Summary: What does it mean to serve Christ? Paul talks about servant-leadership in this passage and calls for humility among those who think they are wise and brilliant enough to lead the church.

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Whenever a title like this is used several thoughts go through our minds: “You mean there is something false about the way we serve?” “There’s a ‘truth’ I didn’t know about?” “Is this something new?” To set your minds at ease I must confess that this is nothing new but, in the spirit of Paul’s teaching, it is a reminder of something we may have forgotten. One pastor used to say that it was the forgetfulness of his listeners that gave him the courage to keep on preaching.

What is the truth about serving Christ then?

Irene shared an anecdote that sums up the heart of servanthood in a recent Sunday School class. The class was discussing what it meant to wait upon the Lord. Irene recalled that she had heard that “waiting” is a verb. It is not sitting around passively and doing nothing. If you dine at a fancy restaurant where a man or a woman actually takes your order, brings you an onion loaf, drinks and eventually your meal, we say they are “waiting on us.”

This is what Isaiah must have meant when he said that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. We are not sitting and waiting for the Lord to move; we are actively waiting on the Lord who is moving in us. Consider the restaurant analogy: We welcome Jesus to our table; we invite him to make his requests of us; and we scurry about making his requests a reality.

The people of Corinth must have forgotten this. It is easy to do in any church, in the first century or the 21st century, to slip into the mentality that the congregation is here to serve me rather than how I can serve the congregation. John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Paul would slip the word “church” in that famous quote and then he would give you this message from chapter four. Whether Corinthian or Canadian, all Christians need to remember the truth about serving Christ.

Truth #1: Who the servants are…

It may seem quite obvious to you now that the Corinthians considered themselves as the ones who were being served. Paul, Apollos, and Peter were their entertainers, as it were. “Preach us a fine sermon and make sure you have funny stories.” Indeed, today when a church calls a pastor to lead their congregation, they say that he is coming to serve them. Who are the servants of the church? The Pastors and ministers are…but Paul says it differently:

“…men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.”(v.1). Some translations may say “ministers of Christ” but the word is really “servant.” Or is it?

The literal meaning of the word is “under-rower.” A common sight in Corinth was the passing of a Roman war galley through the nearby channel. So the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck of a galley was made of single rows of benches on both sides of the ship where the rowers sat. Then on a little deck raised above them all where the rowers could see him was the captain of the ship. When he said “move” they moved; when he said “stop” they stopped. It was their job to obey the orders of the captain precisely. This is word Paul used to describe preachers of the word of God in the Church. They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

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