Vol. 10 — No. 52 December 28, 1969
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. 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. For I know nothing by (against) myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 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.
In Christ Jesus, who requires faithfulness of every public minister of the Word, Fellow Redeemed:
The congregation at Corinth had many problems. Some of them were matters of doctrine. But one problem that disturbed the congregation and caused divisions in their midst was the way the members were evaluating their pastors. The congregation had had the benefit of the ministry of Paul, of Apollos, and of Peter. Quite naturally some of the people preferred one to the other. Some would say, “Paul’s my man!” Others would say, “I am of Peter.” Still others would claim that Apollos was the best man. Then there were others who seemed to want to top the personal preferences of the other members by saying, “I am of Christ!” The personal preferences that one group in the congregation had for one of their pastors over against the other pastors was causing divisions in the congregation. It was an unhealthy spiritual situation for the basis for the evaluations was personal bias, personal preferences, personal likes and dislikes. St. Paul resolved this problem by laying before the Corinthians the proper basis For evaluating their public ministers of the Word.
By this time you should have realized that this text brings a very practical matter to our attention—that of evaluating public ministers of the Word. All of you have had several pastors in the course of your lifetime and many Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers. Some you surely have liked better than others. Some may hold a high place on your personal list, and others may be quite far down on your list. The question: What did you go by when you formed your opinion? What was the basis for the evaluation that you made?
I have been in your midst now more than two and a half years. You have formed an opinion of me as your pastor. When I arrived here, I knew that the content and style of my preaching, my personal visitations, my personal habits, my family would be under scrutiny. Two and a half years later you have formed an opinion of me as your pastor. What that opinion is isn’t the point at the moment. What is important is how you arrived at that opinion, what the basis of your evaluation was, what check-list you used in forming your opinion. If your evaluation of a pastor or teacher has a faulty basis, then you may need to correct your manner of evaluating. St. Paul gives aid in this passage. He tells you—
First ask yourself:
Paul wrote: “Let a man so account of us—so think of us or evaluate us—as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The word that Paul used for “ministers” or servants etymologically means an underrower in a galley. Some of the movies that go back to those ancient days may help you visualize this matter. The rowers were slaves, chained to their benches. They would row according to a bong that the leader made on some metal object. The rower had to keep the beat or his oar would get tangled up with the next man’s. In other words the term that Paul used in describing and designating a public minister of the Word is a term that implies obedience. Preachers and teachers are servants who are to function under obedience. The question is: Obedience to whom? Paul says that every public minister of the Word is a servant of Christ. That means that he has one Master to whom he owes obedience. That is Christ. A modern day pastor is considered an employee of the congregation that has called him. A pastor has to designate his congregation as his employer on his income tax form, for example. We usually think of employees as being servants who owe obedience to their employers—workers who take orders from their employers. Yet a pastor’s relationship to his employer is different. He serves the congregation as a servant of Christ. His prime obedience is to be to Christ. A Christian congregation in calling a pastor binds him to that obedience, although many times members forget that the pastor’s obedience must be to his Lord Jesus Christ—not to individual members or groups of members in the congregation.
This special relationship of pastors and teachers to Christ is further emphasized by the second term—“stewards of the mysteries of God.” A steward is a manager—a person who has been put in charge of something that doesn’t belong to him. The Gospel is here called a “mystery.” Why? Because the human mind could not figure out that God would save sinful man by sending His own Son into this world to fulfill all righteousness for man and then to suffer and die to take away man’s guilt. Han can’t figure out how God can give a child or an adult blessing by adding His Word to the water of baptism or by adding His Word to the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This is a mystery to the mind of man. As a matter of fact it is foolishness to the mind of man. In preceding sections Paul spoke of “the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom” as being so much foolishness to the mind of man. He spoke of God’s plan of salvation in this way: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Cor. 2:9) Pastors and teachers are stewards of this mystery. They are not to try to solve the mystery by accommodating divine truths to the thinking of man. No, they are simply to preach and teach faithfully and administer the sacraments according to the institution of Christ. So then, a public minister of the Word is a servant who owes obedience to Christ as he preaches and teaches the Gospel and administers the sacraments. Now ask yourself: In evaluating past pastors and teachers and in evaluating your present pastor and teachers are you making that evaluation by asking the question: Is my pastor or teacher a servant of Christ obedient to his Lord and is he a steward of the mysteries of God?
