Serving Responsibility

The Bible lesson this week is from 1 Cor. 4. The student quarterly goes through the first 13 verses, but I'm going to include the whole chapter because I think 14-21 ties in to the first section of the quarterly studies. This lesson is titled "Serving Responsibly". Its themes are accountability and what it means to live the life of an apostle.

Accountability

Let's read 1 Cor. 4:1-5 and 1 Cor. 4:14-21 to start off the day. In this first passage, Paul points out five fundamental truths:

  • The leaders of the Christian church, Paul included, were ministers of Christ whom God had entrusted with the mysteries of God. They were required to be faithful to those truths as stewards. Discuss the role of stewards... (Stewards were the heads of the household and managed the property of the master. They were responsible directly to and only to the master. What they said went, in his absence.)
  • Paul didn't care what the Corinthian church thought about him (or what he thought about himself). He didn't justify himself by other people's opinions, or his own opinion of himself. The only Judge he cared about was Christ. The teacher's quarterly makes a good point. "He understood that the power of self-deception is virtually unlimited. People who are convinced they are right can justify anything."
  • Making judgments at this point in time is futile. We need to let Christ judge at and after the rapture when all of the motives and hearts of man will be illuminated by His light (both good and bad) and he will pronounce judgment based on all the facts.
  • We (like the Corinthian church) can have many instructors, but in Paul's time each church had a planter. That planter had to be fully grounded in Christ and no other. He had to be sure that only Christ's gospel was planted to start the church. Church planting occurs in many places around the world today. In the U.S., I'm not sure there is as much going on. Most communities have many denominations represented or a representative church within driving distance. How was your church planted? Was it planted by a Paul-like individual who got the church off on the right track and still monitors its progress? Many denominations move ministers around a lot. While I'm sure that many ministers remember most churches they have been in and continue to pray as the Spirit leads them for previous places they have been pastors, time is short and the current congregation is frequently the main focus. All denominations need to find more like Paul who are interested in making certain their fledgling churches prosper and stay on the right path.
  • Paul was living his life so that if people followed him, they would be living just as if they were following Christ directly. He could safely say that if they followed and did as he instructed, they would be approved of the Father. I wish I could say that I lived up to Paul's standards, let alone Christ's. Sadly, I still have more work to do. Where are the church leader's hearts at today? Are they doing Christ's business? If we follow them and do what they do, would that still be enough? If any church leader is reading this, that is Christ's challenge to you today. Get back to being an imitator of Christ!

Today, the number of ministers of the Gospel has multiplied a million fold over Paul's time. Yet the words Paul spoke are still true today. The ministers are similarly entrusted with the mysteries of the gospel. What were the mysteries he was speaking of. I will quote from Dake in answering this.

Gr. musterion, something previously hidden, but now fully revealed. In the N.T. it always means any doctrine that has not, in former times, been made fully known to man. It is found 27 times in the N.T. and not once in the O.T.

18 mysteries of Scripture

  1. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God (Mt. 13:11; Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10)
  2. Israel's blindness (Rom. 11:25)
  3. Salvation in Christ (Rom. 16:25)
  4. The wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:7)
  5. The doctrines of God (1 Cor. 4:1; Col. 2:2; 1 Tim. 3:16)
  6. The gospel (Eph. 6:19)
  7. Gift of knowledge (1 Cor. 13:2)
  8. Speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:2)
  9. The rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:23, 51-58; Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Th. 4:13-16)
  10. God's will (Eph. 1:9)
  11. The church (Eph. 3:1-9; 5:32)
  12. Christ in men (Col. 1:26-27)
  13. Doctrines of Christ (Col. 4:3)
  14. Spirit of lawlessness (2 Th. 2:7)
  15. Faith of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:9)
  16. Seven candlesticks (Rev. 1:20)
  17. God's delay in casting out of Satan (Rev. 10:7, 12:7-17)
  18. Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17:5, 7)

One of the problems today is that too many of us are only interested in what other people think about us. If we have the support of our peers, then everything we are doing must be OK. Ministers have been entrusted with the doctrines of God, the doctrines of Christ, and a knowledge of God's will and wisdom. They shouldn't be worried about what other people think of them. The only judge they should be worrying about is God. The same is true for us. We spend way too much energy worrying about what others will think about us. We need to be more concerned about what God is going to think about us.

Yet each pastor prepares each week's sermon, worrying about who he might offend if he says something, who might be hurt, who might leave the church, whether or not if he addresses an issue he will have a job, if he loses his job, how he will support his family, et cetera. It is hard to balance the pressures of life against what God is calling on you to do. That is one reason that Paul suggested that it was better to not be married if you were going to be in the ministry. It made it easier to preach the truth and if it wasn't received, then you didn't have to worry about your wife or family.

It is important that we have some oversight at each level of ministry to be sure that the people who are filling the roles are as close to Paul's example as possible. They need to be people who are following or imitating Christ. Others can then follow their examples without falling into error. But beyond that, they do need latitude in their operations and works because we will never know all of what Christ has commanded them to do (or all of Christ's reasons for having them do it in the first place).

