(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

In the previous passage Paul told the Corinthians: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas. 1Cor3v22. Now if the church members at Corinth took this to mean that Paul belonged to them this could give rise to misconceptions. Why, then, didn't he do as the church wanted? Why didn't he teach with more eloquence and use some of the techniques perfected by Greek philosophers to explain the gospel? Paul realised that he needed to qualify what he had written about himself, Apollos and Cephas.

(B) The role of a Christian leader.

(1) He serves the church
Paul has already made this clear in the preceding chapter. Paul, Apollos and Cephas all served the church at Corinth. We do well to remember what Jesus said to his disciples after he washed their feet: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John13v14and15.

No-one should hold office in the church for the status in confers, for the power it gives, to show off or to make money. Christian leaders, in particular, are pastors. It is their duty to care for and nurture the flock. Jesus' instruction to Peter was very clear, "Feed my sheep." John21v17. Paul's advice should be graven on the heart of every pastor: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil2v3and4.

(2) He is a servant of Christ.
Paul wrote: So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ. 1Cor4v1.

The church is not the leader's master. No fellowship of believers can say, "We pay this man's wages - he must do as we wish." Some Christians have this attitude. They expect their minister to adopt a form of worship, a version of the Bible and a style of preaching of their choice. I think it is wrong, too, for a church to insist that a pastor represent their views at a denominational business meeting or forum. It is possible for the opinions of church members to be out of line with the revealed will of Christ. If I was discussing the doctrinal basis of fellowship of the association of churches to which my church belongs I would have to oppose the belief that eternal punishment of the wicked involves everlasting misery, regardless of the convictions of the members of my church, because I am convinced that that is not what Jesus taught. See section on Hell in Article on Afterlife.

Christ is our Master. The first allegiance of all Christians, including leaders, is to Jesus. We have to do what Jesus wants even if this conflicts with the majority opinion of those in our fellowship of believers. It is vital that church members recognise that their leaders are special servants of Christ and as such set apart and to be respected.

(3) He is a steward of the secret things (mysteries) of God.
As I have indicated above, every Christian is a servant of Jesus. Paul identifies the special status of the leader by referring to them as stewards of the secret things of God.

(a) What was a household steward? Joseph was the Egyptian Potiphar's steward. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Gen39v4. Joseph was a slave - a slave amongst slaves, but he also had a unique relationship with the master of the household. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Gen39v3and4.

Potiphar made his will known to Joseph who then ensured that it was carried out by the other slaves in the household. The steward was both under authority and in authority. He did his master's will but at the same time saw to it that each and every household servant did the same.

It is highly significant that Joseph valued highly Potiphar's confidence in him - he left in Joseph's care everything he had. v6. So when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, Joseph said of his master, "Everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No-one is greater in this house than I am. .... How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" v9. We should count it a great privilege if we have been entrusted with the care of souls by the Master.

(b) Application to a Christian Minister. The Christian leader is a steward of the mysteries of God. This means he learns from Scripture and the Holy Spirit the revealed will of God and then makes this plain to all those in his charge and does all in his power to ensure it is carried out. A pastor tells his flock, and individual sheep, what God wants. His task is to help believers to conform to the mind of Christ.

What should an elder or pastor continually remind the church of? Here are five matters that cannot be emphasised enough:

    (I) The sinner's utter dependence upon Jesus for salvation. In the words of Peter: "Salvation is found in no-one else, there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts4v12. If we want to be more than failed humans, fit only for the rubbish dump, we must ask Jesus to save us.

    (II) The absolute necessity of obedience to Jesus. Christ's cautionary words should be ever before us: "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." Mt7v26and27.

    Jesus expects us to love one another, to be generous, helpful, forgiving, encouraging and considerate - to give advice, to correct and help others to succeed.

    (III) The importance of prayer. Paul's letters contain many references to prayer. To the Ephesians he wrote: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With all this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me...... . Eph6v19and20.

    (IV) The need for constancy under discipline and in affliction. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. Heb12v7.

    (V) The Christians hope of an eternal reward. The assurance of receiving a crown of righteousness in the Last Day was an enormous consolation to Paul. A belief in the promises of Christ was the sure ground for many of his exhortations: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1Cor15v58. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal6v9.

(C) The prime requirement of a Christian leader/worker.

What would you say was the crucial qualification for a servant of Christ? Someone likeable? Someone you can identify with? Someone eloquent? Someone you can be proud of and boast about? Someone who makes a fuss of you? A good and sympathetic listener?

