Grace to You Resources
Grace to You - Resource

Over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been talking to you about the church. We talked about heaven on earth and the elements of the church, the responsibility that every Christian has to realize that if you’re joined to Christ, you’re joined to His church universal and you need to be joined to the church local. We talked about that and how important it is for you to assemble together, and even much the more as you see the end of time and the return of Christ on the horizon. And I felt like I was spending five or so weeks kind of telling you all what you needed to do, and you needed equal time to hear my side. So this morning and next Sunday morning I want to talk about what is required of the pastor, what is required of a faithful shepherd and pastor.

There are so many different models of pastor and church leader floating around in the culture that one couldn’t find any norm unless one went back to the Word of God, which is what you have to do. Laying aside everything you see out there, you have a right to understand what the responsibility of the shepherd and the pastor is before the Lord and on your behalf; and that’s what’s on my heart to share with you this morning. And I could use many passages, obviously, in the New Testament, but one of my very favorite is 1 Corinthians chapter 4. So if you’ll open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 4, we will read that just to set it in your mind, and we’ll go through the first 13 verses, as far as I can tell, this Sunday and next.

First Corinthians chapter 4, verse 1, “Let a man regard us in this manner”—this is how you are to think about your pastor, your shepherd. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

“You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”

This is a remarkable passage where Paul frames up the foundational virtue, the necessary characteristic of a faithful pastor; and in a word, it is humility. This is a text about being humble. Humility is the necessary dominating virtue in anyone in ministry, if that person is to fulfill the calling that God has placed on his or her life. So this is a passage about humility, the benchmark. Humility is the benchmark of any faithful servant of God.

Now this is not what the culture would tell us. We live in a world system that neither desires nor requires humility. No matter where I look, I don’t see humility on display; I don’t see it in politics, I don’t see it in business, I don’t see it in professions, I don’t see it in sports, I don’t see it in the arts. People who have any public persona, any opportunity to step into the limelight, tend to lift themselves up, seeking prominence, and more prominence, publicity, fame, prosperity, adulation.

You can see the world fighting for prominence. But for someone who is a minister of Jesus Christ, the fight is for humility; and there’s a fight there because you have to fight against your own fleshly pride. As one who serves the Lord, we have to seek what humbles us while everybody in the world is doing just the opposite. And sadly, that mentality in the world of braggadocio and self-promotion has certainly spilled over into the church, with many pastors seeking prominence and celebrity status, and the professing Christian world has managed to respond by granting them some of it. But the true man of God will choose the hidden path, the path of sacrifice, the path of approval from heaven rather than the spotlight and adulation of men.

When you think about John the Baptist and you remember that Jesus said about him he was the greatest man who ever lived up until His time, and you ask the question, What was characteristic of John the Baptist that made him so great? Was it the strength of his conviction? Was it the proclamation of the arrival of the Messiah—his powerful, convicting words that cut the hearts of his contemporaries, and particularly the religious elite? Well, all of that certainly played a part in it. But the thing that designates John the Baptist more than anything else—we don’t have much of John the Baptist in terms of what he said in the New Testament—but here’s one statement that he made that we can identify as the heart and soul of his humility. He said this in John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Greatest man who ever lived up until his time, and he must decrease, and Christ must increase.

This is what Paul is saying here. And the mighty impact of Paul was not developed out of his great logical mind; he would not say that that’s why he was so successful. It didn’t develop out of his vast education or knowledge, or even his strong convictions; but it was that same attitude that John the Baptist had. It was his humility that made him so powerful. How humble was Paul? He said, “I am the least of the apostles.” He said, “I am not fit to even be an apostle.” In another place he said, “I am the very least”—not only of the apostles—“I am the very least of all the saints,” Ephesians 3. And then amazingly, in 1 Timothy 1, he said, “I am the foremost of all sinners,” “the foremost of all sinners.”

Now Paul had natural inclination toward pride, and he says in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 the Lord sent a messenger from Satan to humble him so he didn’t exalt himself. God has to bring things into a servant of God’s life that humble him. As Spurgeon said, “There are only two kinds of ministers: those who are humble and those who are about to be humbled.” The Lord worked hard, helping Paul fight for humility. And as we come to 1 Corinthians, the background to what I just read you is that the Corinthian church had gotten into the habit of exalting their favorite teachers, just the opposite of what they should have been doing. If you go back to chapter 1 for a moment, we can see what was happening.

In verse 11 of chapter 1, 1 Corinthians 1:11, “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chole’s people, that there are quarrels among you.” That’s nothing new in a church. But notice the nature of it, in verse 12: “Now I mean this,  each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I [am] of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’” You have identified heroes; you have elevated these to the detriment of the others. And he asks in verse 13, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” This is ridiculous. But they had followings for these particular gifted teachers; and some of them were so pious as to say that “I just follow Christ.” This was dividing the church.

