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.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SERV ING CHRIST
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.
This word shows up in Acts where Paul and Barnabas took John Mark along on a journey to be their “minister.” Does that mean he led the morning devotions? No, it meant that he was the one who ran errands, managed the baggage and made travel arrangements. He did what they told him.
Paul said they were servants of Christ. While the Corinthians would like to control their preachers, Paul reminds them that they serve Christ not the Corinthians. What’s more, they too are “under-rowers” and should be serving Christ also, not sitting around being waited on.
There are different kinds of servants in the church. I am a servant of the word, as Paul described it, “those entrusted with the secret things of God.” I am a revealer of God’s word. But some of you are ministers of helps and administration. Iris is a minister of this kind and is a huge help in the office. She is more than a secretary; her job involves praying and supporting us pastors. Some of you are ministers of care and prayer and so much more. That I am paid to do what I do seem to set me above you other ministers but that is not right. We are all ministers of Christ.