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Regarding Servants and Stewards

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
November 29, 2021 1:00 am

Regarding Servants and Stewards

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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November 29, 2021 1:00 am

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Please turn with me to first for the instructor for overlooking the entire chapter tonight as we wrap up this opening section of Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians. He's been dealing with cormorants preoccupation with human wisdom with cleverness with rhetoric and he brings all to a head.

Here in chapter 4, where he addresses the root of the problem which is pride. First Corinthians chapter 4 verses one through 21 the word of the Lord. 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 with me as a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I'm not aware of anything against myself but I'm 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 the policy 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 who sees anything different and 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 rain so that we might share the room with you. I think God has exhibited us apostles as last of all white men sentenced to death because we have become a spectacle to the world to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ sake, but you are wise in Christ we are weak, but you are strong you are held in honor but we in disrepute.

The present hour we hunger and thirst.

We are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless. 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 ride became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

I urge you, then the imitators of me that is why I sent you, Timothy, my beloved and faithful child of the Lord to remind you of my ways in Christ.

As I teach them everywhere in every church somewhere 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 is not consistent.

Talk, but in power. What do you wish shall I come to you with a rod with love in the spirit of gentleness with prayer father, you have graciously brought us from the slave market of sin and made us sons and daughters of the most high King you have commissioned us with important work in your kingdom work that affects the souls of men and work that has the potential to bring you great glory Lord. Though we have been redeemed by you and put to work in your vineyard and all too often act like were still slaves to sin. We forget that we have nothing that hasn't been given to us from heaven and we go about our lives full of pride in conceits and self righteousness with an independent spirit that ignores the debt of grace we owe, but could never repay Lord were not the first generation of Christians that have struggled with pride. We thank you that you have given us instruction regarding the way out of our arrogance, you point us toward the path of humility and can you tell us how to get there.

So help us Holy Spirit to listen and understand what you would have us know. Help us to believe and obey what you would have us do. We pray this all in Jesus name, amen. I remember hearing Derek Thomas, speaking in chapel one day it at my seminary years ago. He had been preaching at his church through the book of Isaiah, and he was giving us seminary and some words of advice, and he said the challenge and preaching through a book like Isaiah is to not let the 15th sermon on judgment sound like the previous 14 sermons on judgment. Now the book of first Corinthians is not thankfully contain 39 consecutive chapters on God's judgment of sin. Like Isaiah does but it does contain four consecutive chapters in which Paul is dealing with the same Corinthian sand over and over and over again, and so the challenge is to acknowledge the redundancy without overlooking the nuance distinctions in these opening chapters and in studying and thinking about chapter 4 this past week I spent a lot of time asking myself, what is Paul saying here that he's not already said in chapters 1 through three in what became apparent to me as I studied is that Paul's focus, and in these final words on the matter shifts really to the root of the problem at Corinth this love of clever rhetoric.

This addiction they had to the cult of personality it was splitting the church apart. All these things at their roots were the pervasive sin of pride. That was what was the root of the sin.

And so here in chapter 4 Paul uses his his apostolic magnifying glass to expose the churches pride and to call them to a life of humility. Specifically, humility, and how they engaged in Christian service the end of the day. The Corinthians, boasting in in this teacher or that apostle had nothing to do with their opinion of Paul or Paulus or Cephas. It was simply an underhanded way of the Corinthians boasting about themselves to say I like Paul because he's the most like me is really to say I like me. That's where all of this was coming from.

It was it was arrogance. It was self exalting pride.

It was masquerading as Christian service in the kingdom of God. You would think that Christians who have been saved by grace would not struggle with this kind of self focus, particularly as it relates to their service to the church mean to to be a Christian means that, at least to some extent you have recognized your spiritual bankruptcy right your sinful condition. Your wretchedness before the Lord. How can a person who has seen these things, who have seen the awfulness of their own sin turnaround and act as if they are God's greatest gift to the church or think the answer is simple really. It's that self dies hard even for those who have been bought with the blood of Christ, we love ourselves so much that it will take a lifetime of God, sanctifying work to bring us to the point of fully embracing our chief in which is to glorify God, not me to enjoy and to enjoy God not me.

We love ourselves. We love getting the credit.

We love being noticed and esteemed and lauded for a job well done.

