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Servants & Stewards

Stained-Glass of the Apostle Paul

Some Christians look at the men and women recorded in the Bible as "super saints." People whose images are rightly captured on stained-glass windows. Those whose sacrificial service to the King of kings is beyond the grasp of normal, regular, every day Christians.

But this is not how the Apostle Paul viewed himself. Paul urged Christians in Corinth to be imitators of him. Twice (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1). He said similar things to Christians in his other letters. See, for example, Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; Hebrews 6:12, 13:7; and 3 John 1:11. Paul said this instruction of imitating him and his conduct is something he teaches everywhere he goes:
Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:16-17)
Church Pews
Paul traveled. He preached the Gospel. He established local churches. He taught everywhere, in every church, what it means to follow Christ. He urged these disciples to imitate his own ways in Christ. To view Paul's life as one which is out of reach for the common Christian is completely contrary to the teaching of the Apostle himself.

What's worse, this attitude on behalf of the "normal Christian" is often veiled in modesty. But it has its roots in a spirit of pride. It falsely views the Christian walk as something we do. This is contrary to the correct understanding that it is something that God has done and will continue to do (Galatians 3:1-3).

When we say that our walk cannot be like Paul's, we are not being modest. We aren't being humble. Instead, we are insulting the grace of God. Perhaps not on purpose. But it's still an insult. We are insisting that God is not able to do in us what He has done in our brothers and sisters before us. Our problem is not an inability to be like Paul and these "super saints." Really, the problem is an unwillingness to die to self that Christ might live through us.

Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth expressed his heart and method for dying to self. Paul allowed the grace of God and Christ in him to act powerfully for the advance of the glory of God. Paul viewed himself, not as a "super saint," but as a servant and as a steward.

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

Everyone had an opinion of Paul. Some liked what he was doing. Others did not. But Paul was unconcerned about how others viewed him. The judgment of men didn't matter. He instructed Christians not to be deceived about themselves, either. To our own Master we stand and fall. Therefore, Christ's opinion of us is the only one that matters.

Are you concerned with the opinions of others? Or are you consumed with pleasing the God who loved you and redeemed you with the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Revelation 5:9)?

If you are a Christian, you must understand that you are no longer your own. You have been purchased at a price with the precious blood of Christ for God and His glory. As the redeemed, you are called to imitate Paul's ways in Christ. You, too, should identify yourself as a servant of Christ. As a steward of the mysteries of God.
In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 4:2)
The concept of being a servant and a steward is not common in our culture. Yet, the Scriptures have been delivered to us from the living God who reigns as a righteous King and whose kingdom extends over all the kingdoms of the earth (Psalm 103:19). God has delivered the faith to His saints once and for all (Jude 1:3). We are supposed to protect and care for this revealed faith. This revelation from the living God and Creator of all things is what we are to steward for the praise and glory of His name.

The Bible
Unfortunately, many who profess Christ are negligent in their responsibility. Some are ignorant of the content of the Scriptures. They are more concerned with other matters (1 John 2:15-17). As a result, we often fail to faithfully discharge our duty as servants and stewards.

I don't make this charge lightly. I'll never forget the first time I stood up to preach from the prophet Nahum. After the sermon, I was approached by a brother in Christ who has faithfully attended church nearly every Sunday for about 30 years. He chuckled and said, "When you said open your Bibles to Nahum, I thought you were kidding. I didn't even know that was a book in the Bible!"

Whoa.

As I've witnessed the gospel of Christ to thousands and thousands of people over the past decade, I have met many people from different places, who identify as different flavors of Christian (Baptist, Non-denominational, Presbyterian, etc.), yet who likewise have no real idea of the basic content of the Scriptures. This is by their own admission.

It's alarming.

Our God is not a wishy-washy God. He has taken great care to reveal Himself and His plan through the Scriptures and through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our task as servants and stewards is to know and understand this revelation from God so that we may walk according to His good will and pleasure for His glory. It is not our task to pick and choose which portions of Scripture to obey and emphasize and to ignore the rest. It is also not our task to go beyond what is written.

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? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7)


As followers of Christ, we serve the same Master. One body. One Spirit. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Our allegiance is not to our denomination. It's not to our culture. It's not to our political parties, hobbies, or pet doctrines. It is to Christ. As such, we who have been purchased by the blood of Christ are not enemies of each other. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God! Yet, most of the fighting I hear between professing believers is speculation on theological implications that go well beyond that which is written.

Know and Study the Scriptures
Most people I meet don't even realize they are going beyond what is written. They are quoting their favorite teachers as if the writings and opinions of men are Scripture. They don't know they are going beyond what is written because they are not familiar enough with what is written to be truly discerning.

