I Corinthians 4: Christian Ministry
In last week’s lesson in I Cor. 3, Paul presented three pictures of the church: the family of God; the field of God, in which we are co-laborers; and the building of God, of which we are building upon the foundation which Jesus Christ has laid with materials which will be tested by fire.
In this week’s lesson in I Cor. 4, Paul presents three pictures of the minister of the local church and of Christian ministries we all should be involve in:
- A steward or servant.
- A spectacle.
- A father.
Remember what is going on in the church in Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing to them. There are divisions over leadership. Some following: Paul, others Apollos or Peter and some Jesus Christ. To which Paul asked the rhetorical question: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
So Paul sets out to explain to the church at Corinth and to us at West Jackson, the characteristics of a true minister and ministry of Jesus Christ.
- The Steward or servant. True ministers are servants to whom the secret things of God have been entrusted. A steward is a servant who manages everything for his master, but owns nothing for himself. Joseph, who was sold as a slave to Potiphar, ended up as his chief steward. Let’s consider Joseph’s story for within his story, is the picture of a steward. Genesis 39:2-6: “The Lord was with Joseph”, here is the first key: The awareness of the Lord’s presence energizes us to do our best at whatever we do to His Glory, just as it did with Joseph. “…and he (Joseph) was a successful man…” Joseph was a successful man and yet, he owned nothing. Everything he had was given to him by his master, Potiphar- his clothes, his food; all his material needs were met. Do you see God supplied all his needs? The story tells us in Genesis 39, that Potiphar saw that the Lord was with Joseph and the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. Potiphar saw the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life. We are told in the story, Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s sight and Potiphar put all that he had under Joseph’s authority. As a result, God blessed Potiphar in return. Do you see what kind of person God calls ‘successful’? A servant. A servant is one who owns nothing. Think about it- Joseph lived well, ate well, and was well-dressed. All of his material needs were met. Jesus said why you worry about what you will eat or drink or the clothes you will wear. Most of us assume we are the ones in charge of our lives, we are in control. Guess what this creates? Most of our anxieties come from the fact we are trying to control and manage our lives and usually the lives of some others we love. Jesus looks upon us as we stagger under the burdens we carry and says with arms open wide: “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” ( Matthew 11) Peter tells us to cast our cares upon Him, who cares for us. If you perform your tasks by doing all you can with all you have to His glory, God will cause you to find favor in the eyes of those you work for, and as a result the Lord will cause others to bless you. Acknowledge God in every area of your work and life. Joseph probably started out in one of the lowest positions as a house servant. After all , he did not know the language or the customs, but he was faithful to do all that he could with all that he had and the Lord blessed him who was faithful in a little by giving him more. Now we know the story of Joseph, Mrs. Potiphar was attracted to him, and she was after this young handsome servant day and night. She blatantly and openly asks Joseph, ‘come and lie with me.’
Joseph refused her advances for two reasons: one he could not do this to his master, Potiphar; and secondly and most importantly, this wickedness was a sin against God, His Lord and Master.
If the church is the family of God, then we are like Joseph, each of us are servants in the household of faith. The ministers are stewards who share God’s wealth with the family. This includes not only ministers, teachers and deacons, this includes each of us. We are all servants of God in His Household of Faith. There are faithful servants working this day in the nursery, teaching children in Sunday School, providing security, and greeting guests. We are each gifted and equipped for the work of the ministry- serving others. So as a steward, our main goal is to be faithful to our Master.
Now here is an unpleasant fact: the more visible the servant’s role, the more others will judge their performance and effectiveness. Pastors are measured by baptisms, building and budgets. The preacher is always being judged for his performance, the delivery and effectiveness of his preaching. Yet Paul said, Christ sent him to preach the Gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (I Cor. 1:17)
We usually cannot help it; we are prone to judge ourselves. I know when I teach or lecture to a group, I judge myself as to whether it had been effective. I have to be careful of pride when I have had a time before a group which has been well received or when I ‘ feel’ it has not been as good as I would have liked for it to be, to ‘ feel’ sorry for myself. I try always to do my best, making sure I am properly prepared. But I also realize, I cannot control how another person responds. I am only responsible for emptying my cup, not filling yours. I am responsible to be faithful to what God has taught me and to do it to the best of my ability.
