1 Corinthians 4:1-5
It happened in the jungle one day. A lion with a big ego went around asking the other animals who the king of the jungle was. “Who’s the king of jungle?” the lion roared at a monkey. “Why…you are, Mr. Lion,” said the monkey with fear in his voice. The lion went on and found a zebra. “Who’s the king of jungle?” he snarled. “There is no doubt about it…you are Mr. Lion,” said the zebra. Seeing a turtle crossing his path the lion yelled, “Who’s the king of the jungle?” Scared out of his shell the turtle said, “You are Mr. Lion. You are the king of the jungle.” Then the lion saw an elephant and he roared, “Who’s the king of jungle?”
The elephant used his trunk and grabbed the lion by the tail and he spun him around over his head several times, dunked him in a mud hole, and then slammed him into a large tree. Dazed and dirty the lion said, “Just because you don’t know the correct answer is no reason to get upset.”
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
So, here we are back in the book of Corinthians and whenever we speak of the Corinthian church, the very title is synonymous with a carnal, divided and ineffective church and for the most part, they acted as though they were God’s gift to the world.
Their attitude reminds me of a guy named Dave who was a roady for a gospel group I played with. (A roady is someone who simply sets up, takes down and then puts away the equipment.) And this guy Dave was twenty-two years old and had hair halfway down his back. He had no education and no job skills. He worked as a painter on a crew but he wasn’t very good at it and he spent all his money on flashy clothes and he was also an extremely proud person even though no one could quite figure out what it was he was proud about. And even though he hung around Christians he never showed any interest in spiritual things.
One day I said, “Dave, what are you planning on doing for the rest of your life?” And he said, “I’m waiting to be discovered.” And slightly bewildered I asked him, “Doing what?” And he said, “Playing drums.” I didn’t want to be rude but I said, “I’ve heard you play and you’re not that good.” And he just walked away laughing and said, “That shows how little you know.”
And that’s what these Corinthian’s were like. They were believers who exercised every spiritual gift and yet there were so many problems in their church that Paul wrote this letter in which he goes from teaching to pleading to rebuking them in an effort to get them back on track.
So, Paul wrote both of these letters, first and second Corinthians and then there is also a third letter to the Corinthian church that’s referred to but God didn’t include in the canon of scripture.
I think it’s safe to assume Paul had written hundreds of letters in his lifetime but only those that were inspired by God were included in the New Testament.
There is a reference to the third letter to the Corinthians and it’s in 1 Corinthians 5:9 where Paul said, "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people." And since this was in 1 Corinthians then there had to be an earlier one. So, God allowed this reference to the book but he didn’t include it in the New Testament.
So, Paul is writing to tell these people that they lacked spiritual credibility and the reason he says this is because three different people had told him how there were four different factions or divisions in the church and each of these divisions were built around someone that these four groups saw as their spiritual leader; when in fact, the only true leader of the church is Jesus Christ.
In chapter 3:18-23 he points to the absurdity of division within a local church and it’s almost like he’s being sarcastic when he says, “If you are so wise” then here’s the result of your wisdom because your church is divided; and you’re better off being foolish because any wisdom that divides the body is not wisdom at all.
So, he writes to stress the importance of the word of God over everyone else’s perspective and then he reminds them that we are all servants of Jesus and no one is ever to try and take His place and also that we who have a relationship to Jesus are to have a spiritual relationship with one another.
So, he’s saying, it doesn’t matter what you know but who you know; do you know the Lord? It doesn’t matter who led you to Christ or who baptized you because those who did were merely serving God. And it doesn’t matter what church or denomination you’re affiliated with; because when we get to heaven we’re all going to be one big family.
George Whitfield was a great open-air evangelist back in the 1700s and he was a member of the Church of England and yet he counted many Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, as close friends; but he was also a very strong Calvinist.
And one day someone asked him, “Mr. Whitfield, do you think we’re going to see John Wesley in heaven?” And they asked that because Wesley, was not only the founder of the Methodist church but he was also a very strong opponent of Calvinism. Whitfield said, “No, I doubt that we will see Mr. Wesley in heaven. He will be so close to the throne of God that we will be fortunate to even catch a glimpse of his back.”
So, when division creeps into the church; it’s not the result of one group being spiritual and the other group being carnal but it’s the result of both groups misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s body.
