- Is To Be Held In Regard By The Church
- Is To Honour His Responsibilities To God
a. Directed by the hand of God
b. Declaring the mysteries of God
c. Discharging faithful service to God
- Is To Have A Right Attitude Toward Himself
- Is To Hope For Reward At The Bema
First Corinthians chapter 4, and we're beginning to read at verse 1. The subject and our theme for tonight's study is 'The Servant of Christ'. "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God".
It seems to the careful observer today that the servant of the Lord is evaluated with different criteria than Paul would have evaluated him in his epistle here. Servants of God are evaluated today under the criteria of those that are most successful, those who are most influential, perhaps those who are most gifted and those who are most effective in their Gospel ministry. Perhaps their ministry is weighed, and either found wanting or found valued by the fact of the membership of the church - how many people there are in the pews, the attendance at the worship meetings and gospel meetings. Perhaps they are weighed on the academic ability that they have, the honorary degrees that they have, the degrees that they've earned, the degree that they've bought, or whatever degrees that they have; whether you've written a book, written an essay, or an article, or a pamphlet, or a tract; whether you've been invited along to the great conventions and conferences that there are in Christendom. Too often this is the way that the service of God within the ministers of God is weighed and evaluated, but I want to say categorically on the foundation of these five short verses that we have read together this evening, that to evaluate God's servants in this way is totally displeasing and dishonouring to God Almighty. That will become very clear as we look into our study this evening, and what we will find is this: God wants us, as the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ, to recognise the New Testament gifts within the ministers of the New Testament, the ministers of Christ. So we are to recognise the gift that men and women have been given in the church of Jesus Christ - whatever that spiritual gift may be, here specifically to men, the ministers of Christ, we're to recognise it - but we are to never ever fall into the error of exalting the man.
There's a balance here that is called for, a balance to regard and to recognise the gift that God has given to the servants of Christ, but on the other hand not to fall into the mistake that the Corinthians were making - and that was to exalt men within the church higher than the ordinary member within the church. Paul gives the instruction that we are to regard the servants of Christ by saying in verse 1: 'Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ'. He says that you've to account these men that are servants of God as the ministers of Christ, you're to account them. Now that little word 'account' just simply means that you're to deliberately suppose them to be the ministers of Christ, there's something that you're supposed to look at them as.
Now I want to tease this out, because it's so important, before we go any further, that we understand what Paul means when he says that you're to account these men of God as the ministers of Christ. This word 'account' is used in Romans chapter 8, if you turn to it, it's used in a different context, but it gives us an idea of how Paul the apostle uses this word 'account'. Romans 8 and verse 36, and you know the famous passage, verse 35 says: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted', there's the word, 'we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter'. Paul is writing to Christians in persecution, and he is simply saying that there are those in society, particularly within the Roman Imperial civilisation of the day, that were against Christianity and accounted Christians as people who were worthy of being slaughtered like sheep. But here's the point I want you to get this evening: that was the way that the world accounted the ministers of Christ, but at least they accounted them! They accounted them worthy of slaughter.
Now my question, or I should say Paul's question, and the Holy Spirit's question to you this evening is: how do we account the ministers of Christ? How do we account them? That's what that word 'account' means in regard to 'suppose them to be', what do we suppose them to be? Another use of this word is found in 2 Timothy, if you turn to it, I'm going to make you work - or I should say, the Bible work this evening, because we want to see that all this is firmly rooted and grounded in the word of God. Second Timothy chapter 4, 2 Timothy 4, and Paul is talking about how all those in Asia who had named the name of Christ had forsaken him, and he said: 'At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge' - there's the word 'account', 'laid to their charge'. He prayed that God would not lay to their charge the fact that all in Asia had forsook the apostle Paul, in fact the one who had brought them to Christ and brought them the gospel originally.
But do you see the meaning of this word? The question that we are asking in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 1 is: how do you charge the ministers of Christ? How do you regard them? What do you charge them with? Let's get a broader meaning of this, 1 Corinthians chapter 13, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 which is the great chapter on love that in several weeks - I don't know how many, mind you! - we'll, God willing, get to. It describes what love is or what charity is, and in verse 5 it says that love: 'Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked', and here's the word, 'thinketh no evil', it's translated here as 'thinketh'. So Paul is asking us: how do you account, and what do you account to, the ministers of Christ? What do you put to their charge? What do you charge them with? And, fundamentally, how do you think when you think about the ministers of Christ?
