THE SERVANTS OF CHRIST
1 CORINTHIANS 4:1-5
He was recognized as a leader within the local church. His preaching was eloquent and his personality was dynamic. Over the years, his popularity and his influence within the church grew.
But then pride crept in. He grew to love and then to desire the holding of his exalted position within the church. Those who disagreed with him were put down. When other Christians spoke up against this abuse of his position, he ordered that they leave the church. His name was Diotrephes. His story is found in the third epistle of John.
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.
Diotrephes was a man who had taken himself out from under authority. He recognized no authority but himself. He refused to listen to the apostle of Christ. He refused to listen to other Christians in the church. He had set himself up as the head of the church. There was no room for another head. Neither was there any room for a difference of opinion. You either agreed with Diotrephes or else you packed your bags and left the church.
I fear that there are many preachers who have followed in the footsteps of Diotrephes. It happens whenever a single man is made the head of the church.
In Paulís day, the problem was raising its head in Corinth. There were groups of people within the church who were aligning their loyalties to various men. Some were choosing Paul. Others were choosing Apollos. Peter was also in the running. These men were not even present within the church. But the members of the church were aligning themselves into segregated groups based around these men. There was even a Christ group that sought to exclude everyone else.
Paul writes to unify the church. He seeks to give the people a proper view of leaders within the local church. He wants to show that church leaders are not to be put up on a pedestal. Church leaders are merely servants.
THE POSITION OF A SERVANT
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Paul is dealing with the danger of holding certain spiritual leaders up on a pedestal. The reason that you ought not to exalt a spiritual leader is because he is merely a servant.
You know what a servant is. He is one who serves. He has no authority of his own. If he has any authority at all, it is because it has been delegated to him by another.
1. The Titles of Servanthood.
The word that is translated "servant" is different from the term we saw in 1 Corinthians 3:5. That passage where Paul described himself and Apollos as "servants through whom you believed" used the term
This is a different word here. This is the worduperetaV. It literally means "an under-rower."
The Roman warships used large, square sails, but they depended primarily upon a large number of slaves whose task it was to wield the oars. On the larger ships, there would be two levels of oars; a higher and a lower level. The slave who sat in the lower level was called the "under-rower." This was the most menial of positions.
This title came to be used of certain Roman officials who had been appointed to their position by a higher authority. We have a similar term when we speak of a "civil servant."
Do you see what Paul is saying? He says that he has no authority of his own. He is merely acting upon the authority of another. Jesus Christ is his authority. He is a servant for Christ.
Notice what Paul does not say. He does not say that he is a servant of the church or of the board of elders or of the people. He is the servant of Christ. This means that his primary responsibility is not to please people. A man who strives to please people is not being a faithful servant to Christ.
The word "steward" is
Within each wealthy home of the ancient world there was a steward. He was the chief slave, the head of all of the other slaves. His job was to see that the entire household ran smoothly. He was the manager of the household.
Joseph held such a position over the house of Potiphar. He was made the steward over Potipharís house and given command over all that Potiphar owned. This does not mean that the house now belonged to Joseph or that he was on an equal footing with Potiphar. He was still a slave. He did not make the laws, but he was given the authority to enforce them.
He was still a slave, but now he was a slave with a special task. Potiphar would lay down the laws of his house and Joseph would see to it that those wishes were carried out.
Similarly, Paul was a steward of the mysteries of God. We have already seen Paul refer to the mysteries of God in 1 Corinthians 2:7. There we saw that it pointed to the fact that the wisdom of God was hidden from the world, but revealed to Godís people. Now we see the means by which the mystery of God has been revealed.
It has been revealed through Godís stewards. Paul was a steward of the mysteries of God. It was his job to reveal those mysteries to Godís people.
This brings us to a question. What is the mystery of God? It is the cross. It is the message that God became flesh and died for sins to save men. This is the message that has so confounded the world. It is the message over which the Jew stumbled and which the Greek found to be foolishness.
Paul was a steward of the message of the cross. It is was his job to preach that message to others.
