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Message # 15 | 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 | May 8, 2016

1 Corinthians 4:1–5 (ESV) 1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Fallen Condition Focus:  We seem to have two natural ways in which we deal with or think of our spiritual leaders, we either inappropriately (1) lift them or (2) condemn them . . . both resulting in division within the church family and a rebuke by God.

Purpose Statement:  Regard your church leaders as servants responsible for faithfully proclaiming God’s truths.

Message Outline

The Position of A Church Leader: Servant

1 Corinthians 4:1 (ESV) This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

First, church leaders are servants.

In similar fashion to so many of our English words that, overtime, move from one meaning to a slightly different meaning . . . the word used here, translated servant, originally referred to the rower/slave on the lower deck of trireme.[1]  It slowly developed, in meaning, to refer to a member of the crew and then to any sailor under the orders of a skipper.  Overtime it came to have a broader usage and referred to those who would serve civil and judicial administrators.  They would deliver summons and verdicts; they were official witnesses . . . which naturally leads into its usage in the passage in 1 Corinthians 4 . . . a servant who would be responsible for heralding the message of their administrator. [2]

It is probably fair to say that of all the words that are translated as servant, this word likely carries the lowliest of meanings.  Regardless of the nuance, whether it refers to a rower in the boat or the public announcer, either way the servant is a subordinate functioning under and accountable to a superior.

As you imagine a Church leader being compared to the rower in the bottom of a boat, do you now begin to see the silliness of arguing over which slave in the bottom of the ship was better or more valuable than the other.  You wouldn’t boast about which slave you wanted to be most like or which one you wanted to follow . . . they were all there to serve your purpose. . . . It seems that Paul is being a bit overly dramatic at this point (of course we don’t think anyone should be the slave at the bottom of the boat), but Paul wanted to offer a dramatic contrast to these Corinthian believers to how they had been viewing the different leaders in the church.  In essence, he tells them to stop.  You’ve been setting us up on these lofty pillars and you need to see us as lowly servants to the church.

Christ called Paul to this lowly position . . .

Acts 26:16–18 (ESV) 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV) 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

We see present in this passage (in both servant and steward) the concept of a public announcer, simply proclaiming the information given to them by their superior. A steward was an additional word that is translated servant.

Steward:  A steward was given responsibility to oversee the management and care of a precious commodity or important possession . . . finances, someone’s home, or someone’s possessions.

We will look, shortly, at what the steward is to be overseeing, but for now let’s just solidify the idea that ministers in the church are lowly servants that are responsible for accomplishing the purpose of their superior.

Secondly, their service is to Christ.

It is important that the elders and the church family realize that we are servants of Christ.  If we serve Christ, first and foremost, we will be the most beneficial to you.  If we serve you, first and foremost, we will fail as servants of Christ and we will not be as helpful to you.

You need us to serve Christ and not primarily serve what may appear to be your needs.

Macarthur:  A simple illustration of that would be you become so preoccupied with meeting the needs of people on an individual basis that you don’t study the word of God and then you don’t meet the needs of anybody.

And since I’m just a servant of Christ . . . what are my orders or responsibilities?  Proclaim the mysteries of God.

The Responsibility of A Church Leader: Proclaim God’s Truths

1 Corinthians 4:1 (ESV) This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

In this context, the church leader is to steward the precious commodity of . . . the mysteries of God.  To what might that be referring?

Ephesians 3:6-9 (ESV) This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. . . . 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Colossians 1:25-27 (ESV) . . . I became a minister . . . to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Romans 16:25–27 (ESV) 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Paul’s descriptions seem to indicate that the “mystery” that was hinted at, at times, in the Old Testament but completely revealed in the New Testament . . . is that God would offer salvation to all of mankind (not Jews, but as well Gentiles) and that this salvation would be through his Son, Jesus Christ.

In a broader sense, the “mystery” could refer to all of God’s Word.  Paul says in Colossians 1:25 that as a minister it is his goal to “make the word of God fully known.”

Therefore, the responsibility of a church minister is to read, learn, study, articulate, teach, proclaim all of God’s Word – especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Titus 1:9 (ESV)  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Acts 6:2–4 (ESV) 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

We’ve seen that a steward was given a responsibility by his superior . . . and for church ministers that responsibility is to serve the church by the distribution (teaching and proclaiming) of God’s Word. . . . But there is another implication . . . I only serve that which I’m told to serve . . .

Consider the analogy of a servant/steward at a restaurant . . . They don’t choose the meals.  They don’t look at the meal when it comes out from the head chef and determine that something needs to be added to it or taken away from it.  That’s not their responsibility.  They are supposed to pick up the plate and take it to the customer.  Their opinion on the quality of the food or the type of food that should be delivered is irrelevant . . . just deliver what your given. . . . In this analogy there is a slight modification.  At this restaurant, the customer doesn’t get to pick what they eat.  The only item on the menu is “chef’s choice.”  The chef chooses what’s best for you and he has the waiter serve it.

