Thursday, July 10, 2014

FOUND FAITHFUL (1 Corinthians Chapter 4)

1 Corinthians 4:1, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

How are we to evaluate one’s success in ministry?  What criteria should we use?  From man’s perspective we might consider a person’s number of followers or the size of their church budget (i.e. “nickels and noses”).  Some might cite a man’s influence by way of degrees garnered, souls saved, or books written.  But what does God look for?  What constitutes “success” in ministry from His perspective?

The church in Corinth was characterized by a spirit of partisanship.  The church was prone, in a spirit of “jealousy and strife” (1 Corinthians 3:3), to the elevating of men and dividing amongst themselves according to which particular leader they followed.  Given their fleshly ways, they were no doubt spiritually ill-equipped to properly esteem the leader’s role before God.  Paul repeatedly addressed their error (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-7).  Indeed, much of this chapter is devoted to the correction of that specific problem.

A part of the answer to this problem (i.e. a spirit of partisanship) is rightly esteeming the relationship of the leader to Christ and his limitations with respect to the role he has been given.  Paul used two terms in addressing this. He identified himself to be a “servant” with respect to Christ.  The term “servant” translates the Greek huperetes which was used in that day of an “under rower.”  An under rower was a galley slave who served in the lowest level on board ship.  He was subjected to the hardest labor, cruelest punishment, and least appreciation of all the slaves on board.  The term later evolved in use to refer to “any subordinate acting under another’s direction” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  That’s the term Paul used of himself in expressing his relationship to Christ.  It also spoke of the manner in which he wanted his readers to regard both himself and Apollos.  He could have thought and responded otherwise.  He could have pridefully asserted his ministry credentials—in which he was unrivaled--and elevated himself above his peers.  But he understood who he was—he was but a servant doing the bidding of his Master.  We are all, regardless of our unique positions or ministries, servants of the same Master (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:22b).

He was a “steward” of the mysteries of God.  The term “steward” translates a Greek term that literally means “house manager.”  A steward’s role was to manage the household or property of his master.  A steward bears the responsibility of overseeing that which has been put in his care.  He is not the owner and has no authority or right to step outside the bounds of his assigned responsibilities, his job is to do that which he has been given to do.  In this case Paul referred to himself and Apollos as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).  They were responsible for proclaiming the truth that had been revealed to them (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1-3).  That is a responsibility borne by every minister of the gospel (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

A steward is successful to the extent that he is found faithful in discharging his responsibility.  This is the standard which God uses in measuring a person’s “success.”  The same term is used in the parable of the talents in expressing the Master’s response to the servant for his wise use of this gifts and responsibility (Cf. Matthew 25:20-23). 

James R. Sizoo once wrote, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence.  The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages.  A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.  It is what the unimportant people do that really counts and determines the course of history.  The greatest forces in the universe are never spectacular.  Summer showers are more effective than hurricanes, but they get no publicity.  The world would soon die but for the fidelity, loyalty, and consecration of those whose names are unhonored and unsung.” 

As a servant of Christ your name might remain “unhonored and unsung” before men, but it is God’s perspective that matters (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6).  He deems faithfulness to be praiseworthy. 

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