This tells me something about the job of a pastor. Its primary focus is to communicate the WORD OF GOD -- to teach it to others and to apply its truths to their lives. There are a great many other things that a pastor may be called upon to do, but at the center of his ministry ought to be the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
2. Requirement of a Servant: It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (4:2).
The most important quality of a steward is that he be trustworthy in carrying out his responsibilities. He has been entrusted with his masterís house and possessions. Unless he is faithful, he will bring them to ruin.
God requires the same thing of His stewards -- that they be found faithful. He does not require a high I.Q. He does not require that you be good-looking. He does not require creativity. He does not require popularity. He does not require eloquence. He requires one thing -- faithfulness.
What is faithfulness? It involves commitment. It involves committing yourself to carry out the job assigned to you, no matter what the cost.
It also involves perseverance. It demands that you keep on keeping on. It means that you donít turn back once you have begun.
God can require faithfulness of His stewards because He has first been faithful to us. He has been faithful in saving us. He is faithful in sustaining us. He is faithful in answering our prayers. He is faithful in protecting us. He is faithful in providing the means by which we can serve Him.
EVALUATING THE SERVANTS OF GOD
But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
The requirement of a servant is that he be found faithful. This is the standard by which he is to be evaluated. But how is such an evaluation to be carried out?
Should we check out the size of his ministry? Should we judge his faithfulness by listening to what other people say about him? Should we determine how popular he is?
Paul suggests that there are three possible methods of evaluation:
Only one of these methods is appropriate for a correct evaluation. Only what God says really counts.
The Corinthians had held a popularity contest. The object of this contest was to find out the best senior pastor for their church. Some chose Paul. Others chose Apollos or Cephas. But Paul was not upset that he might not have won a majority vote in this contest because he knew that it did not really matter how the Corinthians evaluated him. Their evaluation was not the one that mattered in the long run.
Paul was careful not to spend too much time focusing upon himself or on a self evaluation of his ministry. He was aware that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of spiritual introspection.
How many times have I fallen into this trap? Before I know it, I am trying to rank myself and compare myself to other Christians. Instead of focusing my attention upon myself, I need to focus my attention on the Lord.
This does not mean that I ignore the presence of sin in my life. Paul makes this clear when he says, "I am conscious of nothing against myself"(4:4). He had looked for sin in his life and was not aware of any serious deficiency. He had picked the two-by-fours out of his own eyes before looking for splinters in the eyes of others. He had checked out his own life and could see no major problems.
And yet, he knows that this is not necessarily a flawless evaluation. There is only one way that he and his ministry can be accurately evaluated. It is by the judgment of the Lord.
Godís evaluation is the only evaluation that counts. His examination is the only one that sees everything there is to be seen.
We see everything from a very limited perspective. You even look at your own life from a limited persepective. You cannot see what effect you life has had on others. You cannot see where your life is going.
But God can see your life in a single glance. He can see the entire scope of who you are. There is nothing that is hidden from Him. Even your most secret thoughts and motives are an open book to Him.
Because of the previous three truths, Paul gives the Corinthians an exhortation. It is expressed, first in negative terms and then in positive terms. He has said everything in this chapter to say this. Notice the flow of thought. It brings us to the conclusion presented in verse 5.
This is the first part of Paulís conclusion. He begins with what they should NOT do. The reason he tells them not to go on passing judgment is evidently because they WERE passing judgment.
The Corinthians were trying to hold their own judgment seat. But it was not yet time to do so. There will be a judgment, but it has not yet come. Paul warns against jumping the gun.
There is a serious message for us here. We ought not to try to pass judgment upon the motives of our Christian leaders. We have no basis upon which to judge them. We cannot see the whole picture. We have not been appointed as their judge.
Does this mean that we ought to ignore their sin or their false doctrine? I do not believe so. Rather, I think that it means I must realize that I do not have the full picture and that my judgment is going to be limited. It means that I cannot judge those things that are hidden. It means I cannot judge someoneís motives. Only the Lord can do that.
There is coming a day when all will be brought to light. The judgment of God will be a complete judgment. Nothing will be left out. Nothing will remain hidden.
Are you ready to meet that judgment? You might be able to fool me about your spiritual condition. You might learn all of the right things to say so that you sound very spiritual. You can fool me and you might even fool the rest of the church, and you might even manage to fool yourself. But you will never fool God.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
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