Summary: A tough task for tender warriors, faithful stewards of the church must be adept at proclaiming, protecting and punishing. Humble heros all!
Does anyone here remember being in elementary school when the teacher would leave the room? First grade comes to mind for me with our teacher, Miss. Sibley. For some reason, Miss. Sibley often left the class room, but before she would walk out she always gave us a clear warning about behavior and consequences and she never failed to say these words: “While I’m gone there will be no talking!” Are you kidding? We were first graders!
Sometimes when she left the room, Miss Sibley would select a student she trusted and empower them with the ultimate weapon: taking names! Whoever had the coveted position of taking names became the most powerful person in the class. It was really heady stuff to hold the power of the pen. And whoever’s name that person wrote down and turned in would lose recess and maybe even, horror of horrors, popsicle break!
We knew that whoever it was the teacher picked was actually no better than the rest of us, but they were the steward with the power to punish! The only way they could lose their power was if the teacher found out they weren’t trustworthy. If there’s anything as bad as a corrupt cop it’s a crooked name taker! One time Miss. Sibley chose Sheila Coolie and she wrote down a couple of names of kids just because she happened not to like them! Several of us came to their rescue and told on Sheila and she never again received the power of the pen.
As we enter the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians we see that God has empowered some of his servants with what Paul calls a steward of the mysteries of God. Now, he has already told us not to boast in men. From the first chapter through the third we learn that this is a problem in this church. In fact, it appears that there is a lot of misbehavior going on in this church. Not only are they divided, but there is jealousy and strife among them and some are puffed up like peacocks. You’d think the teacher has left the room with no one to take names! But this is not the case. Jesus Christ had assigned stewards with his authority and power. Paul was one of those.
It was no easy position. Just look at some of what it entailed as we survey this chapter.
First the steward is required to be trustworthy. Not that others thought so, and even the steward himself could be wrong about himself, but there is a final judge for the steward, as well as everyone of us… Jesus Christ.
In Paul’s case, at least with those he addresses in Corinth, his stewardship receives very little respect. Several seem to be taunting him, judging him, boasting about themselves and criticizing his ministry. But as far as he is concerned, he loves them like beloved children whom he has begotten through the gospel. He wants them to behave and learn the ways of Christ by imitating him. He knows that there are some among them that are working against him. This seems to be a constant problem that Paul faces. Listen to what he says in a similar passage in 2 Cor. 6:1-13, 7:2-4.
Paul is willing to plead with them and beg them to be what God calls them to be. He is a steward with a loving heart. But make no mistake about it, that does not mean that he is unwilling to use the power of God to punish and discipline.
To be a faithful steward requires it!
There is a tension in Christian ministry in stewardship of Christ’s church that must be carefully balanced. On the one hand there is the responsibility of heralding the truth. On the other there is the responsibility of shepherding the flock. The tension is set up in the heart of the one who holds the stewardship as a servant of Christ. The herald is concerned with faithfulness to the message. He comes from the king to herald the message and faithfully speak what it says. His loyalty is to what is written by the king. The weakness is that he may not care about the subjects to whom he speaks, because his priority rests in what he says, not who he says it to.
On the other hand there is the shepherd who pastors the flock and cares for the sheep. His loyalty encompasses the wellbeing and care of those under his watch. His priority is to see that they are well and fed and led. He is concerned that each of them has what he needs and he loves his flock and will lay down his life to protect them. The weakness is that he may soften and change the message of the herald in attempting to make it possible for the sheep to receive it.