The prime requirement is faithfulness. Paul wrote: Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. v2. A servant of Jesus Christ should be faithful:

(1) To his wishes.
An elder or pastor must be capable of carrying out the Christ's wishes competently. There is no doubt that Joseph was a very efficient and capable steward, so much so that Potiphar left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Gen39v6.

In the parable of the talents the Master commended the servants who made the most of the opportunities they were given to profit him; "Well done, good and faithful servant," (Mt25v21) he said to each of them. We should not overlook the 'good'. The servants who pleased the Master had different levels of ability but each showed some expertise. It is better to cook well for the Lord than to preach badly for him! It would be wrong to ignore the fact that Paul supported the missionary team in Corinth with his needle.

(2) In undertaking the work of the Lord.
In other words Christ's servants should work hard and cheerfully. It is impossible to make the most of our opportunities for service without making an effort. The servant in the parable of the talents was condemned, not for being of limited ability, which he was, but for burying his talent in the ground and doing nothing.

(3)Regardless of circumstances.
Joseph was faithful to Potiphar in temptation. He refused to go to bed with Potiphar's wife. And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her. Gen39v10. He did not betray Potiphar's trust.

Many of Christ's servants succumb to temptation. Some serve in success but not in failure, in encouragement but not in discouragement, in prosperity but not in want, in times of ease but not in times of persecution. The stewards of the household of God are not guaranteed success. The prophet Jeremiah brought the word of the Lord to the Israelites in spite of being rejected, ridiculed, imprisoned, thrown into a cistern and exiled in Egypt. Jeremiah remained faithful to God and kept telling the Jews what they did not want to hear however adverse the circumstances. The apostle Paul wrote these moving words to Timothy: At my first defence, no-one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might by fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. 2Tim4v17.

In many rural churches in Britain these are days of small things. Very few are converted and church attendance inexorably declines. The Christian voice is weak in the land and the forces of evil grow stronger and stronger. It is desperately easy to become terribly dispirited and to give up. In such a pass faithfulness is the quality needed more than any other.

(4) To the end.
Jesus said, "No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God." Luke9v62.

For the servant of Christ there is no looking back, no turning back and no giving up. The Christian never retires from service! We may have to change the work we do as our powers wane but we cannot lay down our arms and resign our commission. For many years I worked with young people. I no longer feel equipped for the task but the Lord has found other jobs for me to do. The words of Paul to the Philippians should be the objective of every follower of Jesus: But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards. Phil3v13and14.

(D) Who assesses the Christian minister?

Paul identifies three possibilities:

(1) Our fellow Christians.
Paul wrote: I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. v3.

(a) Was this true? Didn't Paul care what the Corinthians thought of him? I think Paul was concerned because later in the chapter, and elsewhere in his two epistles to Corinth, he defends himself. Why bother to defend your reputation if you don't care?

(b) Is it true that it doesn't matter what others think of us? There are two reasons why it does matter:

    (I) No-one can lead if they are rejected and lack authority. During my first six years as a Geography teacher at the King Edward VI Grammar School I was respected by the pupils. This meant I was able to teach the boys effectively and they achieved excellent results. Later in life I taught for 4 months on a temporary contract at a turbulent comprehensive school in Haverhill. I struggled during my short time there to establish some authority. Children misbehaved, my teaching suffered and the pupils learned very little.

    Now it is the same in church life. A pastor will find it difficult to care for a flock that reject his leadership and want to go their own way. Elders who are not given authority in a fellowship are unable to exert discipline. It is by no means always the fault of the leadership when anarchy breaks out in a church. There was near anarchy amongst the Corinthians - it wasn't Paul's fault!

    (II) Christian workers need the approval of their churches. A few weeks ago my friend Tommy Bamber and I were entertaining a friend from Japan. We took Shiho sightseeing in Suffolk and ended up at Framlingham Castle. The girl in the payment booth was one of my former pupils. Madeleine was pleased to see me! My friend Tommy began to commiserate with her: "You poor thing - fancy having the crazy Mr Reed as your teacher. How did you put up with him." And much more of the same! So I looked at Madeleine and said, "You tell him." This was taking a risk - there was so much she could have said! Madeleine sniffed and said, "Mr Reed was brilliant." She turned to Tommy and said, "Mr Reed can go in free, but you can pay!" Now I have to say this made me happy for days!

    To be approved and appreciated does make us very happy. Love and respect give a Christian leader confidence, freedom, power and an enthusiasm for service. Paul was brimming over with joy for the church at Philippi who were so concerned for him and thankful for his wonderful ministry. I am sure the Philippians saw Paul at his best.