Listen, we may not understand which part of the body we are; but we know from both scripture and common sense that no part of the body can exist without the others. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, held together, and we will be caught up together and spend eternity together. So, if we’re part of the body now; we’ll be part of it forever.
There was a Peanut’s cartoon where Snoopy, had his left leg broken and this poor dog was sitting on top of his doghouse and looking at the cast on his leg and he said, "My body blames my foot for not being able to go places. My foot says it was my head’s fault, and my head blames my eyes.... My eyes say my feet are clumsy, and my right foot says not to blame him for what my left foot did...." Then Snoopy looks out at his audience and confesses, "I don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to get involved." But we’re all involved because we’re all part of the body.
So, in this passage, Paul talks about the proper attitude toward leadership in the church; and when we talk about leadership; it’s more than just the Pastors or deacons but it refers to almost anyone who has any kind of responsibility in the church.
And when Paul speaks about his own leadership here; he describes himself in a way that makes it impossible to see him having any problem with pride.
I So, in verse 1 I want you to see where Paul is using himself as an example in order to show us how we are to lead God’s church in a way that glorifies Him.
He uses two terms for leaders and they are ministers and servants. Someone sarcastically said a minister was "a mild-mannered man standing before mild-mannered people, and exhorting them to be more mild mannered." But listen, if anyone is a minister, who’s preaching the truth, then you can expect him to step on a few toes once in a while and most likely, a few of those toes will be his own. I always tell people, “You might drift off half way through my message, but I have to stay awake for the entire thing.”
So, Paul calls himself a minister the word for minister and servant literally means, “an under-rower” which was used to describe the most menial and despised of the slaves. I mean, being a slave was terrible in itself but under-rowers were the worst of the worst.
And everyone in the city of Corinth understood what this word meant because Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire passed through in a huge canal and this canal went from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean Sea. And since these huge ships didn’t have engines and sometimes the wind wasn’t blowing right, they depended on men to row and these men were captives, slaves or prisoners. They used about seventy men to row these large ships and if someone died, they’d just say, throw out number 14 and put in a replacement.
The lower decks had a row of benches on either side and there the rowers sat and looked to the captain who was seated at the front and he would give them direction telling them what to do and when to do it.
We’re told these men would simply row all day without ever knowing where the boat was going. They obeyed the Captain and they had to work in unity because if one side rowed too hard and the other too slow; then the ship would end up going in circles.
And this position of under-rower is the term Paul uses to describe the teachers, preachers and ministers of the Word of God. Listen, we are the "under-rowers" of Christ and there’s no room for pride because we’re simply doing what we’re told or called to do.
I’ve heard people say, “I can’t preach, teach or sing or lead in any way” and they end up doing nothing; but God calls all of us to serve Him with whatever gifts He gives us and even though we don’t get recognition here, God sees what we do and how we do it and one day He’ll reward us for being faithful.
When I was a Youth Pastor in Guelph many, many years ago, our church supported an American missionary who had married a girl from our church and they went to work with New Tribes Ministry somewhere and I don’t even remember where it was.
Before they went to the field they came to the church to share about their ministry and when this guy stepped up on the platform he really looked out of place. He had a jacket and slacks on, but he also wore an old denim shirt with a weird tie and he had on a big pair of cowboy boots.
He seemed nervous and shared how he had been called to work in food preparation at this Christian school and he was quite proud of the fact that God might be able to use him. He looked very uncomfortable but only took a couple of minutes and then sat down.
It didn’t take long and they left for the field and then month after month we received his prayer letters and he said, all the kids referred to him as the cookie man and he’d tell us what kind of cookies he made and which ones the kids enjoyed most.
A couple of years later he came back and said they had had a problem on the field because they had no meat and the kids were experiencing all kinds of health problems. So, someone in his home church had arranged for a few pigs to be sent over and he said he had read a few books and then taught the kids how to care for them and they began a little pig farm. And then they got some chickens and he built a chicken-coop and the chickens provided them with eggs.
When he needed a place to build things he set up a little shop and soon began to teach the kids how to use the tools. And when one of the missionaries mentioned how they needed someone to lead the youth; he and his wife became youth leaders.
And the next time he came back he mentioned he was trying to raise some money so he could buy a generator and a couple of sewing machines so the women at the church could earn a few dollars and our church and his home church both took up an offering and gave him $35,000.
He was just the cookie man but he was available and God used him to do more than any of us could imagine. He couldn’t preach and no one would ever ask him to sing or lead singing but he made cookies and God blessed him because he was faithful.