Paul, right at the very beginning of this chapter, is asking us to tread the middle ground of biblical balance - what is that? Not to exalt men, neither belittle men who are given gifts of God! And I hope, God willing, that by the end of this meeting and this study that we'll be treading on that middle ground - not to worship preachers, or theologians, or pastors, or ministers, or evangelists; but on the other side of the coin not to go home on a Sunday and have roast preacher for dinner! There's a middle ground: not to treat the ministers of Christ, as they stand in the pulpit, as some kind of performance, some television-like activity where you're watching and you're giving your marks out of 10. As it was said of Ezekiel to those who were listening to him in his great prophecies to Judah, that he was like one who sang a great and beautiful song, it was like entertainment to them - that's not the way the minister of Christ is to be regarded, and accounted, and charged, and thought of. I believe within our sphere of Christendom today, and you understand what I mean by that, evangelical conservatism, that there are too many connoisseurs of the preaching of the word of God, and not enough people whose conversation becometh the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
So Paul gives us instructions here in these verses, the first thing he says is that the minister of Christ is to be held in regard by the church. We'll see that in verse 1: 'Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ', and then he goes on and he tells us that if we are the ministers of Christ that we are to honour the responsibilities that God has given to us. There are three things that he tells us in which we can honour those responsibilities, the first is to be directed by the hand of God; the second is to declare the mysteries of God; and the third is to discharge faithful service to God. Then we'll find that we're not only to be refraining from judging the servants of God within the church, but the servant of God is to refrain from judging himself in his own heart - he's to have a right attitude toward himself. Then we'll finish off in verse 5 back at that great scene in eternity, the judgement seat of Christ, where every child of God will stand and be judged for the works that they have done in the flesh whether they be good or bad - and Paul's prayer and hope is that every servant of Christ will have the hope of reward at the bema.
So let's start and see how Paul instructs us to hold the servant of Christ in regard within the church. Now to pave this middle road, we're not saying that the servants of Christ are six foot above contradiction, and let me show you a healthy example of that in the Acts of the Apostles. Turn with me to Acts chapter 17, Acts chapter 17 and verse 10, and it says: 'And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind', now there's the first step. This is a healthy church because they're able to recognise God's man with God's gift, and regard God's gift in God's man, the minister of Christ. They're able, as James says, to receive the word of God with meekness. That's your responsibility when you hear the word of God from a man of God, you've to receive that word with all readiness of mind.
That's one side of it, look at the other side: 'and they searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so'. They recognised the servants of Christ, they recognised the gift of God that they were to the church, but they didn't take everything from their mouth and were spoon-fed and never tested the spirits to see if these things were of God, so they searched the Scriptures - and remember this, this is the great apostle Paul and Silas his friend, and they are even searching the Scriptures to see that what they said was the truth of the word of God! Now there's the healthy balance: to recognise on the one hand God's servant, but not to exalt him to such an extreme that you don't search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. This is what Paul is saying, that we are to have a healthy regard for the servants of Christ within the church of the Lord Jesus: 'Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ'.
Now we need to ask the question: who are the 'us' that Paul is speaking of in this verse? Is it just the apostles, Paul, like himself, or Peter, or some of the rest of them? Is that what Paul is getting at here? Well, if you turn back to chapter 1 verse 12 you find what the fault was here in the church, remember that there was this factionalism, this divisiveness and schismatism within the church, where they were all splitting up. Verse 12: 'I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ'. You see there were people in this assembly that were personality people, I mean that some of them liked Paul because of his Jewish lawyer, legalistic mind, where, as we see in the book of Romans, he could dissect everything into a theological and theoretical argument. He was analytical in his mind, and there were some people and they liked the way Paul did it, they were like that. Then there were others in this church and they liked Apollos, they liked the flowery eloquence with which he preached. They followed Apollos because they liked his way, then there were others who followed Cephas, which was Peter of course, and they were probably the humble ordinary poor folk that liked the rough, gruff fisherman and the way he put things, the way he taught the word of God. Then there were others who were so high and mighty, a bit like exclusive people, and they wouldn't follow any man, they would follow Christ and Christ alone.