    We were made for God's approval. That is why we need to be appreciated. One day if we serve with honour God will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. ..... Come and share your master's happiness!" Mt25v23.

(c) So why does Paul say what he does with possibly just a hint of bitterness?

    (I) Humans are very prone to make misjudgements. Men and women have planks in their eyes - the planks of ignorance, bias, prejudice and self-love. Let us suppose I was asked to speak in Bury Cathedral. Imagine the reactions! Miss Ignorance asks, "Who is he??" Mr Prejudice whispers to his neighbour with some distaste, "He's a Baptist isn't he." Old Mrs Bias, who is very respectable and refined, mutters, "What a nasty little man - so blunt, brusque and vulgar." Well-groomed Mr Self-love whispers to his wife, "He's making me feel uncomfortable. I shan't hear him again."

    (II) No human, no mortal man, is our master. The household steward was not accountable to the other slaves. In the final analysis he was accountable only to the master of the household. This is why Paul writes: It is the Lord who judges me. v4.

(2) Our own conscience.
Paul wrote: I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. v4.

(a) Once again I do not think this is completely true. Paul did assess his ministry - See 1Cor4v10to13 and 2Cor11. In his two epistles to the Corinthians he does write at length about himself and in particular all he suffered for Christ's sake.

(b) Paul cannot resist pointing out to the Corinthians that his conscience was clear! He didn't have a clear conscience because he was perfect but because he had been a faithful steward.

If I look back on my career as a schoolteacher I have a clear conscience as far as commitment and dedication go. I worked hard for my pupils and was true to me subject. I was a seriously flawed teacher because of imperfections of temperament, disposition and character and sadly this may have impaired the learning of some pupils.

When I bother to look back on my preaching ministry I have a fairly clear conscience. I have preached the truth without fear or favour! I have prepared my messages carefully. My weaknesses reside in my personality and temperament.

On the whole it is good to have a clear conscience!

(c) However, Paul is right to say that a clear conscience doesn't make us innocent. Self judgment is unreliable for four reasons:

    (I) We can overestimate how hard we work. I can recall asking some of my pupils who did badly in a Geography exam if they revised. Often I would get the reply, "Yes, Mr Reed I worked really hard. I did two hours revision." Two hours revision! The self-satisfied pupil had barely started!

    I certainly spend a long time preparing sermons but far less time praying about them. So I may well over estimate my dedication!

    (II) We are inclined to be undiscriminating about our motives for Christian service. Why do I preach? Perhaps, I just enjoy public speaking. Perhaps, I love an audience - it is an ego trip to have lots of people hanging on my every word. But then I don't really care about other forms of public speaking and I usually only address very small numbers. Why do I visit the elderly? Is it to acquire a good reputation in my church? Is it because the old ladies make such a fuss of me? Or is it because I am trying to do unto other as I would be done by? It is very hard to unravel our motives.

    (III) Some Christians endure greater hardship than others. I reckon to preach the truth fearlessly but how would it be if I was going to be persecuted for it? Some pastors are very popular. They have attractive personalities. Other leaders are not very popular and have to serve small and dwindling congregations. It is harder for the latter to maintain their enthusiasm. It is also true that some churches, like schools, are easier than others. A fellowship containing an awkward squad is going to test any pastor to the limits of his endurance. Consider what Moses said to God when the Israelites complained about their diet in the wilderness: "What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? ... I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me." Numbers11v10to15.

    (IV) We still have not persevered to the end. Some of us have a long way to go before the journey is over. The words of Ahab king of Israel to Ben-Hadad king of Aram are true: "One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off." 1Kings20v11.

(3) The Lord.
Paul concludes: It is the Lord who judges me.

It is true that Christ's judgment is the only one that really matters in the end because:

(a) He is the one we serve and for whom we work. Jesus is our Lord and Master. We are accountable to him.

(b) He knows what we do in secret - the prayers we utter, the tears we shed and the internal struggles we go through. He, also, is able to ascertain the purity of our motives. This matters so much: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Mt5v8. See exposition on Mt5v8.

(c) He is the only one in a position to reward us when this life ends. At that time each will receive his praise from God. v5. The approval of Jesus at his second coming will be our reward. The happiness conferred by his commendation will neither fade nor end.

We shall move:

          Out of the shadow-land, weary and changeful,
          Out of the valley of sorrow and night,
          Into the rest of the life everlasting,
          Into the summer of endless delight.

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