I read a story about the annual Homecoming at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and there was a famous governor, a college president, and a number of prominent business and professional people, and they were all proudly wearing the white jackets people wore when they served food in the cafeteria. And these jackets signified that these people earned all or most of their way through college by waiting on tables. They weren’t ashamed of menial labor, they never held out for a better job and they didn’t ask for government help. They simply waited tables, and that helped them earn more than an education; they learned to be servants.
Jesus measured greatness in terms of service, not status. It’s not how many people serve you but how many did you serve which is so contrary to the world’s concept of greatness.
Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but very few on servanthood because everyone wants to be the boss and no one wants to follow.
Listen, we are all called to be servants of Jesus and there are six characteristics of servanthood.
1. Real servants are available to serve. They never say, why are they always asking me but they’re always willing and ready to serve whether it’s convenient or not.
2. Real servants are always looking out for ways to serve and when they have a chance to something they take advantage of the moment.
John Wesley’s motto was ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, as long as you ever can.’ And we can begin by looking for the little jobs no one else wants to do but remember, there’s no such thing as a little thing with God. At one time Jesus spoke of being rewarded for giving someone a drink of water.
3. Real servants always do their best with whatever they have. They don’t make excuses or wait for better circumstances; they never say, “One of these days” or “if the time was only right.” They just do what needs to be done. Less-than-perfect service is always better than good intentions.
4. Real servants do every little thing like it was a big thing because they do it ‘with all their heart’. And none of us ever arrive at the point where we’re too important to help with the little things.
Jesus specialized in the little things that everyone else tried to avoid: washing feet, helping children, fixing breakfast, and serving lepers. Nothing was beneath Him, because He came to serve. It wasn’t in spite of His greatness that He did these things, but because of it, and He expects us to follow His example.
5. Real servants are faithful to finish whatever they’re called to do; and that means never leaving a job half undone or quitting when someone says or does something to discourage us.
God tests our faithfulness with the little things. Imagine what it will feel like one day to have God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a little and now I’m going to give you a lot.”
6. Real servants are humble about their service and never waste time promoting themselves. If they’re recognized for their service, they humbly accept it but don’t allow the recognition to distract them from their work.
So, Paul refers to believers as stewards and when we think of a steward today; he’s the man who serves your coffee, food or gives you whatever you need to be comfortable on a train or a plane. Listen, there’s no room for pride because a steward’s calling was simply to meet the spiritual needs of those around them.
A “steward” could also be in charge of the administration of the house or estate and in a sense he could have some authority to either do his job or make crucial decisions but ultimately, he was accountable to his master.
And then Paul says in verse 2, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." And faithfulness is a necessity. Back in 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful.” I like how Max Lucado said, "If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He wants to listen. He can live anywhere in the universe but He chooses to live in your heart." And because God is faithful, we must also be faithful.
II And then Paul turns to the issue of evaluating the preachers in verse 3 where he says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.”
Year ago, when we were first married Sally and I moved to Oshawa and we thought we’d visit a few different churches and we ended up going to a Free Methodist church where we stayed for a year or so.
One day the Pastor and I were playing squash and after the game we were having coffee and he looked like something was bothering him, and I asked what was going on; and he said, “Next week is the annual vote.” And then he explained that every year the congregation votes on him just like we do when we call a pastor.
And with this in mind, Paul addresses a common problem in Corinth in verse 3 and that was the evaluation of the pastor. And he says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.”
The first problem Paul mentions is congregational evaluation and he puts this at the very bottom of his list when he says, "It is a very small thing what you think about me.”
There are three kinds of pressure Pastors face; first, there’s admiration, which can puff up your head; second, there’s manipulation, which can stop you from doing the things you know you need to be doing and third, there’s antagonism, which makes it hard to preach or do anything effectively.
And to a degree, I’ve experienced all three as everyone has who seeks to preach and teach the Word of God will.
There’s admiration and let’s face it, we all like to hear that we’ve done a good job but there are some people who go overboard and they continually tell you that you’re the greatest speaker who’s ever existed; and if you hear that often enough, you can actually begin to believe it.
I had a lady down east who always came to the door after the service and she always said the same thing, she said, “That was a wonderful message today Pastor.” She said this every Sunday for three or four years and then one Sunday I was preaching on some heretical teaching and I happened to mention the Catholic church and I said, “Never call a man Father who dresses like your mother.” And not only did she not say anything at the door but she told a friend who told me that her aunt was in heaven and she had been a member of the Catholic church and she never came to church again. So, admiration can come and go but it’s certainly not something we live for.
