What are the characteristics of Christian service?
From 1 Corinthians 4, I will present five characteristics of an effective Christian ministry and service. Each mark at a time, one-by-one. Today we begin with the first characteristic from verses 1-5
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Faithful stewardship is the first characteristic of Christian ministry. How are we to think of pastors and preachers in our midst? They belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given them to us as gifts. Paul has already said that all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas… all things are yours. Preachers are to be respected or regarded as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. These ministers have arduous responsibilities as Christ’s servants who have been entrusted with the gospel. But they also have immense privileges as stewards of the mysteries of God.
God has made all believers and preachers in specific to be servants as of first and foremost, as His disciples. We must never mistake a servant, or an attendant or a slave, for his master. The master is over the servant and He is prominent over the most important servant. This is the way it must always be in our service of the Lord Jesus – Christ is the Master.
God has also made all preachers stewards or trustees of the mysteries of God. Paul always uses the word mystery to mean, what was hidden to the natural faculties for ages but is now graciously revealed. ‘Mysteries of God’, therefore, is the truths, which were hidden to a natural man, but are now revealed to the spiritual man by God. The ‘mysteries of God’ is the gospel. Preachers are to faithfully manage the gospel, and faithfully propagate it for the salvation of sinners. Only the good news of the crucified and resurrected Christ can save helpless sinners.
While success in the service is important, faithfulness is the first responsibility of stewards. People’s eternal destiny hinges upon hearing the true gospel and believing in Christ. Depth in faithfulness is what God will use in expanding the breath and the extent of our ministries.
But preachers are to be assessed and judged by Christ who is their employer rather than men. ‘Pastor roasting’ is condemned when Paul says, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. What Paul is saying is that outward critical judgment is discounted, whether by the Corinthian church, or by the human courts society around him or even by himself! He should only be judged by his employer and Master, even Christ.
Why is Paul saying this? We judge in a merely worldly manner, using only human and sometimes worldly standards in the assessment. Instead of making these unnecessary critical human judgments, we are to live in the light of the all-searching judgement that is to come on that great Day when the Lord will come. The Lord will bring the hidden things to light. He will disclose motives of hearts and every human pretense will be brought to naught. It is on this basis some will receive either commendation or condemnation from God.
Does this mean that we should not name and shame those who mismanage the truths of the gospel? Should we keep quite when there is apparent unfaithfulness? Is there a place for critiquing preachers? But Paul himself criticized Peter in Galatians for his conduct (Gal. 2:11-14). False teachers and their false teachings must be exposed (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). But if someone preaches the truth, and you know him to be a faithful minister, don’t purport to know his motive. This is what informed his statement in Philippians 1:12-18. The most important thing is that ‘Christ is proclaimed’ (v.18). We are to rejoice when the gospel is preached even from the most unlikely quarters or preachers.
Three points of application:
Here is a call to faithfulness more than a call to ‘success’. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2Tim. 2:15). We have to serve the people in good conscience before God. Aim to be blameless!
We thank the Lord that He will recognize and reward true and faithful servants of His church, who might never be recognized by the Church. Human approbation will not always do for a servant of Christ. Sometimes opposition and rejection is what will be the road of faithful ministers, yet they have divine approval, which is far better.
You are to labour now as one who will soon appear before the Judgement throne of God to either receive a reward (3.14) or to be saved through fire (3:15) or to be eternally condemned! Be careful in handling the Scriptures.