In similar fashion.  As a minister of the gospel, I don’t have the luxury of choosing what to preach.  My opinions don’t really matter.  I can’t choose to get rid of the parts I don’t like or add parts I would prefer.  My responsibility is not to try to make the truth more appealing.  I’m supposed to take God’s truth and deliver it to you unaltered.  And you, having chosen to be part of the Church, God has chosen what he desires for you to consume . . . that being His Word . . . and just like a parent may push a child to consume all the greens on their plate . . . God has told us that every part of Scripture is profitable for us.  There are no parts that we can choose to discard.

The Expectations Of A Church Leader: Faithful

Macarthur:  Ministers are generally ranked by the following criteria. The size of their church, the ability of their staff, the size of their staff, the style of their preaching, the degrees they’ve received academically, the books they have written, the particular scriptural emphasis that is associated with them, their popularity with people, their social status, etc., etc. And on this basis we all, I think, are tempted to rate and rank ministers.

Fee: What is sought in “stewards” is faithfulness, that they be trustworthy (in the true sense of the word: “worthy of the trust that has been placed in their care”).  Not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor “initiative,” nor “success” – our more standard requirements), but faithfulness to the trust, is what God requires of his servants.[3]

While the word translated trustworthy can refer to people of faith, full of faith, or belief . . . in this instance it carries the idea of reliable.  In one sense, a very simple and clear responsibility has been given to ministers in the church – proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God desires that those ministers are reliable in accomplishing that goal.

Trustworthy . . . pisto,j . . . (1) active; (a) of persons trusting, believing, full of faith, confiding (JN 20.27); (b) absolutely, as an adjective believing (in Christ) (AC 16.1); as a substantive believer (2C 6.15);  (2) passive; (a) of persons trustworthy, faithful, dependable (CO 4.7), opposite a;dikoj (dishonest); (b) of God trustworthy, faithful (HE 10.23); (c) of things, especially of what one says sure, reliable, trustworthy (1T 1.15)[4]

The Accountability of A Church Leader: Christ Will Judge

To who then are we held accountable?  In the next three verses we are told who has the right to judge.  Before jumping into who has the right to judge, let’s first establish the two ways in which the word judge must be understood.

(1)  assessment, making a personal evaluation or examining.  This is a necessary and appropriate form of judgment.  In fact, we are required to assess our church leaders (and one another).  The qualifications of which we are to assess are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

1 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV) 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Titus 1:5–9 (ESV) 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

(2) The second form of judgement carries the idea of condemnation, passing judgment, or criticizing.  This is the judgment of which Paul is referring in this passage and the one he is both denouncing and ignoring.  He admits that it’s not appropriate to do, and he acknowledges that when it happens he has little to no regard for it.

Now then, in what areas does Paul acknowledge he’s not concerned with judgment?

(1)  Paul is not concerned with any person (informally) judging/condemning him.  Paul acknowledges that the judgments of men are quite fickle.

2 Corinthians 6:8–10 (ESV) 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

(2)  Paul is not concerned with any day set on which he might be formally condemned by a human court of some kind.  The ESV translates this phrase as “I should not be judged by any human court.”  The last phrase, literally translated, could be “I should not be judged . . . by a human day.”  In some sense, Paul is likely connecting the future “Day of the Lord” with earthly human efforts to accomplish the same goal.  Men can often set up informal and formal days of judgment.  Paul places no merit in those moments.

(3)  Paul doesn’t even weigh his own judgment of himself as having any significance.  He is not aware of anything of which he might be condemned (no hidden, unrepentant secrets) . . . but even his own conscience is irrelevant in this discussion . . . for a number or reasons . . . our hearts and minds can so easily deceive us . . .  and, our personal righteousness or the value of our ministry is in no way dependent on our personal assessment.

Instead . . . God is the judge of all things.  He will bring to light the things that were done in secret and he will reveal the motives of our hearts . . . in a day to be established in the future

Therefore . . . don’t take it upon yourself to judge or condemn the spiritual leaders in your lives.  That is not a role any of us have for one another.



[1]trireme (derived from Latin: triremis “with three banks of oars;” Ancient Greek: τριήρης triērēs, literally “three-rower”) was an ancient vessel and a type of galley that was used by the ancient maritime civilizations of the Mediterranean, especially the Phoenicians, ancient Greeks and Romans.

[2] Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 398–402.  This paragraph is not a quote, but a summary of the lexical information.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 160.

[4] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament.

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