We love to be thought well of someone these inordinate affections of of self love intersects with the high calling of service to the bride of Christ to which we are all called that self-love doesn't just magically disappear. In fact, when it comes to the noble task of serving in God's kingdom. I think that the drive to be praised only escalate.

It's easy for us to convince ourselves that our arrogance is really just zeal for the kingdom we get to spiritualize our our pride and call it using my gifts or serving the Lord.

Paul calls Corinth and Paul calls us to lay down our reputation are high and lofty opinions of ourselves and of our contribution to the kingdom and to embrace the label scum of the world. Refuse, of all things. If we have to. If the measure of a good apostle is his faithfulness to God than the measure of any minister any ministry from apostleship right down to the spiritual gifting's of the church's youngest member ought to be faithfulness to God and his faithfulness to God is the measure of good Christian service and commendation from the world is attempting but an unreliable means of of measuring good Christian service.

This chapter, then, is about humility. Humility in how we view ministers and ministries. Humility in how we view ourselves and humility.

Specifically, in how we view our labor in the Lord our Christian service to the church want to do tonight is is to walk to the entire sermon at the entire chapter 4 twice that the first time will just go through it kind of come quickly to discover Paul's overarching train of thought and then once that has been established. I want to go back to the chapter again with an eye toward application and and draw from it several principal several exhortations that Paul gives us to help us exhibit humility in our labor, for the kingdom of God. So Paul begins in verses one through five. By making an example out of himself and the Paulus and in making himself an example he intends for the Corinthians to see themselves in that example and to correct their own error so it is a corrective example in verses one through five in verse one, Paul explains how the church should regard or esteem, its leaders and teachers. Teachers like Paul and like a policy says this is how one should regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God when you think about the people who have evangelized you and and disciple view and mentor due in your Christian walk. Don't think of them as celebrities don't think of them as Hebrews as heroes think of them as servants and stewards that these these terms simultaneously emphasize both the lowliness and the authority of God's ministers word servants emphasizes the aspect of subordination one who was underneath the word steward emphasizes the aspect of responsibility, minister of God then ought to be seen ought to be regarded as someone who is not the head, not at the at the top of the proverbial totem pole, but who nonetheless has been entrusted with an important task for the one who is the head minister is in a position of being both in authority and under authority. At the same time and so we who are served by them are not to view them as being less important than they are. Or, more importantly, are they do have authority over us, but they never occupy the place of ultimate authority over us. That's were to regard servants of the Lord. Verse two Paul says moreover it is required of stewards that they be found faithful they be found faithful if Paul and Apollo's are stewards in their service runs into directions. It runs up and it runs down the chain of command as stewards, they have a responsibility to serve the one who commissioned him to be a steward right that would be God, but they also have a responsibility to those that they have been commissioned to serve that would be the church. Paul's point in verses two through five.

Is that a stewards commendation a stewards approval. In performing his task is not granted from below it's granted from above, Paul is called to serve the Corinthians, their opinion of him doesn't determine his value as a minister. It's not even Paul's own opinion of himself that manifested that matters see that in verse three are even judge myself. He says, rather it is God's opinion of him that determines whether he has succeeded or failed as a steward, so if Paul's calling as a minister of the gospel is to to scratch the Corinthians. It's for clever rhetoric and he ought to be evaluated as a minister, according to his rhetorical skills but if Paul's calling is to be a steward of the mysteries of God, then he ought to be evaluated according to his faithfulness and proclaiming those mysteries. Paul's essentially saying in these first five verses a court if you want to evaluate my ministry. Go ahead, but evaluated according to its faithfulness to the gospel according to its compliance to the Greek, tastes and preferences. I'm serving you, but I work for God. I want to effect positive change here Corinth, but whether or not that ever happens my commendation comes from God, not from you, so this then is the corrective example, Paul makes of himself and the policies the next, Paul makes a condemning application of this example to the Corinthian Christians themselves. In verses six and seven. You see the first paragraph really wasn't about Paul and a policy at all. It was about the Corinthians. Paul says in verse six, I have applied these things to myself and Apollo's but 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. Whatever Paul had just said about himself in a policy.