If you go over to chapter 3, 1 Corinthians, he rolls out the effect of this: “I, brethren,” verse 1, “could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, [and] not solid food”—in other words, very basic teaching—“for you were not . . . able to receive the solid food. Indeed, even now you are not yet able”—why?—“for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” And then he describes what he means: “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” In other words, God is the one who knows the truth and is keeping a record that relates to heavenly reward.

This is divisiveness in the Corinthian church to the degree that Paul says, “I can’t even write to you as to mature believers. Your immaturity is showing up in all these factions built about the worship of one or another of the preachers. This is wrong. This is crippling your spiritual development.”

At the end of chapter 3, verse 21, he says, “Let no one boast in men.” “Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you.” That is to say that all believers possess the same spiritual realities. We have, all of us, the gift of all things that pertain to life and godliness. So “[don’t] boast in men. . . . All things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you.” In other words, no one has more than another. “And you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” Just an incredibly rich statement: All the kingdom realities belong to all of you, and you all “belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” There shouldn’t be any division, and especially not over preferencing certain teachers over the others. But that’s what was going on in Corinth, to the degree that, as we just read, Paul was unable to give them deeper understanding of the truth because they manifested such fleshly attitudes.

All of that leads us to chapter 4, and it begins, “Let a man regard us in this manner.” So you’re not supposed to boast in man, you’re not supposed to set one teacher over another. But how are you to regard those who lead you, those who feed you, those who teach you? “Let a man regard us in this manner.” Here’s how you’re to understand the pastor, the teacher, the preacher that God places over you: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ,” “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”

Now going down to verse 13, there’s a handful of features that Paul will speak about, write about, that define humility. The first one I just read you in verses 1 and 2: The humble shepherd—the humble apostle, in this case—was content to be a servant. He was content to be a servant, given a stewardship; and what was required of him was trustworthiness.

Now go back to that little phrase “servants of Christ.” The word “servants” there is hupēretēs. It’s a very interesting word. There are a number of words in the Greek that are translated “servant” into the English, so you can’t always tell. This one is hupēretēs, hupēretēs; huper- is under. This is the lowest level of servitude. Hupēretēs was a way to identify the nameless, the nondescript, the slaves. In fact, it was used to speak of third-level galley slaves in a ship. One of those big-bellied, wooden ships in the ancient days had three levels of oars, and the slaves who were at the bottom were the under-rowers, the lowest of the low, pulling their oar, being seen by absolutely no one. But they pulled their oar to move the massive hulk through the sea, they themselves being unseen and unknown. Paul says, “You have to consider me a third-level galley slave.” It is the lowest thing he could possibly say. He is an underling; he is a subordinate; he’s at the bottom of the list. And in Luke, our Lord used that word to describe the disciples. He said, “My under-rowers, my third-level galley slaves,” hupēretēs.

In John chapter 18 and verse 36 that word appears again, and it’s from the lips of our Lord. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My [third-level galley slaves] would be fighting so that I [could] not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this [world].” In Luke, He referred to the disciples with this term, and here He referred to everybody who’s His servant in the kingdom. We’re all essentially third-level galley slaves.

That’s why, as I read you a few moments ago in chapter 3, verse 5, he says, “What . . . is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants.” “Servants.” Down in verse 8, “He who plants, he who waters are one”—in other words, they’re indistinguishable—“each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. We are God’s fellow workers.” In other words, none is above the other. This is the essence of humility in ministry.

If you look at chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians and verse 16, Paul says this, 1 Corinthians 9:16: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of”—nothing—“for I am under compulsion”—divine compulsion—“for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” Paul literally was in the ministry against his will. The Lord stopped him dead in his tracks on the Damascus Road, didn’t He—struck him blind, and called him to Himself and to preach the truth. “I don’t deserve any credit for this. I have nothing to boast of; I am under compulsion, and I’m in danger. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”

We don’t serve out of some noble choice; we serve because we have been called to serve, and against our will—God had to interrupt our plans and direct us to this service. And it’s challenging service. If you go to 2 Corinthians 6, verse 4, Paul makes an opening statement in that verse: “In everything commending ourselves as servants of God.” He uses the term diakonos, which is “table waiter.” He saw himself as a table waiter. God prepared a meal, namely His truth, and Paul’s job was to deliver it to the table.