And then there’s manipulation and people have said to me, “If the church votes either for or against something, then that’s the last nickel I ever give.” People who say such things never bothered me because I always figured the worse that could happen is, we’d lose some loose change. Listen, people who are giving to God never threaten the pastor or anyone else with their giving.
And then there’s antagonism and there are people who have been either mad at me or mad at God and they sit there week after week with a look on their face that says they’d rather be anywhere else but for some reason they had to be there and listen to me.
This might be a strange thing to say but I think the Lord can blind your mind to those who have a bad attitude, so you can do what He’s called you to do.
I remember we had gone through some problems with a staff member and when I told the board he had to leave; the church almost split. The fact was; he and his wife had split up and they got back together again but the whole town knew about it.
The board wanted a meeting so people could air their differences and they asked me to chair it. One after another people got up and expressed how angry they were and a few said things that were very hurtful but after every one I just said, “Thank you for sharing that” and about an hour or so later, when everyone was finished, I closed in prayer, went home and put on my jogging clothes and ran three miles and then I went to bed and slept like a baby. Somehow, God not only gave me peace and I stayed where I was until I retired.
Listen, we do what we’re called to do and leave the results with God. There are times when we’ll be working our heads off and yet see little evidence that anything was accomplished but someday we’ll find out that God has used us in ways we never imagined.
Years ago I used to play guitar and sing and I went anywhere I was called. I got a call one day to sing on a cable TV show. So, I went up to this little studio and a girl told me to sit on a bale of hay and as I sat there tuning my guitar I asked her what she wanted me to do. And she said, “Just fill the half hour” and she started counting down from five.
I was shocked and started laughing; and then I sang a song; gave my testimony and sang a few more songs and the time was gone. I felt it was a huge waste of time.
A couple of years later I was playing in a coffee shop in Richmond Hill and a young woman came up and told me how she was going to commit suicide by jumping over a bridge in Montreal but as she stood on that bridge that night she remembered seeing me on a cable show laughing and having a good time and she thought, “There must be something more to life” and she received the Lord on the bridge.
I pastored Main Street Baptist in Sackville for nine years and Main Street had been founded by Nathan Mason and 12 others who came to Sackville from the states and they stayed for six years and went home but when they left they left a small congregation. They probably wondered if they had wasted six years but 250 years later the church is still going and they’ve sent missionaries to several countries of the world and there are plenty in heaven because of those thirteen who braved the cold winds and water.
In verse 5 he says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
The ultimate evaluation of all we done or even attempted to do is going to be done by God in His time. We look on the visible but God sees the hearts.
I was reading about Spurgeon not Charles Haddon Spurgeon but his father John Spurgeon. Charles was one of the greatest preachers this world has ever known and if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t even know who his father was but if it wasn’t for his father who had been a faithful pastor as well, we certainly wouldn’t know who Charles was.
People are always attracted to big names but Paul was saying that in the church there’s only one big name and that’s the name of Jesus.
A story is told about a little Bamboo shoot that was transplanted from the jungle into the King’s palace garden. And in his garden the Bamboo became a tree and grew 75 feet tall. It towered over all the other trees and provided both shade and fellowship for the King.
One day the King was in the garden and Bamboo noticed something was bothering him and he asked if there was something he could do because he wanted to express his love and gratitude for all the King had done for him.
“Oh Bamboo,” said the King, “we have everything we need in abundance up here in the royal garden but the people in the village below are suffering from a famine because of the drought. We have plenty of water but no way to get it down the mountain.”
Bamboo thought about it long and hard and then with a heavy heart he said to the King, “I’ll be the means of getting the water down to them.” But the King said, “You don’t know what you’re saying. We’d have to cut off all you’re beautiful branches and then you’d look like all the other trees. And then we’d have to cut you down and you’d no longer be the tallest tree in the garden. And then we’d have to split you open and you’d be desecrated in the eyes of the world.”
And Bamboo said, “All that’s important to me will one day be gone anyway, I’d rather give my life now that others may live.”
And that describes our lives. We’ve been transplanted from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light; where we’ve been called to give the water of the word of God to a lost and dying world. And that describes our call, each of us are simply servants of our loving God.