Stewardship and Ministry: Faithfulness and Focus
© 2024 C. O. Bishop
1st Corinthians 4:1-7
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. 7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
First, Paul begins chapter four, by asking the Corinthian believers to change their thinking. He called them to consider the apostles as being simply the “servants of Christ.” (The noun, “minister” just means servant.) Furthermore, Paul says, “See us as Stewards of the mysteries of God.”
Lately, we have discussed the concept of ministry several times. We have recognized, in every case, that ministry and servanthood were the same concept.
Stewards and Faithfulness
But, we have barely touched upon the concept of stewardship. A “steward” is someone who with responsibility and limited authority over some matter regarding personnel, or some piece of property, or some investment, perhaps.
Occasionally, the steward may have virtually no “honor” as a part of his or her stewardship. It may simply be “work” that needs doing. On the other hand, he or she may have political prominence, as “the keeper of the keys,” or some such thing. The only thing that all stewardship positions have in common is that the steward must be faithful to that responsibility. Therefore, it says, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (By the way, the Greek simply says “tis” which could be translated as “who” or “one.” This isn’t “just about men!”)
What is Faithfulness?
In some contexts, the word “faithful” simply means the person is a believer in Jesus. This is not that sort of context. In this context, the question is one of “reliability.” Is this person dependable at carrying out the task they have agreed to do, or the task to which they have been assigned?
Living things make this an especially important concept. For example, if you forget to water the house plants for a few days, some of them may die. But all of them will look bad. (Incidentally, “House plant care” is a difficult task for me, as I simply do not think about them: to my eye, they are just “part of the furniture.”)
But what if you have agreed to take care of someone’s pets while they are gone? Those animals are completely dependent upon some human, and, for the prescribed time, that person is YOU!
But, let’s say someone agrees to care for your livestock or pets. If you come home to discover that they have seriously neglected your animals, how will you feel toward the person who proved to be unfaithful? How will you judge yourself for having trusted such a person with your animals?
Now: what if your children are the ones you have entrusted to the care of another, and you find that your children have been neglected or abused?
Some government agencies have been unfaithful. They failed to care for children or the elderly. When the public heard about that failure, everyone was shocked and angry. Everyone wanted the abusers (and/or the “neglectful, careless stewards”) to be held accountable. (Guess what? God holds stewards accountable, too! And it IS God’s children at risk!)
Hebrews 13:17 says God will hold the leaders in the churches accountable for “what happens on their watch,” so to speak. (“ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”)
In a church assembly where the people rebel against God’s Word, the shepherds are not looking forward to standing before Christ and having to answer for their own errors or failures.
In Ezekiel 34:1-10, we see God calling the Shepherds of Israel into account for their behavior, and the result in the flock.
God gave those shepherds a list of seven definite responsibilities toward His flock:
- Feed the Flock,
- Strengthen the Diseased.
- Heal the Sick,
- Bind up the Broken,
- Bring back those who have been driven away,
- Seek the Lost, and
- Defend the Flock against all Predators.
Those responsibilities have not changed: they are still the collective task of the shepherds.
If the shepherds are collectively doing their jobs, in unity, and if the flock is behaving rightly before the Lord, then we can expect His blessing. If not, then, to the degree we disregard God’s Word, we can expect to see His blessing diminished. That is simply the truth. It is a fact!
In 1st Samuel 2, God held accountable the High Priest Eli for the evil that his sons committed, because he was in a position of sufficient authority that he could have stopped them. But he chose to just “remonstrate with them”…and he got fat on the fruit of their evil doings.
The result? The people of Israel began to despise the Tabernacle and the offerings they brought! God told Eli that he had honored his evil sons more than he had honored God. It cost Eli his own life, the lives of his sons, and a lasting curse on the future of his entire family lineage!
Yes, obviously, the “Stewards of the Mysteries of God” are individually held accountable for their actions and the results of those actions.
Take it Seriously!
James 3:1 warns that we need to take seriously the responsibility of teaching. KJV says “Be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (Don’t just go “running after the spotlight:” as a teacher, you will also receive more severe judgment.)