He was a third-level galley slave, if you will, and a table waiter. And it was challenging. He says, “in everything commending ourselves.” The best we can say is we’re “servants of God.” And then he follows it up by adding all that comes with it: “in much endurance, in affliction, in hardship, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” He sees his calling as a deprivation. He had to give up virtually everything to be this servant of the Lord. Not glamorous.

And going back to 1 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul adds a second description in verse 1: “and stewards of the mysteries of God.” What is a steward? Really it’s a house manager, somebody who manages a house, oikonomos. Oikos is a word for “house,” and the verb for “manage” is connected to it. So what he is saying is, “I don’t own the house, I just manage the house for the owner. I’m a steward. And what are the responsibilities I have? To make sure that I manage well the mysteries of God.”

That is the role that the servant of the Lord plays. The responsibility is that narrow, and yet that comprehensive. You are a manager, a trustee, a protector and dispenser of properties that are not your own; they belong to God, they are His mysteries. “What do you mean, mysteries of God?” Those things which are known only by divine revelation.

We read in 1 Corinthians 1 that by wisdom the world cannot know God. It’s not accessible to them. He said that back in chapter 2, 1 Corinthians 2:14, “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” So how is the world going to ever hear the truth about God if they can’t access it themselves? The Lord has answered that with the call to ministry of servants of His who are stewarding His divine mysteries, meaning the revelation of God contained in Scripture.

That’s our function; we are stewards of divine revelation. You wonder why carefully and thoughtfully and consistently, we exposit the Scripture verse by verse by verse—because that is the only way that we can discharge our responsibility to be “stewards of the mysteries of God.” We can’t pick and choose. We can’t mingle it with our own ideas, or with psychology or philosophy. Titus says we are stewards of God; essentially the same thing. God has deposited His truth in our hands to manage for the benefit [of] His house.

Colossians 1:25 calls us both deacons and stewards. We serve humbly, dispensing what is not our own. What we teach is not our own; therein lies the discipline of study to show yourself “approved unto God, a workman needing not to be ashamed” because you “rightly [divide] the word of truth.” The Bible is the unfolding of the mysteries of God, and the faithful steward who is accountable to God will diligently attend himself to the Word, that he can divide it rightly.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul is talking to Timothy, and he tells him to “preach the word!” But before that—that’s in verse 2—in verse 1, he says, “I [command] you . . . before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead . . . preach the word!” You’re going to be judged. You’re going to be judged.

Some of our Lord’s parables lay out this same approach. You remember the parables where somebody left their property with servants in a stewardship; and then there was an accounting for what they did with that stewardship. Our stewardship is of the “mysteries of God,” the truths that are hidden and revealed only on the pages of Holy Scripture. So Paul was content to be a lowly servant, discharging a stewardship that he had before God, by dispensing divine revelation. He was accountable to God; he had nothing of his own to offer. All that was asked of him comes out in verse 2, is to be trustworthy. You’ve been given a trust. You could translate it to be “faithful.” “You have been given the truth, and you are to take that truth and with it you are to nourish the souls in your charge.”

In the twentieth chapter of Acts, Paul stopped to meet with the Ephesian elders, and in verse 27 he said this to them, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God,” or “the whole counsel of God.” “I didn’t hold anything back.” That’s what a faithful steward would do. “I held nothing back.”

In fact, he says, “Be on guard for yourselves”—verse 28—“and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” He’s now saying to the Ephesian elders, “You have the responsibility of that stewardship, now that I’ve passed the truth on to you.” And, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” “I did everything I could, I held back nothing, I gave you the Word; you now have the Word, and you’re responsible to pass it on to those in your charge.” So Paul’s humility is first expressed in the fact that he was content to be a servant—a third-level galley slave, if you will.

There’s a second feature in his expression of humility, and it’s in verses 3 to 5: He was content to be judged by God. He was content to be judged by God. Look at verse 3: “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

People seek the approval of men: affirmation, respect, admiration, reputation. Very easy for even ministers to get caught up in that. Paul does away with all of that in verse 3 when he says, “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human”—literally, “day in court.” “It’s trivial, it’s insignificant, it’s unimportant, it is irrelevant.” And when he uses the term “very small thing,” it’s really a superlative. It means “the least” or “the smallest.” It is the least important thing in his life to be judged, to be examined, to be investigated. And the verb there means to be investigated in a forensic sense. To have somebody investigate and render judgment on his ministry is the very least thing that he can even think of.