There will be those who will judge you. They will judge you in various roles: as a parent, as a financial success, as a church member. We are often quick to judge a person on outward appearance, on their grammar, and on many outward visible things. Yet God looks upon the heart, not the outward appearance. If you do not know this by now, there will always be somebody criticizing someone, including you, on many different things they perceive. Charles Swindoll tells of teaching for several days at a meeting and could not help but notice a man and his wife who arrived early each day to get a seat up close to the front. But every day, within 15 minutes, the man was sound asleep, with head bobbing or slumped against his wife’s shoulder. He came to really be bugged by this guy and why he would not stay awake or at least not show up, if all he was going to do was take a nap while he preached and taught his heart out. On the last day, there they stood in line to buy one of his books and get is personally signed. Rip Van Winkle standing next to his wife, smiling at him. His wife spoke first to Chuck and told him: ‘My husband loves you and your ministry. He has used your books for years as a Sunday school teacher. He is in the terminal stages of cancer, but wanted to come hear you. Unfortunately, his meds for pain make it impossible for him to stay awake very long. But he knew this would be the only opportunity to hear you in person.’ Chuck Swindoll was cut to the heart for his critical spirit, not knowing the truth about this man. And this verse came to his mind: “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
So the most important judgment is the judgment of God. If you are saved, your works will be judged, for motive. This will be the basis for rewards. If it was to make you look good to others, I am pretty sure it will burn up. If it was to glorify the Master, you will be rewarded. So when we judge others, we are ‘playing God’. In addition we usually measure others by our own standards, not the standard as given to us in the Word of God.
A steward must be faithful to obey and teach the Word of God.
- The Spectacle. Paul called himself and other apostles, “a spectacle unto the world.” The English word- theater actually comes from the Greek word for ‘spectacle.’ Consider what Paul is saying in verse 7: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? “Did you get that? It is like a person who asks his or her friend to pray that they would stay humble. And the friend says ‘tell me what you have to be proud about? ‘ John the Baptist was having a tremendous ministry, as huge crowds were coming out to hear him and be baptized. Any pastor of any church would be thrilled to experience such a response to their preaching and ministry. Yet John the Baptist knew the source of this spectacle: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. He, Christ, must increase, I must decrease.” Paul says I have become a fool for Christ’s sake. Paul was considered a fool by the Jewish leaders and standards of men, for giving up his position of power as Jewish rabbi, who was on a fast track to be leader – perhaps even Chief Priest. Today there are many who think they are wise in the ways of the world but fools in the sight of God.
Paul gloried and prided himself on his accomplishments as Saul of Tarsus. He had many strengths according to the world’s wisdom. Blessed with great intellect, an accomplished Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews, having also a coveted Roman citizenship, -Saul of Tarsus would have been considered by the world as having many strengths which would be considered assets. But he learned they were liabilities. His strengths were actually a liability. It was through a painful thorn in his flesh Paul learned Christ’s grace is all the sufficiency he needs and that Christ’s strength is made perfect in his weakness. From that day forward, Paul rejoiced in his weakness.
The time is coming and is already here, when we proclaim the Word of God as truth, inspired and infallible, we will be ridiculed and persecuted. We are at this point in time in the culture in this country. Our society, our culture has come to despise the laws of God and shake their fists at Him. They not only continue to commit those sins which God condemns, they approve of those who commit them and celebrate the very acts which God calls sin. Laws have been passed by man which say these sins are not sins, but are commendable, acceptable, honorable, and to be celebrated. And the highest office in the land, celebrated their passage by using a sign of God’s covenant, a rainbow which was shined on the White House. The same White House which in the 1990’s unanimously passed a Protection of Marriage Act, as between a man and a woman. It is my observation- the enemy has been emboldened like no time in our lives.
