiece to see him perform. In L’Enfant Plaza, he was playing a Stradivarius made in 1713, reportedly worth $3.5 million. On that Washington morning, the virtuoso collected exactly $32.17 from the few passersby who stopped. Most of the 1000-plus commuters who hurried through the station that morning didn’t even slow down.

I don’t think I would have slowed my pace either. If I had been rushing through L’Enfant Plaza that morning, I might not have even noticed him. He was hidden in plain sight.

It’s quite possible for us to rush past certain verses of Scripture in a similar fashion. Sadly, I often do. We are busy, we’ve read this before, and we assume we understand the important stuff anyway. We do not perceive the wealth of God-glorifying, grace-magnifying, life-transforming truth before us.

This is one of many reasons I am grateful for the personal example of my friend John Piper. John doesn’t rush past the words of Scripture. He doesn’t assume he understands what he reads the first time around. He reads slowly, contemplates a single paragraph or sentence or phrase, examines a single word. As Mark Dever eloquently puts it:

While too many of us are saying a lot of things quickly and running on to the next, John stops and stands and stays and stares at God’s Word. Sometimes he stares at something that seems so obvious, but he keeps staring until it begins to expand and fill the horizon of his sight. . . . John prays and thinks until a part of God’s Word which seemed simple and obvious becomes fresh and powerful.²

John has taught me to slow down, to read my Bible carefully, to ponder the meaning and implications of every line, every word. So following his example, let’s stop and stare at a single verse that’s easily overlooked. It’s only one sentence. In these few words, however, we’ll discover in Paul’s example a model for pastoral ministry.

2 Corinthians 13:14

In the closing words of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, we read, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

Have you ever paused to contemplate this verse? Until recently, I hadn’t. For me, these words were hidden in plain sight.

I’ve often been guilty of racing past the closing verses of New Testament letters. Sometimes we approach these passages like the last few seconds of a phone conversation: “OK. Yep. Thanks. See ya later.” We assume these verses are a mere formality, an expression of ancient etiquette and nothing more.

But in Scripture there are no throwaway lines. This final sentence was divinely inspired, carries divine purpose, and has particular relevance for pastoral ministry. In this simple verse, just twenty Greek words, we find a biblical model for pastoral ministry. It is right before our eyes, if we do not race past it.

Gordon Fee cautions us not to neglect or overlook the importance of this benediction. He writes:

In many ways this benediction is the most profound theological moment in the Pauline corpus. . . . It is not difficult to see why such a profound moment of theology—in the form of prayer for the Corinthians—should be the single most appropriate way to conclude this letter. What Paul wishes for them is all of this, and nothing less.³

“In many ways . . . the most profound theological moment in the Pauline corpus.” And we so easily rush past it.

Paul’s benediction would deserve our attention no matter where in Holy Scripture it appeared, but it is particularly striking when we consider the original audience. Paul was writing to the Corinthian church, and if there ever was a church of self-absorbed sinners, these folks were it. They had been seduced by human wisdom. They had drifted from the centrality of the cross. They were splitting into four factions. The church was allowing sexual immorality of a kind, Paul wrote, “not tolerated even among pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1). Lawsuits among church members were common. They were desecrating the Lord’s Supper—some were even getting drunk there. They misunderstood and misused the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, Paul told them, their meetings did more harm than good (1 Cor. 11:17). So in two letters Paul exhorts this church, rebukes them, appeals to them, and admonishes them. The second letter is his most passionate—reading it in one sitting will leave you emotionally exhausted.

And yet, as he draws the letter to a close, what does he wish for them? “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

All of this, and nothing less.

I don’t think that would have been my closing wish for the Corinthian church. I’d have had a different wish altogether.

Is Paul’s prayer what you wish for your church? If not, perhaps you need to reexamine the model of pastoral ministry provided in his closing benediction. 

This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.

[1] Gene Weingarten, “Pearls before Breakfast,” Washington Post, Sunday, April 8, 2007, p. W10, (accessed February 24, 2009).

[2] Mark Dever, “Introduction,” in Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jr., and C. J. Mahaney, Preaching the Cross (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 15.

[3] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 363–64.