But do you see what Paul is saying here in chapter 4 and verse 1? He's clubbing them all together, and he's saying: 'No matter what man you have been following, I want you in the church of Corinth to regard and account all of us' - have you got it? - 'all of us as the ministers of Christ'. You see, they had fallen into this trap of humanistic carnality. In chapter 3 and verse 4 Paul nails it as carnality, and let me say this evening that personality worship within the church of Jesus Christ - no matter who that personality is - is carnality! Chapter 3 and verse 4: 'For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?'. Oh, it's carnality alright, and in verse 21 we find he goes on further and he says: 'Therefore let no man glory in men, it's not for you to glory in men, for all things are yours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours'. You're not to be split up in these personality factions, because all of these men are the servants of God, and Paul is now saying: 'I want you to regard them as such'.
Now I think this is powerful, because we could fall very easily into the interpretation that Paul here was talking about the apostles, but he was not because Cephas was an apostle, Peter and Paul himself was an apostle, but I'll tell you: Apollos wasn't an apostle - and isn't it just wonderful and beautiful to see the humility of Paul that he was able to lump in with two apostles, Paul and Peter, Apollos; and it didn't matter one iota that he wasn't an apostle, all that mattered was that he was a recognised servant of God who was the gift of God to the church of God, and this church was to recognise him as such! Paul saw no difference, oh there was a difference in roles, but what Paul is trying to get across to these believers is: recognise the gift, recognise the gift, but don't exalt the man! The irony of this truth is the fact that those who are most critical of preachers, and even in the church here, apostles and so on, are the ones who when they find the man that they're looking for, the man that they like, they are the very ones that make that man into some kind of a demi-god and worship him.
This is exactly what happened in this church, but Paul is saying - and I want you to hear this clearly - don't exalt the man! Don't exalt any man! But do regard the gift! Now this church had fallen out of balance on both extremes, because not only were they exalting these men but they were actually disregarding the gift that God had given to them in the very person of Paul the apostle. They were disregarding and belittling the gift of God in the apostle, and you can see this if you turn and look at verse 9 in this very chapter, chapter 4: 'For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, it's almost as if we're last because of the way we are being treated by the church of Jesus Christ in Corinth, as it were appointed to death, some of us have to die: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ' - I think there's a bit of sarcasm there - 'we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day'. There were even those within the church of Corinth who were belittling and disregarding the gift of God in the apostle Paul.
If you don't believe me turn to chapter 9, chapter 9 and verse 1, we find that they were even doubting his apostleship: 'Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?', they were doubting that, 'Are not ye my work in the Lord?', they were even doubting perhaps that he was the instigator in their own salvation. In verse 3: 'Mine answer to them that do examine me', examine me, 'is this' - there were those in the church of Corinth who were doubting that the apostle Paul was God's man, and they were actually sitting on the judgement seat, the bema, and judging Paul! If we go into the second letter of Corinth, 2 Corinthians chapter 10, we find that this great sin comes into fruition, chapter 10 and verse 8. He's brought to the point of having to boast in his credentials: 'For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed'. They were doubting his very authority to teach the word of God and to lead the church of Christ, and they failed to recognise that Paul was the gift of God to them!
I hope that we don't fail to recognise these things, for when we turn to Ephesians chapter 4, if you'll do it with be - now bear with me, I know you're turning to a lot of passages, but we're here to study the word of God, not to hear the wisdom of men. Ephesians 4 and verse 8, speaking of our Lord Jesus: 'Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men'. Now here are the gifts, verse 11: 'And he gave some, apostles', only some, 'some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers' - now these are the gifts to the church, and Paul is saying: 'You've got to recognise these gifts, you've got to err on the side of caution, regard them as from God, respect them as being from God to the church - but don't exalt the man!'.
Now this is a hard balance to strike, Paul helps us to understand it by telling us what these servants really are. He says they are the ministers of Christ, verse 1, and there's a word within the New Testament that is used sometimes of ministers - now, of course, 'minister' is not an ecclesiastical term for a man in a pulpit, but 'minister' means servant. There are various Greek words for the word 'minister', there's the word 'diakanos' (sp?), which is the word that we get 'deacon' from which simply means 'servant'. Then there's another word which actually means 'public servant', or we would use the phrase today 'civil servant' - and at times this is used of the servant of the Lord as he executes the service for his Lord Jesus Christ, but that's not the word that is used here. The word that is used here actually literally means 'an under-rower', an under-rower. 'Huperetes' is the word, and in Paul's day they used to have these long rowing boats - maybe you've seen the film 'Jason And The Argonauts', and you know all about these great longboats. Sometimes there were two tiers on them of rowers, the people at the top had longer oars, and the people at the bottom shorter; but they all had to work together. This is the word that is being used here of the servants of Christ, under-rowers - but the point is this: that on these longboats there was always a master, or as you would see it in rowing today there was always a Cox, and they would tell the rowers where to sit in the boat, they would tell the rowers where to row, how to row, and what direction to row. The point that Paul is making is this: these servants of Christ are under-rowers, and they've got to listen to the Master of the boat and do what He tells them to do.