Going beyond what is written happens all the time. Many Christians have no idea what is written. They haven't taken the time to diligently read and understand what is written by reading, reading, and reading their Bible some more.

Have you dedicated yourself to this pursuit? How many times have you read through your Bible, cover to cover? More than 20? Less than 5?

I've heard all the excuses:

I don't have time.

I'm very busy.

You don't understand. With my job, I simply can't read my Bible every day.


Time
When I hear these excuses I usually ask people how much time they spend surfing the Internet, checking social media, watching TV/movies/Netflix, or pursuing other hobbies. Most people spend hours (combined) on these other activities without any problem. But spending hours reading their Bible seems out of reach.

It's not a lack of time. It's a lack of proper prioritization. I don't say this to discourage you or anyone else. I say it to encourage you to take your stewardship seriously as it ought to be taken.

What much of modern Christianity has forgotten (or, simply never been taught) is that if you are a Christian, your job is first and foremost a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. Whatever other tasks and responsibilities God has given to you, you are to exercise in subordination to your primary calling as a servant and steward. Not the other way around!

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:23-24)

I repeat: Our problem is not an inability to be like Paul and these "super saints." Really, it's an unwillingness to die to self that Christ might live through us like Paul did.

Crown of Thorns
As Paul was writing to these believers in Corinth, he was addressing a bad strain of teaching that was influencing them and encouraging them to be comfortable. To look down upon his own sacrificial service of Jesus. Paul had no problem pointing out the error:

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. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

In our present, North American context, it sure seems like Paul's description of the Corinthian state is much to be desired! These believers are prudent, strong, distinguished, and comfortable.

Yet, Paul does not commend them in this. Instead, he tells them to be like him and the other Apostles. He even points out that their current view of themselves could be considered shameful.

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14-16)

Imitators of Paul. A spectacle to the world. A fool for the sake of Christ. Weak. Without honor. Hungry and thirsty. Poorly clothed. Roughly treated. Homeless. A hard worker who blesses when reviled, endures when persecuted, and tries to reconcile when slandered. Scum and dregs.

Imitate this.

Road Blessed By God
The call to abundant life in Christ is really a call to death to self. Much of what passes for Christianity these days is just talk. We talk the talk. Paul walked the walk. He taught everywhere, in every church, that this walk is for all who claim to follow Christ. Not just the "super saints."

On our own, and in our strength, this is impossible. But praise God for His grace and power which is so readily available to all who call on Him and rest in Him!

But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:19-20)

If the grace of God is active in your life, then the same power that made a weak and fearful man like Paul a powerful servant and steward of the mysteries of God is active in you.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Christ is Risen
Paul was transformed by the power of the gospel and His living Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Paul proclaimed those same truths as a faithful steward. His message was not his own. What he received he passed on (1 Corinthians 15:1-10). As a servant of Christ, the grace and power of God worked actively and powerfully in his life because he was willing to die to self and submit himself to the living God. The power and strength for his ministry sprang forth from this willingness. As a result, God was glorified through Paul's weakness.

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Ephesians 2:8
Do you believe that His grace sufficient for you? Are you willing to die to self, that Christ might live through you? Are you willing to suffer the loss of all things so that you might gain Christ? Are you doing what is necessary to be a faithful servant and steward of the mysteries of God?

If you are a follower of Christ, it is required that you be found trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:2).

He is worthy of nothing less.

Comments

P. Scott said…
Thanks Joe, This is well spoken (written) and helps me get a grasp on some Scriptures that I have been studying lately. I think many who claim to be "servants" of God like what Ephesians 2:8-9 say... but forget to keep going to verse 10. God didn't save us (or offer salvation) simply for our benefit. He has specific work for each of us to "walk in"... not the least of which is to "go', "make","baptize" and "teach". (Matt. 28:18-20)
Scott
Joe K. said…
Hey P. Scott! Thanks for your encouragement. My experience in talking with many professing Christians, especially while out sharing the gospel, is that they'd rather we tear James 2:24-26 out of our Bibles!

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Of course, James isn't disagreeing with Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9, but is saying without us walking in the works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), then whatever "faith" we have is not a saving faith, but a dead faith!

The Protestant church culture today has a very low view of grace (in reality) while professing a high one. This "grace" is able to save and preserve for the next life, but makes little difference in the present! Biblical descriptions of grace are much different. Biblical grace is transformative and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to God (not ourselves!).

Jesus asked His disciples, Why do you call Me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

It's a good question.

JRK

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