Summary: Paul called himself a servant (minister); this sermon calls Christians to live as servants
1Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. 2Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore 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 commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:1 - 5 (NRSVA)
As soon as the word “stewardship” rolls out of the pastor’s mouth the muffled groans tell you the sermon will be about money. At least that’s what the misers among us imagine – people like the world’s stingiest man who went Christmas shopping and found a vase on sale for $2. It originally cost $400, but the delicate pottery piece was broken. He bought it and had the salesman ship it by mail so that his friend would think he paid $400, and it had been manhandled by the post office; cheapskate! A week after Christmas he received a thank you note from his friend; it read, “Thank you for the lovely vase; it was so very nice of you to wrap each piece separately!”
This passage is certainly about stewardship; that includes money, but there is much more than just money involved.
Paul calls himself a servant (minister). The word he was using described the slave in the rowing galley of a ship, pulling on an oar. He was an under-oarsman, a servant who belonged to God; he was faithfully doing that to which God had called him.
Paul also called himself a steward. That speaks of someone who is also a slave, but a trusted one – a slave that the owner of the house would put in charge of managing the affairs of the estate.
The Faithful Under-Oarsman
So we have this picture of Paul the Apostle as a galley-slave, doing his assigned task of helping the ship of God’s church move forward. The one requirement Paul pointed out was that a steward, or minister, was to be “found faithful”. What did he mean by that? His point was that God has entrusted everything to us, life, family, health, material possessions, opportunities and the promise of God’s power to be His Kingdom people.
A faithful under-oarsman is one who understands this truth from the larger view. The idea of requirement is one of attitude, not accomplishment. God requires that we be found faithful in our earnestness, an attitude of willingness to serve – to grab on to the oar assigned to us and pull with all our strength!
The Faith-LESS Under-Oarsman
If you take the analogy Paul gives and make a few comparisons to the church as a ship, you can see just how important it is for God’s people to be faithful in their service. Under-oarsman are important:
...think how much less power to move ahead the ship has when only half the crew shows-up for work
...think how much harder the remaining crew has to work with just half a team
...and imagine how silly it all looks when only the oars on the left side of the boat are pulling and the ship is going round and round in circles!
...Think of the missed opportunities for ministry; missed victories to celebrate!
Stewardship of the Faithful Oarsman
Paul gave us much of the New Testament, letters of instruction for the Christian life. One of the greatest statements on faithfully serving God is found in Romans:
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (NRSVA)
That’s the key to being a faithful “under-oarsman” for Christ. It is a matter of giving oneself over to God every day…a sacrifice of this day in your worship of Him. It’s showing-up at the altar every day to take your place on the Kingdom team of God’s people doing God’s work. You wake up and take up your oar and follow Him!
I love waterwheels. There are overshot waterwheels and undershot wheels. The names come from how they get their power. The overshot is one where the water falls from above on the teeth of the wheel; the undershot is turned by the moving stream below pushing the wheel.
In nature the overshot wheel is many times more powerful and productive than the undershot.
It is the same way with men and women. Human lives are also over and under-shot. Faithful oarsmen, kingdom people, trust their lives and servant-hood to the power from above, while undershot lives are driven from the undercurrent below. That undercurrent is what Paul mentioned in his letter to the Romans – he advised them to not be conformed to this world’s ways, but to be transformed, changed by the renewing of our minds.