This word 'huperetes' which came to mean 'under-rower' literally was a description and came to mean an illustration of any subordinate person that was acting under another person's instruction and direction. If we look to chapter 3 and verse 22, you might think that there's a bit of a contradiction here, what Paul is really saying is that these servants of Christ are to obey the Lord and the Lord alone, not to follow after men or obey men - yet in chapter 3 verse 22, as we found out last week, Paul was actually telling them: 'Whether you follow Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world or whatever; all things are yours'. He told them last week that even the servants of Christ belong to them, but let me say this - and we better not make this error - they only belong to the church in the sense that they are listening to the voice and following the orders of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is only in that capacity that they belong to the church. What Paul is saying here is: 'You've got to regard the servants of Christ, because they are the under-rowers, under the orders of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ - and you ought to recognise it! They're acting for Christ!'.
Now, my friend, what this simply means in simple layman's terms to us here this evening is that the servant of Christ, in whatever assembly you belong to and in this assembly, only obeys the word of Christ - only the word of Christ. If the servant of Christ is obeying the word of Christ, and the assembly is obeying the word of Christ as well through the servant of Christ, there'll be no problems, there'll be no schisms, there'll be no factions - but the point is this: the servant of Christ must obey the word of Christ, and the direction of Christ, to the exclusion of any other voice no matter what that voice may be! Do you know why that is? Because it is Christ who gives the gift, it is Christ who will require an account at the judgement seat of Christ for the stewardship of that gift, and therefore the one that is given the gift answers to Him and ought to obey Him only.
Now, my friend, there is always a balance in these biblical things - that doesn't mean the servant of Christ can behave how he likes, because if the church holds the servant of Christ in regard, in esteem, as the gift of God - not exalting him now, but as the gift of God - the servant of Christ also has to realise that he has to honour certain responsibilities toward God. Here we have them in these verses, the first that we've already said is that he is to be directed by the hand of God, directed alone by the hand of God. Now listen to this carefully: he's not to be directed by men, he's not to be directed by any denomination, or by a committee, or by a bigger salary, or by poverty, or by the state of his home - he's to listen to the voice of Christ, and the voice of Christ alone, to the exclusion of everything else! That means that I have to bring to you from this pulpit what the Lord tells me, and with respect: I don't listen to what people tell me to preach, I preach - I hope, before God - what He leads me to preach, from the hand of God what I believe the word of God teaches - that's what I've to preach, because I've to answer to Christ one day not to you! What one wants me to preach, the other doesn't want me preach; and the way one wants me to preach, the other doesn't want me to preach that way - and if I listened to people I wouldn't know what I was doing! But I, and all servants of Christ, are to honour the responsibility given to us by God of being directed by the hand of God and the hand of God alone.
The reason Paul gives is because we're stewards, we're stewards. The word here 'steward' in the Greek is the word 'oikanomos' (sp?), 'oikos' is the Greek word for 'house', and 'nemo' is the verb 'to arrange', so if you put those to together you get 'oikanomos' which means 'to arrange a house'. That's what a steward is, like a housekeeper, or if you like a manager of land or a household estate. This is someone who oversees something that is owned and possessed of another. That's what the servant of Christ is, he's a steward, so he doesn't dictate the terms, he doesn't decide what he's going to bring to the assembly because he's a steward of things that don't belong to him, and he has to do what he's told and give it the way God tells him to give it.
Campbell Morgan, many of you will know, was called 'the prince of expositors'. He looked very deeply into this Greek word 'oikanomos', and he was trying to find the nearest English equivalent of that word that he could find, and do you know what the word was that he came up with? It might seem astounding and even ridiculous to some of you, but here it is: 'housewife' - housewife! A steward of the home, why? Because the housewife is responsible for feeding the family, the housewife is responsible for keeping the family comfortable, keeping the family tidy, warming them up when they're cold - and you couldn't get a better word for the servant of Christ in the assembly. They're to feed the flock, they're to keep the flock, they're to make them comfortable in a positive sense, they're to keep them tidy and they're to warm them up when they're discouraged, when they're downhearted, and when they're lukewarm.