The most important thing is letting the Holy Spirit be the seminary's (or equivalent) guide in the selection of candidates for Pastor and the guide of the leaders of the church in selecting ministers to fill other higher level positions in the church. He will guide in the proper choices. If the right people are selected to start with, then God can help to keep them doing right along the way. If people who are not suited to ministry are selected anyway, then there will be problems that will never be solved by the church. The wrong tool for the right job never gets the job done very well.

How do we judge ministers then? Paul's criterion is that we don't judge by the words people say. How many ministers are chosen to fill a particular position simply by how well their words sounded when they preached an example sermon or by the words they spoke as they interviewed for the position?

Paul declares that the kingdom of God is not judged by the colorful and flowery words that people say. It is not judged by how much they seem to know. It is judged by the power present in their ministry. This not the earthly power that their position may come with. The pope, by virtue of his office, wields tremendous earthly power over the Catholic church. Paul would have been impressed by his power, but wouldn't have considered that when it came to Paul's choosing what the man should do in his church. What counted for Paul was how God was working and displaying His power through that person's ministry.

The word power here is dunamis - the inherent power; the power of reproducing itself, like a dynamo. This is the same word that is used in Acts 1:8. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." and again in 2 Pet. 1:3 "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

That power was something that Paul could both sense via the gift of discerning of spirits, could view on display as the people ministered, and could see the fruit of. The pride and puffed up nature of several leaders of the Corinthian church were not fruits that would have been in tune with a ministry full of the power of God.

He ends the chapter with a question. Would the Corinthian church prefer that he come to them with a rod (as would be evident if he were wielding earthly power) or in love and with the spirit of meekness (as would be evident if he were wielding heavenly power)?

Humility

The second half of the lesson starts with verse 6. Let's start there. Both the student and the teacher's quarterly made a big deal of trying to explain this verse. I will offer my opinion as to an interpretation that I think is much simpler.

Paul is simply saying here that although he has mentioned Apollos and himself as a couple of the people that were being followed, that when the word came to him via members of the house of Chloe that there was trouble in the church, he probably was given the names of the eloquent souls who were leading the disunity of the church. In this letter, he isn't going to name the leaders themselves, only the people who were the nominal heads [Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), Christ] of the groups each was pushing for.

This would give no cause for people to be puffed up against another in the "See I told you that you shouldn't be trying to create a schism!" sort of response people typically fall into. It really is that simple. He is trying to get them to realize and fix their own problem without getting specific about the instigators of the problem. He is pushing for unity which cannot come when there is backbiting and "I told you so's".

In verses 7 and 8, he continues by declaring that the only things that make them different from one another is the gifts they have received of God. Since these were gifts that they did nothing, of themselves, to earn, they had no reason to think more highly of themselves than of one another. He didn't want the attempted splintering of the church to lead to any more "better than thou" situations.

He drives this point home here, and in other places, where he says that he wished the gifts they had received had made them kings, since, by implication, since he also had demonstrated the all the gifts of the Spirit, that would make him a king as well. The riches of God's pouring and and baptizing in the Holy Spirit are not to engender a holier than thou attitude on the part of the recipients. It is a filling of power to be servants to God and workers for Him.

In verses 4:8-13, he continues, contrasting their lives with the life many apostles were facing at that point in time. In Rome, Christians and others were being led into the arena to be killed as a spectacle. He continues, expressing the how the world saw and treated the apostles just like non-Christians - something to kill for pleasure. He does it with a little irony, because in this first part of the letter to the Corinthian church (the first 6 chapters), he is trying to address all of the problems that he had with them before he starts dealing with those that they mentioned in their letter to him. He is trying to get the beam out of their eye before dealing with the mote they were worried about. Their pride and discord were fundamental breaks in unity with what he had planted and had to be erased. We need to watch that we don't get puffed up like the members of the Corinthian church, sitting on our own laurels instead of what we were founded on.

There are many cases where our positions today are also the unpopular opinion. We are reviled for what we believe if we make our beliefs known. Yet what we believe is nothing more than what the 2,000 year old Scriptures declare. We should not have changed from the foundation that was laid. Our society in some ways is not as far gone as the Romans were. In some ways our society is worse.

Do we take our stand today facing the same risk as Paul did? In some cases yes, and in some cases no. There aren't many lions waiting to tear us apart in America today. The key thing is to take our stands full of the power of God. He will fight our battles for us. We just don't like it when he makes us the cannon fodder.

Conclusion

What changes would we have to make in our individual lives if we were to declare ourselves an example to follow? If there is work to be done, do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. We won't have the inner strength to make the changes without his help.

Dake excerpt taken from Dake's Annotated Reference Bible, © 1961, 1963 by Finis Jennings Dake, and is reproduced on our web site with permission from representatives of Dake Publishing.