Summary: Some groups put The Pastor on a pedestal as God’s annointed, a spiritual super-star to be admired and honored. In our passage today Paul sarcastically shreds this un-Christlike view of leadership.
Most American Christians are soft. Our crosses are pretty jewelry, not instruments of brutal death. They warmly decorate our houses rather than warning of suffering. Particularly in the suburban Bible Belt, our versions of Christianity depict sanitized pictures of the American success story. We see good Christians as well-educated, smart, economically upper-middle class, and well-regarded in the community. Certainly we would expect these traits of church leaders. In fact, in many circles, the Pastor is expected to exemplify such traits: to be a pillar of the community, to drive a nice car (but not too nice), to dress well, to be educated and respected. Some groups put The Pastor on a pedestal as God’s annointed, a spiritual super-star to be admired and honored. In our passage today Paul sarcastically shreds this un-Christlike view of leadership. If you thought Paul was tough in chapter three when he called the Corinthians, “spiritual babies,” tighten your seat belt, because in chapter four he harshly lampoons them with biting, sarcastic irony.
We are studying Paul’s letter to Christians in ancient Corinth, a place of materialism, sexuality and conflicting religious traditions, much like us today. What they thought was wise, ends up being foolish. Paul takes us to deep roots of our faith to show us how to live for Christ in a corrupt culture. Fundamentally we are to live out our identity in Christ.
The problems they faced, we face in our lives today. Their city valued wealth and status, and the church followed its culture. Secular standards of leadership and success overshadow biblical ones. We grow up learning to take credit for and even advertise our accomplishments in education and employment through resumes and job evaluations. Not surprisingly, such advertisements carry over, consciously and unconsciously, to the Christian life, as we take pride in spiritual accomplishments. Churches boast about their size, their buildings, their programs or presence of Christian celebrities; which is itself a bit of an oxymoron. I’m not sure the concept of “celebrity” fits with a cross-shaped life. We all recognize the trappings of personal or organizational success. However nicely it was done, the Corinthians were bragging about their favorite leader and saw themselves as spiritually successful.
Strap on your seat belts, your views of leadership and spiritual success may be challenged. What we are about to see in 1 Corinthians chapter four directly counters most perspectives on success, including some “Christian” views. Remember Paul is writing to the churches in Corinth to correct their distorted views of maturity and spiritual leadership.
Open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter four. In applying this text, I encourage you to identify both with Paul as a leader and with the Corinthians. Do not let the word “leader” take you off the hook as if these biblical truths do not apply to you. They do. In the chapter Paul paints three images of spiritual leaders. His point is that we can view spiritual leadership as God does by seeing leaders in three vivid images: as stewards for God, as fools for Christ and as spiritual fathers. In the first image Paul paints, we are stewards of God.
Stewards for God
Follow with me as we read in chapter four verse one. Please note the use of the words “entrust” and “trust” which refer to stewardship. Paul ended chapter three saying no more boasting about human leaders; now he shares the right way to view leaders.
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
Biblically, leaders are to be servants of Christ. This word for servant originally described slaves who rowed in the lower tier of a ship. It came to designate anyone in a serving position, thus the word conveys humility.
Notice an important clarification: Paul is not the servant of the Corinthians, but of Christ. He is God’s servant. In your life, remember that you ultimately work for Christ. Yes, you may work for TorchMark or Toyota, but above the company, you serve Christ. As a mother you serve your children, but deeper, you serve Christ. As a leader of a Life Group, you serve the members, but more importantly you serve Christ. Although you pay my salary at Christ Fellowship, I do not ultimately work for you, but for Christ. Of course, this means that each of us must answer to Christ for how we are serving.