You only need to go into Luke chapter 12 to look at some of the parables of the Lord, Luke chapter 16 to find out how He uses this illustration of stewardship. You go into Galatians chapter 4, and you find that he talks about how children are put under a tutor or a governor, and the word 'governor' there is the word 'steward' - how someone, the parent puts the child underneath their care, and they're the steward of their child. You go to Romans chapter 16 and verse 23, and Paul commends a man called Erastus, who he says was the chamberlain of the city - and that literally is 'the treasurer' of the city. He was given jurisdiction of the finances, it wasn't his own money, he couldn't treat the money as if it was his own, but he was a steward of the money - and you see the picture that Paul is painting here, that these are the servants of Christ and you're not to exalt them as if what they're coming out with is their own wisdom, and their own opinion, and their own humanistic truth. You're to regard them as the servants of Christ, because they're bringing to you the word of God!
Stewards - and I believe that Paul uses this word 'steward' comprehensively of the preachers of the Gospel and the teachers of the word of God - and just in case you think that all this is preaching to myself, and you're getting off the hook tonight, you're wrong! Because in Titus chapter 1, if you were to turn to it for a moment, Titus chapter 1, we find that overseers within the assembly are called stewards, and they have a stewardship, and they will be answerable concerning that stewardship. Titus chapter 1 and verse 7: 'For a bishop', that just means an elder or overseer, 'must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre'. Elders in the meeting this evening, you have a stewardship before God in the execution of the will of God, not the will of man, but the will of God before God - and let me tell you that you'll have to answer to God about your stewardship.
Now, everybody loves getting the boot into the elders, but if you turn further on to 1 Peter for a moment, you find that this stewardship is not just to one or two or more that we could call the servants of Christ, it's not just to overseers. In 1 Peter chapter 4 we find that it's general to all believers, verse 10: 'As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God'. Now listen friends, there is none of us can get off the hook before the word of God, we're all stewards! We might be stewards with different degrees of responsibility, but we're all required to obey the word of God - why? Because we, one day, will be answerable to God! The servant of God is to honour his responsibility to make sure that he is directed by God in his stewardship before God.
Then we find another reason that Paul gives: we're to declare the mysteries of God. He is responsible to honour his declaration of the mysteries of God. Now we learnt in the epistle to the Ephesians, and even in this same epistle of Corinthians, that 'mystery' doesn't mean what we have in the English word 'mystery' - it's not something that is mysterious, that is a knowledge that is withheld, that is not what 'mystery' means in the Bible. 'Mystery' in the Bible means something that has been hidden in a past age, something that is beyond our natural humanistic apprehension, that you couldn't conjure up in your mind or even your heart, but something that in the age, in the dispensation of grace, has been revealed by God. Something that you couldn't apprehend in your own mind, something that had to be given from God - divine wisdom, divine revelation! The manner in which God gives it is His way, the time that God gives it is in His time, and the way that God gives it is through the Holy Spirit, and through the illumination of the Holy Spirit - and we learnt all about that in this very epistle. But specifically, as we go through the New Testament, we find out that there are a number of things that can be classified as the mysteries of God.
We're going to look at these tonight. We turn first of all to the book of Ephesians - this will keep you awake, if nothing else, turning the pages - Ephesians chapter 6 and verse 19, Paul is: 'Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints', and then he asks prayer of the Ephesians, 'And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel'. Now what's Paul saying here? This is what he's saying: the Gospel is a mystery, you couldn't have thought the Gospel up! If you were Paul you couldn't have done it, if you were Apollos you couldn't have done it, if you were Cephas you couldn't have done it - this is something that is not of human wisdom, that you can't just conjure up, that the Lord Jesus Christ could come from heaven, that He could go to a cross and die and bleed in your room and in your stead, be buried, bear your sin, be raised again the third day in the power of an endless life and offer to all men salvation if they would believe - now who could ever have thought of that? That God should so love the world that He would give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life - could you have thought of that? That's a mystery, and we are stewards of that mystery, and we will be judged as to how we take it and declare it.