One of the Corinthians to apply to themselves. In other words, if if Paul and Apollo's are merely servants and stewards whose commendation in ministry comes from their faithfulness to the gospel and to the God who commissioned them in the Corinthians are also merely servants and stewards whose commendation comes from their faithfulness to the gospel and to the God who commissioned them is a pride had been the driving force in the Corinthians, approval or rejection of ministers. Of course they had convinced themselves. This was was all about honoring Paul or admiring Apollo's are showing esteem to Peter, but in reality all of that was a ruse by which the Corinthians could honor and admire and esteem themselves. So Paul lets them know just like he and Apollo's are mere stewards so they are mere stewards who only have what they have because of grace for seven who sees anything different in you, what you have that you do not receive if and you received it. Why do you boast as if you did not receive it. And so the corrective example that Paul makes of himself in a policy is applied to the Corinthian Christians, with the intention of condemning their pride and calling them to humble repentance.

It's a it's a condemning application of the stewardship principle to the proud people of Corinth.

This brings us to verses 8 to 13, where Paul makes a convicting comparison between the apostles and the Corinthians in this paragraph Paul sings the praises of the Corinthians, but with with tongue-in-cheek is as you have all you want Corinth to become rich.

You become kings, at least in terms of your reputation before the world and while you have been busy becoming rich kings before the world. We apostles have become a despised spectacle to the world.

Verse 10, Paul says we are fools, but you are wise, we are weak, but you are strong your held in honor but we in disrepute we hunger and thirst, and are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless. We labor with our hands. We are reviled in and persecuted and slandered. Yet we bless and endure and then treat. We have become like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things while you Corinth sit in judgment of our public speaking ability and of our intellectual cleverness from your vaulted place of prestige.

Paul wasn't complaining. He's glad to bear the cross is glad to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ is trying to expose Corinth's arrogance in this paragraph is really the climax of Paul's rebuke. He's even building for chapters 9 and finally just come boiling over the rim of the pot.

Paul is telling us spiritual children that if the ones being served are honored and esteem.

While the ones serving them are considered to be scum and refuse something is amiss. It's it's shameful, and suspect that a spiritual father is rejected for preaching the gospel while the children are honored and esteemed for supposedly the same gospel somethings not right things, not what it seems something is upside down and of course Paul knows exactly what that something is. It is a Corinth is so blinded by their own pride that they are mistaking worldly approval for spiritual success. So Paul calls them out in hopes to go see their blind spot and be convicted of their pride.

It's a convicting comparison.

Finally, Paul makes a commanding threat to his beloved Corinthian congregation. In verses 14 through 21 in verse 14 he makes it clear that he's not simply shaming them he's admonishing them to shame someone is to is to leave them wallowing in their guilt, but to admonish implies a desire on the part of the exhort, or to effect change doesn't just want to vent his frustration. He wants Corinth to change their ways.

The sort of change. Paul would love to see in the lives of the Corinthian church begins by them learning to regard ministers and ministries correctly according to the right standard and then by their imitation of those godly ministers verse 16. I urge you, then be imitators of me is why I sent Timothy to remind you of my ways in Christ. Paul says Paul wants Corinth to view and practice the kind of kingdom service that is measured not by the size of it splash in the culture by its faithfulness to the gospel and he concludes by assuring him he is coming for a visit gives them fair warning says if you if you take heed to this letter than outcome and love in a spirit of gentleness. But if you reject this letter on coming with arrive.

Paul is a loving spiritual father, but he's no pushover. And so he ends the section essentially saying to the Corinthians.

When I come for a visit going to bring a stick. What is asking is serious about what is telling them it's a it's a commanding rats when we know the court is not the only church to have misperceived the measure of good kingdom service. They're not the only Christians to have confused gospel success and worldly success. They want the last congregation to conceal their pride and their love for notoriety behind a façade of of spiritual hypocrisy. And so if if the shoe fits. We need to wear it. If we are in any way exhibiting the flaws that Paul dealt with in court.

We need to heed his words and and if anything, the stakes are raised for us Arctic. We have Paul's letter to dislike the Corinthians did and we have the entire New Testament we have Peter's letters. We have John's letters and Luke's writings and and and all of the Old Testament in 2000 years worth of church history in which countless spiritual fathers have explained and apply the word of God to the church so what excuse do we have do not get the fact that when it comes to our labor for the kingdom of God. Pride is bad and humility is good. We have no excuse.