The process of being criticized and evaluated for good or bad means nothing to him, if it is the human evaluation. That’s what he says, “By you”—you humans—“or any human [tribunal].” “That’s irrelevant to me. It is meaningless.” Galatians 1:10, he says, “I’m not a man-pleaser. Doesn’t matter what people think.” He says, “In fact”—this is amazing—“I do not even examine myself.” “I don’t get caught up in being the judge and jury of my own life.” Why? Because Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

You don’t have the final verdict on your life, you’re biased in your own favor; it’s part of your residual fallenness. He says, “I don’t rest the judgment of my life into the hands of men; I don’t even put it in my own hands. Doesn’t matter, because neither others nor my own judgment are the final word. Man’s verdict is too biased, the standard is too low, and it’s a very insignificant thing what people think.”

So in verse 5 he then says, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment.” “Stop,” literally, “stop passing judgment. Stop saying, ‘Apollos is this,’ and, ‘Paul is this,’ and, ‘Peter is this,’ and, ‘Christ is this.’ Stop rendering these judgments. You don’t know enough to render a right judgment. And by the way, they’re all fellow workers anyway. What you’re doing is not fair to them, and you don’t have the right to do it, or the knowledge.” So verse 5, stop “passing judgment before the time”—what time?—“the time . . . [when] the Lord comes,” the Second Coming, when He comes. As He said in Revelation 22, “And My reward is with Me,” to give to every faithful person.

Don’t be passing judgment before the time “until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” You don’t know those things. You don’t know what’s hidden in the darkness of the heart. You may be very impressed by a certain preacher, a certain leader, but you don’t know the things that are hidden in the darkness. And you also have no ability to judge the motive. And God is concerned about the purity of the heart and the motive; and He knows perfectly the heart of His servant.

So wait until He comes, and He will bring it to light; and He will render a verdict on the life of the pastor, the shepherd, the leader. But it will be a verdict based upon not only what he did, but how much hidden darkness was there in his heart, and what were his motives. And then each man’s praise will come to him from God. Whatever allows him to pass that inspection and is found to be gold, silver, and precious stones, and not wood, hay, and stubble—as he talked about earlier—on the basis of that, known only to God, will come the verdict.

Ministry, in a sense, is a fight for humility. While all the world is fighting for prominence, the people who serve the Lord are fighting for humility. It’s a fight against the flesh. It’s a fight against your tendency to overestimate your own value, your own purity, your own integrity. You’ll never get the right verdict from a human source. Doesn’t mean you’re not to show respect and honor. You’re to respect those that are over you in the Lord and follow their faith and listen to what they say. But as far as pitting them against each other and ranking them in some human fashion, you have no right to do that; nor should any preacher seek such comparison.

What should mark the heart of a pastor? It should be humility. He should be content to be a third-level galley slave, a steward of truth. It doesn’t belong to him, but it belongs to God, and it’s been given to him to manage and dispense. And he should be content with the final evaluation of his life to be given at the time he sees the Lord face to face. Paul is content with that. This man who says he was the chief of sinners, not worthy to be an apostle, was waiting for the final verdict: “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

We don’t seek that from men. That’s why I say ministry is a battle for humility, fighting against the flesh and the intentions of people to elevate you and compare you with others, and pass judgment on you that only God can know.

Well, Paul has a lot more to say for next week. But at this point, he had a model to follow; he did. He said this: “Be followers of me, as I am of Christ.” No one lowered himself the way Christ did. Philippians 2 says He thought it not something to hold onto to be equal with God, but emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, became a man, went all the way down to death; and not just death, but death in the most ignominious way possible: by crucifixion.

This is your pattern. Let this mind be in you: the mind of humility as a steward of God’s truth and calling. You have every right to expect that and every good reason to pray that God would grant you such shepherds.

We come then, don’t we, to Christ as the example, lowering Himself all the way to the cross. And that brings us to this table. So let’s bow.

As we think about sharing in these elements, our Lord, we ask You to open our hearts to fully understand Your condescension, self-emptying, your taking on the form of a servant, slave, coming all the way down to death, even death on a cross, in order that You might steward the treasure of salvation. You humbled Yourself in order that You might overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and that You might overcome death and hell. “If You humbled Yourself,” Paul says, “I should as well. So follow me, as I follow Christ.”

As we come to the table, Lord, we ask that You would give us eyes to see and hearts to rejoice in the work that You did on the cross. You had to be more than a servant for us; You had to be a sacrifice. You had to die in our place and take our punishment for our sins: the full fury and wrath of God for all who would ever believe through all of human history. And You did that because You love us. And You set Your love on us before time began, and then condescended and paid the price to bring us to eternal glory.

The cross is everything. We who are believers have experienced the power of the cross, a great reality of the cross; and the provision that brings about our justification, sanctification, and one day, eternal glory. So we come in this simple way with the bread and the cup to remember the sacrifice You gave on the cross. May our hearts be penitent and thankful at the same time. Amen.

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