A second question also must be asked:
A public minister of the Word is a steward of the mysteries of God. What is the basic qualification that a boss looks for in a steward or a manager who is to be in charge of his business? St. Paul gives answer: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” We live in an era of big business that has many branch factories and stores and service outlets. The home company must have stewards or managers in charge of these places. What basic qualifications are they looking for? Faithfulness! They want a man who will carry on company policy, who can be trusted to do the job. If a manager is most brilliant, but untrustworthy—dipping his hand in the till, for example—then he won’t last long. He’ll be fired. Paul says that public ministers of the Word are to be faithful—faithful to their Lord and Master, faithful in the preaching and teaching of the mysteries of God, faithful in the administration of the sacraments. This is the basic characteristic and qualification for a minister of the Word. Ask yourself whether you have made this qualification basic in your evaluation of your pastor and teachers.
It’s an amazing thing that preachers and teachers in the church who measure up the least to these divine standards are honored the most here on earth, while those who measure up the most have the heaviest cross to bear. Think of John the Baptist—the man whom the Lord called the greatest born of woman. He was a faithful servant of the Lord, and he faithfully discharged his duties and responsibilities. He was to prepare the way for the Lord by preaching repentance and by baptizing unto the remission of sins. He called all to repentance—even the religious leaders who thought they needed no repentance. He even rebuked King Herod—fearlessly in his faithfulness. What happened? He was imprisoned and finally lost his head to the executioner because of the hatred of a woman who was the slave of her own lusts and a man who was the slave of his own folly and false pride.
Times haven’t changed. Preachers and teachers today who preach and teach what the people want to hear, who adapt the Word of God to the passing and changing fancies of men, who permit themselves to be pressured into doing evil as Aaron was pressured when he made the golden calf—such men are well received, well paid, are promoted in the church’s hierarchy, and are well pensioned for their efforts. But the preacher or teacher today who dares to remain loyal to His Lord, who dares to tell people what their God wants them to hear instead of what they may want to hear, who faithfully proclaims the wisdom of God even though it has always appeared to be foolishness to the mind of men—and this generation is the same in considering God’s wisdom foolishness as every other—he may have his call terminated, may be put out in the street, may become the victim of lies and falsehoods without end. Every faithful preacher and teacher of the Word has experienced this, and should expect it.
But every faithful preacher and teacher has a right to expect that the members of his congregation, who want to be Christians, will evaluate him according to the standards that God has set and not according to personal whims and fancies. How do you judge pastors and teachers in the church? Do you formulate your opinion on the basis of their personal appearance, their personal habits, their natural or acquired abilities or do you judge them according to their faithfulness as servants of Christ and stewards of His mysteries? The question is important, for—
There were people in the congregation of Corinth who didn’t seem to like Paul personally and who didn’t think much of him as a preacher. What was Paul’s reaction? He wrote to them: “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.” Whether you are personally attracted or repelled by a preacher or teacher may seem very important to you at the moment, but it isn’t really that important. You don’t have to like your pastor or Sunday School teacher personally or socially to benefit from his teaching and preaching. But if you can’t benefit from his teaching and preaching because you dislike him for some personal reason, you are harming yourself.
Paul was able to say: “For I know nothing by—actually, against—myself.” His record was clear—not that he had pleased everyone, but that he had been a faithful servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God. Luther said that a preacher should not have to pray the fifth petition, “And forgive us our trespasses,” after he had finished preaching. He should know and be assured that he has preached the truth—pointing out to the hearers their sins on the basis of the law of God and pointing them to Jesus Christ as their Savior who can be and is to be received and accepted alone by faith.
Even though Paul knew nothing against himself, he said that he was not thereby justified, for the Lord is his Judge, and the Lord shall judge all preachers and congregation members on that last day when he “will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” of all.
You who sit in these pews either regularly or as visitors and you who attend Sunday School classes are constantly evaluating us who are your teachers and pastor. You should be aware of the fact that on the last day your evaluating of your teachers and pastors will itself be evaluated. Have you judged lovelessly according to the dictates of your own flesh or have you formed your opinion according to the criteria and standards that the Lord has set? The time to answer that question for yourself is now. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.