So what can be learned from Paul's instruction here about what acceptable kingdom service looks like that how can each of us exhibit humility rather than arrogance in our labor, for the kingdom of God's will. Paul mentions at least 10 ways by which you can exhibit humility in your kingdom works… Quickly walked back through the passage and pull out these 10 principles. These 10 admonitions from Paul. First of all, view yourself as a servant of Christ. View yourself as a servant of Christ see that in verse one. The Corinthians were to regard Paula policy servants, they ought to have also regarded themselves as servants you know a parent begins the rearing of a child by doing literally everything for the child.

The parent feeds the child addresses the child and speaks for the child and thanks for the child. But there comes a point in the child if he is maturing needs to begin doing things for himself. The goal in serving the child is to eventually produce a self-sufficient adult who can replicate the same kind of service to his children that his parents gave to him all spoonfed the Corinthians, because they were spiritual infants, but the goal was never for the Corinthians to stay in a state of spiritual infancy. The idea was that they would learn to eat meat so that they could go feed milk to the next generation all served them so that they would, in turn, go and serve others. We are served by gifted leaders and teachers and and pastors and officers, not so that we can sit back and be at ease.

We are served so that we will go and serve need to view ourselves as servants of Christ.

How then do we serve Christ.

This is Paul's second exhortation there in verse one serve Christ by being a steward of the gospel steward of the mysteries of God. There are a million things you could do in the name of kingdom service. How do you know what to give yourself to how you know what to spend your best energies on well you give priority to that which proclaims and promotes the mysteries of God which in Paul's writing is is shorthand for the revelation of the gospel spend yourself doing that which will make Christ and him crucified. The central message of your life, your steward of the gospel. Thirdly, evaluate your service according to its faithfulness to Christ and the gospel rather than according to the opinions of others, including your own that seen in verses two through four.

Using the primary quality that is desirable in a steward is not credibility or renown, but faithfulness other people's opinion of us even our opinion of ourselves is inaccurate when commentator said introspection is not the way forward. Often people think that they know exactly what their spiritual state is and just what their service for God has affected the result may depressed beyond reason or exalt beyond measure.

Neither is relevant is not the task of the servant to pass such judgments. Rather, to get on with the job of serving the Lord as we are we are dim, cited by God is preeminently discerning.

We think of ourselves to indulgently but God is the judge of the utmost strictness and consistency to let his assessment of us be the assessment that matters. Number four verse five. Remember that God will one day expose your actions and your motives. Remember that God will one day expose your actions and motives we don't need to praise ourselves or commend ourselves or sell ourselves to the world to validate our Christian service.

God will make all of those judgments on Judgment Day.

We have but to focus on being faithful to his instruction to let his will, rather than human applause be our motivation. The fifth thing we see here in verse six and and hear what I'm saying not what I'm not saying is this, beware of having heroes. It could be a mask that's hiding a too high opinion of yourself.

Beware of having heroes.

There is a right way to hold people in high esteem. But there is also a wrong way, all is not prohibiting Christians from esteeming faithful workman who have proven themselves to be true to the gospel.

He's condemning the way we sometimes prefer certain ministers and ministry styles solely on the basis of ambition and and the perception of success or on the basis of how certain spiritual giants of the past, perhaps stroke our ego. Isn't it interesting how we seem to always gravitate toward people who are like us. If I'm a black-and-white kind of person than I like black and white kind of preachers I got no time for those nuanced compromising sorts if I'm enthusiastic about acts of service. I like ministers and ministries that affirm mercy ministry and I can get easily exasperated by those long-winded preachers who were always insisting on doctrinal precision.

You see, we love to see our own strengths and proclivities and others because it's affirming its it's validating but there's a danger here, especially if we allow ourselves to overlook or be dismissive of the diversity of gifts that God has given to his church and are your spiritual heroes should probably be faithful Christians who are strong in areas where you are. We in areas where you need to grow not just heroes who are always affirming you by mirroring her favorite personality traits. So beware of heroes number seven. Remember that anything you have that is praiseworthy, talents, opportunities, knowledge, relationships has been given to you not earned by the way of exercising humility in our spiritual service. We see this in verse seven.