In some cases, of course, this condemnation could be just from other people. Even the Unbelieving World is actively scrutinizing teachers and pastors, the shepherds of the flock of God. Obviously, the World is always eager to “catch shepherds in sin,” if possible. And sometimes they have gone so far as to deliberately produce a “trap” to make an innocent person “look bad,” publicly. But when a pastor commits a crime, it will be splashed all over the news.
God warns us to expect this “stricter accountability,” and it makes perfect sense. He has entrusted His flock to those leaders, and if they are guilty of misfeasance (or nonfeasance) of their responsibilities, then He will take action against them. The Ezekiel passage we just read is a clear example of that judgment.
Take it Personally!
Any honest servant of God fears failure in this area. None of us want to face the consequences of having fallen prey to greed, lust, or pride, and as a result of our sin, having led astray an assembly of believers. That is why the previous chapter says, “the temple of God (the flock of God) is Holy. If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” God will judge those who defile His flock through bad (or careless) teaching and bad (or careless) leadership!
And yet, Hebrews 5:12 states that “by this time you should have been teaching!”
God does call us to be His ambassadors and He does call us to grow up into responsibility. These warnings are not to dissuade us from seeking to serve God with our lives. Rather, they are a solemn warning that it is a serious business! Do not take it lightly!
And God is the Judge
Next, in verses 3 and 4, Paul says that the collective “opinions” or “judgment” of the Corinthian believers were not his primary concern. His only “Supervisor” and final Judge of his work was The Lord Jesus!
Romans 14:4 confirms that we are each, individually accountable to God. We are not to sharply criticize one another, nor even to hold one another in disregard. Each of us will stand or fall before God…and Paul goes on to say that “God is able to make us stand.”
On the other hand, Romans 2:16 says that God will judge the secrets of the hearts of men “according to the Gospel.” In terms of Salvation, the Gospel will be the standard… “What did you do with Jesus?”
But in terms of Service, the standard will still be the Word of God: “What did you allow Jesus to do through you? What did you do with Him?” Did you walk with Him, and follow His leading?”
I can’t see anyone else’s heart. So, I cannot judge them (or their actions) unless their actions are truly rebellion against God’s Word. All I can do, as a shepherd, is keep declaring all the general commands given to all believers.
However, those who hear it and apply it to their own hearts will find that God leads them according to His Word. (Remember that Jesus is the Living Word of God: He never leads us contrary to the Written Word of God!) And God says that He will reveal it ALL in the end. Everyone will know!
The Apostles’ Example: “We are nothing Special!”
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
Paul says that he chose himself and Apollos as simple examples, comparing himself and his own ministry with that of Apollos. His conclusion has consistently been that neither of them was anything special! He has repeatedly brought us back to this simple comparison, first to put a stop to the sectarianism that was beginning in Corinth and finally, to root out any tendency toward the believers holding up themselves as “something special.”
The Implication: “And, Neither are You!”
The bottom line seems to be “If Apollos and I are nothing special (and we are NOT) then what makes you think YOU are so special?”
7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, (boast) as if thou hadst not received it?
- What makes you different than others?
- What do you have that you did not simply receive as a gift?
- And if you only have it as a gift that you did nothing to earn, why brag?
We all are called to discipleship! We all are called to service! And we all are called to stewardship at various levels. And we all are called to grow up, by feeding on God’s Word, obeying His Word, and walking with Him. We are called to focus our attention on Christ and His Word. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:19 “Focus on the light of His Word!”)
As a Personal Note:
Having received the gift (and assignment) of teaching and feeding the Flock, I no longer have the option to just “go do something else!” I cannot decide “Y’ know, I’d rather go back to commercial fishing!” (Remember, in John 21, that is exactly what Peter did, and the others followed his example. Jesus called him back and told him that was no longer an option.)
In addition, I cannot choose to go off and be a “hermit luthier:” a recluse, separating myself from other believers, and “just building violins.” I have to Focus on the job I was sent to do!
What about All of Us?
We are no longer our own masters. We are called to follow the leadership and yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is the Savior, the Master, and the final Judge at every level.
We need to keep that in mind.
Lord Jesus, Please teach us to respond to You as our true Master, and as the great shepherd. Teach us to feed upon your Word: to Feed upon You as the Living Word. Cause us to grow up into spiritual maturity and to embrace the responsibility of Discipleship!