Evaluating the Servants
1 Corinthians 4:1-21
1This 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. 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
If you’re the member of a church for very long, you will inevitably run into personality conflicts and quite often, those conflicts circulate around the office of the pastor. In this chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul deals with those conflicts and opinions about the people called to lead in the church.
As I read through this chapter, five phrases leapt off the page regarding those who lead in the church.
- It is the Lord who judges me
- Not to go beyond what is written
- We are fools for Christ’s sake
- When reviled, we bless, when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat
- For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power
Each of these phrases contain power and instruction for how we are view those who God calls to service in the church. I have lived in situation where none of these words are heeded by the congregation and in a situation where all of them are embraced -- both in the same congregation. From the standpoint of the pastor’s wife, let me just say, the second is a far superior life.
Contemporary theologian Richard Hays has this to say about life in the church and how we view those called to serve the church:
Too often leaders in the church have mimicked the vacillating style of politicians who constantly have to take polls to find out what to say and do. The church, however, is not a democracy. Nor, he continues, is the pastor the congregation’s employee. The congregation must respect the pastor’s calling “and refrain from judging by worldly standards of success and respectability those who do the work of ministry.
R. Hays, First Corinthians, ©1997. (Page 65, 76, 77) John Knox Press.
As a people who are used to having our rights respected and our opinions heeded, these concepts are counter-cultural. When done correctly, the church pastor looks first and foremost to the Lord for guidance and direction. He is also willing to look foolish in the eyes of the world if that means following the will of God. There is no room for giving redress when offended and in fact, they are called upon to be difficult to offend. Now, with that said, I am also painfully aware of the fact that pastors are sinful, messy human beings who make mistakes and rely heavily upon the mercy and grace of God. And thus we struggle with life in the church. That being said, we are given this institution by God Himself, and as such, we do the best we can, both as clergy and as parishioners.
Finally we must all lean heavily into the grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ and see each other though His eyes. That is the only way we can survive life here on earth and life inside of His Church. Paul sets out the ideal, and we strive for it.