By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.
Text: 1 Cor. 4:1-5
4:1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
Rowing a boat together requires coordination and cooperation. If you can’t work together, you can’t get anywhere. The Olympic rowing teams require teamwork and cooperation as they row in unison to the cadence of the coxswain who coaches the rowers and steers the boat instead of rowing. Even two people in a row boat with a paddle in their hand must row together or they’ll never get out of the swamp.
The church at Corinth was divided among whom they viewed as the authority figure for the church. Some claimed they were following Peter, others said that they were following Apollos, or Paul, or some said, “Not us, we’re following Jesus.” But to the extent that they were divided, they were ineffective. It wasn’t until the church was in one place and one accord that the Holy Spirit was poured out and the church was empowered.
Look at the text, particularly at verse 1:
I) UNDER OARSMEN
4:1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
To begin, notice the word “steward” in this text. The first word “steward” in our text is from the Greek word is, hyperetes, which is from two words in the Greek, hyper, meaning “under” and eresso, meaning, “to row.” The word in the ancient Greek referred to an “under oarsman.” They rowed on ancient Greek war ships called triremes (try-raim). These are those ancient ships you’ve seen with oars sticking out the sides. Sometimes the oarsmen were three deep into the belly of the ship and an ancient historian points out that if you on the bottom layer, it could be rather offensive to the olfactory sense, given that stuff tends to roll downhill.
During Paul’s time the word came to be used of a servant without the nautical connotations, but I’m intrigued by the imagery of the word. It implies so much about who we are in the kingdom, and about how important it is for us all to be following the cadence and the directions of the Captain. Who is the Captain? The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus is the captain of our salvation. If we are not following Him, then we will not be working in unison and we will not be effective.
In ancient Greek warfare the trireme was used to ram other ships. That’s how they sank the opponent’s ship. Remember, this was back before gunpowder was invented. And it’s said that unless a ship could reach a speed of 10 knots before ramming the enemy, then the ship that was attempting to ram would itself be destroyed. To reach a speed of 10 knots the under oarsmen had to be really working together and coordinating their efforts or their own ship would sink. (A knot is equivalent to 1.151 mph, which means that to row 10 knots they had to be traveling about 11 and a half miles per hour.) These oarsmen were slaves, they were chained to the ship and if the ship sank they went down with it, so they were really motivated. They rowed like their life depended on it, because it did.
The local church is like a ship on the ocean and we need to be rowing together. Imagine a ship where there were two different captains calling out two different cadences’. The ship would be very ineffective. Paul says that it is not about Peter, or Apollos, or Paul, but we are all under oarsmen of Christ, He is calling the cadence and giving the directions.
II) HOUSE SERVANTS
Then Paul uses a different word for servant, oikonomos. This was the head house slave. The master had to be able to trust the servant completely. This servant basically controlled the master’s wealth and resources to bring a profit to the master. This servant knew where the money was kept and had access to it to do the master’s business. And he also had to give an accounting to the master for every penny that was spent.
Paul says that’s who he and the other leaders with him are. They may appear to be in charge, but in reality, they are still slaves to Christ. Paul says that we are servants of the mysteries of God. For the Paul the word mystery basically referred to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a mystery that was concealed in the Old Testament but revealed in Christ.
The Jews did not know that Messiah was also the suffering servant, but this is revealed in Christ.
The Jews did not understand that God’s plan always included the Gentiles, but this is revealed in Christ.
The Jews did not understand that the coming of Messiah would happen in two stages, but this is revealed in Christ.
These things were mysteries, but they’ve been revealed to the believer, and we have this mystery, or this treasure in earthen vessels, but we are not called to keep the mystery concealed. As the servants of Christ, we are called upon to take this revelation to the world. God needs to be able to trust us with this pearl of great price and be taking this message of revelation to a lost and dying world.
III) THE JUDGMENT
In light of this, how does one measure the effectiveness of a servant? Paul says it comes down to one thing. You’ll see in verse 2, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” The master wants to know that he can trust his servant with everything. Complete trust. The single most important characteristic of the servant-- and this is something that Paul applying to himself and to every believer--the single most important characteristic from the perspective of the master is that the servant be faithful:
A faithful servant will do the job that he is asked to do.
A faithful servant will come early and stay late to make sure the job is done right.
A faithful servant will not quit halfway through the job.
A faithful servant will not cheat his master.
A faithful servant can be trusted with the wealth.
What is Jesus looking for in a servant? Paul doesn’t say that the servant must be eloquent, or gifted, or crafty, or even intelligent. Paul said that the servant must be faithful. Jesus said, “If you are faithful in little, I’ll make you ruler over much.” In the end, when we stand before our king and judge, what do we want to hear Him say. We want to hear Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the rest that has been prepared for you from the foundation of the earth.”
Look at verses 3 though 5
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
Paul acknowledges that people are looking at his life and judging him, but Paul says that ultimately their judgment will not hold any weight. Paul admits that he often judges or takes assessment of his own life, as we all must look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, but in the end, it only the judgment of Christ at the great white throne judgment, that is going to really matter. Despite what anyone else thinks or says, when we stand before Him who died for us, will He be able to look at us and say, “Well done, you were faithful”?
Are we faithful? Can God truly depend upon us with this precious treasure in earthen vessels? Standing in a line at Walmart and Spirit nudges us to testify, will we be faithful. When we agree to teach the 4-year-olds, will we be faithful? Faithfulness is the result of love and without love, the counsels of our heart will not be right and God will see not just our actions, but our attitudes as well. In the end it boils down to the question of whether we love God enough to be faithful stewards of God’s resources and if we will work together to do the will of Him who has commissioned us.
If you simply need to recommit yourself to be faithful to your ministry today, then I emplore you today to let me agree with you in prayer that you will redouble your efforts and recommit to your calling, so that when you stand before Jesus at the Great White Throne judgment, you’ll hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Come on in. We’ve been waiting for you.”