- The Father. God, the Father is the one who created family. It is the oldest institution in history. Marriage between a man and a woman. With the explicit purpose of ruling and reigning with Him, under His authority, with the instructions to be fruitful and multiply. Paul compared himself and the other ministers to ‘fathers ‘as he refers to the believers at Corinth as ‘my dear children.’ He says I became your father through the gospel. Paul says as children they are to imitate him. This is actually the way children learn. First they learn by imitation, by example. So there must always be these two fold roles the parents must play: an example and an instructor. ‘Instruct a child in the way he is to go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’
God does not have one standard for one church and a different standard for another It is one faith, one baptism, one Lord.
If we substitute man’s wisdom for God’s wisdom when it comes to the gospel of to doctrine, we will have problems and divisions in the church.
A father is also faithful to discipline the family. Paul says, shall I come with a whip or in love with a gentle spirit? Remember whom the Lord loves, He chastens. (Hebrews 12)
The key is are you trained by His chastening? Or do you grow stiff-necked and think God too harsh?
When Paul says, will I have to come with a whip or can I come in the gentle spirit of gentleness? Paul is praying they will heed the counsel which he is writing to them. Then he can come in a spirit of gentleness. But if they do not, Paul is saying, I will come with a whip. If you will not correct your faults yourself, I will use the rod of correction.
I am not sure how Paul felt about this letter. I know we would all rather avoid confrontation and would like to think we can reason with people and they will see the error their ways and repent. Paul even wrote to them and us, saying “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you.” * The great teachers do not attempt to intimidate, embarrass or shame you at the blackboard when you cannot work the math problem. They want to teach you, so that you might learn what will help you in life and in decision making. Jesus said ‘take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11)
Yet this same gentle carpenter picked up a whip and turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple with righteous anger, not once, but twice he did this. God our Father takes no joy in the death of the wicked, He is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance. Like Paul who imitates God, he wants us to heed his counsel, to reason us so we will repent, but if we do not respond to the rebuke, God will resort to chastening and even scourging, sometimes unto death.
Parents never relish spanking a child. It is not easy to be a parent. It is not easy to be a minister who each Sunday faces hundreds of people who want to be encouraged and enlightened with a little bit of entertainment thrown in and then to have to tell them what is wrong with them and what they must do.
Yet a parent knows they cannot let children do as they wish.
So in this week’s lesson we see what not only our ministers are to be- but what we who each have our own ministry are to be like:
Joseph- a picture of a steward.
John the Baptist- a picture of one who became a spectacle. And in doing so, paved the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus. His ministry attracted great crowds, but he quickly passed from the scene, imprisoned and finally beheaded. And of course there is Jesus, the Son of God, who humbled Himself even unto death. Pride? What do any of us have to be proud of- if everything we have is a gift from our Creator?
Paul a father in the faith, in that he assisted in the new birth which comes for the power of the undiluted gospel. And as father became both an example to be imitated and an instructor- to instruct the children in the way they are to go. To grow up. To bear fruit. To make disciples. Plus we will see in the coming chapters of this letter, Paul will use discipline when discipline is called for, while first reasoning with those who are wrong to see the error of their ways, and repent.
Are we fearful to call sin- sin? Are we fearful to speak to the truth in love? As stewards, we have but one task -to do the will of the master. And when we do, our Master will give us success and the world will sense that the Lord is with us.
Imagine what would happen if we truly had the spirit and attitude of a steward? Completely dependent upon our Master who we served faithfully to supply all our needs.
As a child, I do not know what your home was like, but I know I never went to bed as a child worried about food, clothing and shelter. I never doubted we would not have our needs met. Why? Because I trusted my father and mother to provide us with those things. I did not deserve them. I did nothing to earn them. I was not even always appreciative or obedient. Yet they modeled for me what my Heavenly Father is like.
“What then shall we say in response to all this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8.