A sermon on I Corinthians 4:1-7, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 11/12/14, 2020.
The summer Olympics, like so many other things, were supposed to take place this summer in just over a month. Now, we will have to wait another year for these games to take place. Millions of people tune in to watch world class athletes compete in various events. In some of those events, such as gymnastics and diving, judges score the athletes on how well they performed the routine. Each athlete knows the criteria they have to meet. They have to stick the landing. They need to enter the water in a straight line to reduce the splash. If they fail to meet all the technical aspects, they will not receive all the available points. These expert judges watch with eagle eyes for even the slightest mistake.
Not everything can be easily measured in this way. Some things require a very subjective system of measurement. Things cannot be scored or recorded so easily. Two people might have very different interpretations of how well or how badly the person performed. For people who fail to find the middle ground in their perception this is a hard pill to swallow.
How does God measure his messengers? Does he have a list of objective things that need to be accomplished? Does he have judgment calls on how his messengers carry out their office? Paul, in his inspired letter to the Corinthians, answers that question for us.
The congregation in Corinth had problems. Paul spent much time in this letter dissecting those problems. One major problem was divisions in the church. The congregation boasted about which pastor they followed. Some proudly followed Paul. Others boasted in Apollos. Some even said they followed Christ. Paul told the congregation that the work was not divided. They all were on the same team proclaiming the same message.
The Corinthians congregation also had in their mind a list of qualities their pastors should have. The city of Corinth loved the ancient culture of philosophy. They looked for people that would be experts in rhetoric. They prized the gifts of leadership, charisma, and personality. This thought process spilled over into how they wanted their pastor’s resume to look. They, however, overlooked the most important trait of a pastor, faithfulness. In their subjective list, the things that mattered to them, they looked down on Paul.
Paul did not come with wise and persuasive words to sweep the congregation off their feet. His speech did not resonate with the same tone as the ancient philosophers and their rhetoric. His vocabulary lacked the ornateness that would catch the attention of the most educated in the city.
Paul would be the first to admit all these things. However, Paul did not care to be judged by that criterion, “But it is a trivial matter to me if I am evaluated by you or be a day in human court. Why, I do not even evaluate myself” (I Corinthians 4:3). Paul would not be a good politician. The court of public opinion mattered nothing to him. He would shoot straight from the hip. He would speak the truth, for it was God’s truth to speak. Paul did not even judge himself. He let God do the judging. “Therefore judge nothing ahead of time, until the Lord comes. He will bring to light whatever is hidden in darkness and also reveal the intentions of hearts” (I Corinthians 4:5).
God had one thing that he would look for in his messengers, faithfulness. “In this connection, moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2).
Paul gets it. He understands what God looks for. Not that vocabulary, leadership, and public speaking do not matter. They serve their purposes. However, Paul knows faithfulness trumps everything.
Is this something we always think about? Sometimes we get caught up in looking at all the externals, which become very subjective. Churches desire the charismatic person with the million dollar smile and a personality to match. They want a messenger that will captivate the masses with wit and applicable stories. If these are the only things to measure with, the house will fall. The next person might not possess those qualities, or at least not to the same degree.
Faithfulness is something that can never be taken for granted. Faithfulness to God’s Word stands as the greatest quality in God’s messengers. The pastor depends not on himself in this situation but on God. The pastor relies on the power of the Spirit rather than on the power of self. God’s criteria are very objective in what he looks for, faithfulness. We pray that faithfulness to the Scriptures will be a quality in all of God’s messengers.
Notice I said in all of God’s messengers. It is not just pastors that do this. It is not just the called public servants of the church that carry out this mission. The Church, all of us, are messengers to the world. God demands complete faithfulness from us.
This means we make faithful use of what God has given to us. We handle a very powerful tool, his Word. The inspired, inerrant Word comes to us as the greatest gift. These words bring eternal salvation. They provide comfort to the person struggling with sin. These words speak forgiveness to the conscience clouded with guilt. These words cannot be changed to fit a single narrative. These words are not dependent on the personality of the presenter. These words require nothing but faithfulness in the proclamation of the gospel.
When we are faithful, the results will come. Paul might not have had the qualities of the philosophers or other worldly leaders but he did not hesitate to proclaim Christ. The Spirit, through the faithful preaching and teaching of Paul, brought many people to faith. The gospel work continued to flourish through the churches Paul established throughout the world.
We might not be the one leading the charge in reaching the masses. We do take our grandchild or child upon our lap and teach them about Jesus. We might not be the most eloquent in public speaking. We can invite our neighbor to church. We offer to sit with them. We tell them, “Come and hear!” The Spirit works through faithful messengers in his kingdom.
For God will judge the hearts of his people. We cannot look into a person’s heart to see their true motives. If a person is faithful to God and his Word, we will rejoice. If they deceive us, they will have to answer to God as judge.
We pray for faithful messengers. We pray that God will keep us faithful to his Word. The Lord demands faithfulness. Amen.