1 Cor 4 (ESV):
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 trustworthy. 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. I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
This text gives us great insight into the characteristics of a servant of Christ. Anyone can claim to serve Christ, but to know who a true servant of Christ is we must measure them against what the bible clearly defines as characteristics of His servants.
A servant of Christ is to be a steward of the mysteries of God (v1)
A steward is someone who takes care of the affairs of his masters house. The steward himself owns nothing, but manages the estate of his master. As a steward we are to manage the message and the resources that God has entrusted to us.
A servant of Christ must be found faithful (v2)
Right after Paul tells us that faithfulness is a requirement, he makes sure we understand that this can only be judged by God and not by man (vv3-5). It is not the judgment/praise of others or even ourselves that we should be seeking – but the judgment of God. A good steward understands that what his master thinks is the important thing.
A servant of Christ learns by good examples (vv6-7)
Paul tells us to use him as an example so that we will not go beyond what is written. When we start going beyond the message that we have been entrusted with we stop being a good steward.
A good steward would not pour a cup of wine for his master from the masters choice wine and add his own cheap wine to it. That would cheapen the entire glass of wine! So we should not add our teachings to God’s.
Paul tells us that doing so puffs us up against each other. It is a sure sign of pride to think that we can add to what God has said. And this pride sets brother against brother.
He goes on to tell us the foolishness of pride. Paul reminds us that God has given us all that we have. We have received, not earned our salvation. And because we received it, we cannot boast of it. All glory goes to God.
As we see humble Christians serving the Lord, we should learn from their example and be prompted to follow in the footsteps of those who follow Christ.
A servant of Christ is poor in this world. (vv8-13)
Many people think that the Christian life is a life of material wealth. I have even heard some say that if someone is poor it is because they lack faith. This kind of thinking is in direct contradiction of God’s word.
God’s word tells us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to Heaven.
In the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, it was Lazarus who went on to Heaven while the rich man suffered in the fires of Hell.
The word of God clearly teaches throughout that we should not focus on material wealth which corrodes and decays, but on the riches that have eternal weight – those that are found in Christ alone and are of great spiritual value.
Paul points to the wealth and power the Corinthians had without him. Then Paul contrasts this state of the Corinthians before they had Christ to the state of a servant of God.
When Paul describes the Christian he uses such terms as – condemned, a spectacle, fools, weak, dishonored, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, filth of the world. This is a description of their condition.
He then goes on to describe the Christian character in these conditions – they work, bless, endure, entreat.
This is because our focus and satisfaction are not found in our condition, but in our relationship with Jesus Christ. And this relationship is on a very intimate level.
So from a worldly perspective we are poor indeed. But from a spiritual perspective we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3).
A servant of Christ has paternal care for his disciples. (vv14-21)
Paul concludes by telling them why he is writing these things to them – he cares for them as a father cares for his children. As a servant of Christ, Paul is motivated out of a paternal love that he has for the Corinthians. Any other motivation outside of Godly love is illegitimate.
A true Christian will never condemn others for sin because it makes them feel superior, they will not treat others with contempt.
A true Christian will interact with people out of the overflowing love that comes from Christ within him. This love of Christ is so great that it compelled Him to go to the cross and die for our sins. And as the scripture says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”( Jn 15:13).
There is no greater love than the love of Christ. And a true Christian will be compelled by this love.
Let us consider the hope that God has called us to. It is an eternal hope, not a hope focused on the temporal things of this fallen world. We are called to a living faith in Jesus Christ who is at the right hand of the Father. Let us focus on those things that make us good servants of God, and dismiss those things that are self-centered and have no eternal weight. Some of you have already been called to the salvation that God has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps the Lord is calling others today to that same salvation. He sent His Son as a sacrifice for your sins. As we put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we will be conformed into the image of a blessed servant of Christ.