Get this in your head and heart everything in us that is worthy of praise is derived everything in you that is worthy of praise is derived. It came from outside if you didn't produce within the columns from the outside which which are free us from the temptation to take the credit, but it also reminds us of the obligation to be faithful stewards of these gifts that have been given to us. Next you need to be aware of enjoying more esteem from the world, then your spiritual forebears have had. This is Paul's warning in verses 8 to 13 are.

I realize that it's it quite possible to be send Leslie more highly esteemed than one's predecessors were there again is a there's a danger here. While Paul was was glorying in the reproaches he endured for Christ. The Corinthians were considering themselves blessed to have not had to deal with all of that contempt and derision and persecution they they had Christ, but had somehow maintained their respectability before the world folks respect from the world is rarely if ever a sign of spiritual success. If there is as big a discrepancy between the world's opinion of you and the world's opinion of your spiritual mentors. As I was between Paul's reputation in the Corinthians reputation, you probably need to question your devotion to Christ in your motives and ministry. The eighth exhortation verses 14 through 17 is that if you're guilty of any of these exhibitions of pride.

Don't wallow in the guilt of past failings rather repent of your pride today and begin serving with humility. Don't get stuck in a analysis paralysis.

Again, Paul's objective was not to shame the Corinthians, and just walk away know he wanted them to repent, to learn humility to practice humble kingdom service. It's unproductive to sit in dust and ashes sulking over your pride without ever changing, by the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit in you.

Acknowledge your pride repent of your pride and move forward in humility next in verses 18 to 20, Paul admonishes us to make sure your walk matches your talk I don't I don't imagine that anyone here tonight would say with their mouth that the path to good ministry involves keeping up appearances wouldn't say that we know better than to say that what we still sometimes act like we do what we do for the condom commendation that we received for you. I can say with my mouth to God be the glory and then proceed to to do everything I do in a way that screams to me be the glory. Paul says that out not to be because the kingdom of God. Verse 20 is not consistent talk, but in power, our actions more so than our words reveal the true motives of our hearts. And finally, from verse 21 you need to consider what your relationship with your spiritual leaders reveals about your motives and service in the kingdom. Consider your relationship.

Those God has put over you in the faith. Corinthians were facing the prospect of Paul showing up in court to commend them or rebuke them if they had obeyed the letter they would have nothing to fear but if they had continued in this arrogance that Paul was was condemning then they would need to live in dread of Paul's visit because it was not to be pretty God has given leaders to his church for its edification for its equipping in ministry and to the degree that we follow God's direction through these leaders, it will go well with us to the degree that we neglect that order will go poorly for us. This is the is the principal embedded in the fifth commandment is in it. Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you. He was 13, 17 applies the same principle to the relationship between church members and their officers and says, obey your leaders and submit to them for their keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning. That would be of no advantage to you. Are you habitually finding yourself at odds with those entrusted with keeping watch over your soul might be indicative of an arrogant spirit in you that needs to be mortified and replace with humility church. Ultimately, these four chapters 1st four chapters of first Corinthians all about maximizing the glory of Christ, we we confuse our purpose as the body of Christ on earth.

When we replace the preaching of the cross with 100 other good endeavors. Education has value. So get as smart as you are able to do with the intellectual abilities you have or card to send your kids to the best school you can afford efforts of humanitarian charity and philanthropy make life better for suffering people soap so go help the poor less fortunate the oppressed politics matter, so votes and campaign and and hold the state accountable health is better than sickness. So try to stay fit and an able and healthy but brothers and sisters. None of these things matter in a crisis world because none of these things can take someone who sin is red like crimson and wash it white as snow.

Only Christ and him crucified can do that and if only Christ and him crucified can do that then shouldn't the all-consuming goal that goes through our hearts and minds every morning.

The how can I promote the glory of Christ today and make his gospel known the world will laugh at that. If that's your goal, world will look at you and say what a wasted life there scum of the earth. The rest, the refuse of all things.

But God will say well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master if I'm serving the Lord for the applause of men.

I'm really not serving the Lord.

If I'm serving with right motives with humility in my heart.

Then Jesus Christ will be at the center of everything I do with Jesus you lay down your life for us and you have called us to imitate you in laying down our lives for others. Help us to do that in such a way that the aroma of our lives is one that always seeks to stay out of the way of of your fame of your prominence of your glory or may we decrease and may you ever increase in our own hearts and in the hearts of those we serve. We pray in your name for your glory man

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