We can move on and go to 1 Timothy chapter 3, 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16, Paul says: 'Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness', or piety, 'God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory'. My friends, is there greater mystery than the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ? The One that was the Word with God, was God without whom nothing was made that was made, yet the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! Who could ever have thought of that? It was disclosed throughout all the eternal ages of the past to men in their wisdom, and you couldn't have apprehended it or thought about it, but God revealed it! I'll tell you this, we have a responsibility to declare it, no matter what the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses or the church of God believe, we've to declare Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and God manifest in flesh.
We go to Ephesians 5, and I haven't got time here this evening to go into all of these, Ephesians 5 and verse 30, and we see that the church of Jesus Christ is also a mystery: 'For we are members of his body', verse 30, 'of his flesh, and of his bones'. Imagine this: that we, as believers, are members of the flesh, the bones of Jesus Christ! Verse 32: 'This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church'. Sure it's a mystery, isn't it, that the Lord in His own death could unite together all sorts of people from all nations and tongues and people and colours and backgrounds of creeds, and bring them all together in one body as the church Jesus Christ? Could you have thought about that? Could you have apprehended that? Could the Corinthians in all their wisdom have grasped hold of this? God had to reveal it! It's what God has revealed that we have to declare!
First Corinthians chapter 15 and verse 51, Paul says: 'Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump'. There is the mystery of the rapture that was never declared before. John 14: 'I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there are ye may be also', and I tell you we've got a duty - no matter what other churches are doing - to preach the rapture, preach that Jesus is coming! In Romans chapter 11 we see the mystery of why Israel is blind today, but it says that blindness in part, hardness in part, is only happened to Israel, but when the fullness of the Gentiles is come in then the blindness will cease - and no matter what any church or theologian says about Israel being over and done with with God, and the church being Israel, which is a load of nonsense, we are to preach what God has revealed! The mysteries of God! That's what we've to give.
Oh, we could go on and talk about the spirit of disobedience, the spirit of antichrist that already works in the children of disobedience in this age, and it's a mystery. We could look at the mystery of the seven stars, and the angels in Revelation 1; Ephesians 3, the mystery of the ways of God in grace. W.E. Vine published a book on one occasion called 'The Twelve Mysteries of Scripture', and I'll tell you there might even be fourteen or more, but the one fundamental common denominator of truth about it is this, and this is what Paul wanted to get across to the Corinthians: every single one of them could never have been apprehended by the wisdom of men, it was all revealed by God.
Now in verse 1, that word 'mystery' I believe is comprehensive of all these twelve or fourteen, or how many you want, mysteries of God that you find in the word of God, and he's saying it's your duty to be a steward of those mysteries. You're not to come to an assembly or to a church and give your own opinion, and give your own human wisdom, and no matter what men and women around our world are doing in the churches of our land and our globe, we are to present what God has revealed! The Scriptures support these mysteries, but so ought the servants and the stewards of God in how they declare them.
Then he goes on and he says: 'You're a steward, and it's required in a steward that a man be found faithful'. That word 'required' is the Greek word 'zaeteo' (sp?), which is the word 'to seek', it's the word 'to seek'. It can also be used as 'to demand'. If you want to say it this way: 'What God seeks in men and women of God today', more, stronger than that, 'What God demands in those who have been given the truth of God is faithfulness'. It doesn't matter what churches are doing, it doesn't matter what men, theologians, politicians, and those media-moguls are saying: we are to stand for the truth, and be faithful stewards of the word of God. 'Faithful' means to be trusted, to be reliable no matter where you are, no matter who you're talking to - and I'll tell you that if you're going to be faithful in this day of apostasy, in this day of backsliding and lukewarmness within the church Jesus Christ, in this day of human opinion and business-mindedness in the ruling of the assembly, it will cost you to be faithful!
There's a demand of it - do you know what the demand of the faithfulness of the steward of Christ is? Revelation chapter 2 verse 10, the church at Smyrna: 'Be faithful unto death' - what a demand! There's a detail in the faithfulness, the Lord said in Luke chapter 16 verse 10: 'he that is faithful in that which is least'. There's a destiny and a delight in this faithfulness, do you know why? Because those who are willing to be faithful unto death, and faithful in that which is least, one day will stand at the bema judgement seat of Christ and will hear: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' - but it will cost you, and I warn you it will cost you. It cost Daniel to be faithful, it cost him to go into the den of lions; it cost Abraham to be faithful, yielding up his only son Isaac to the Lord; it cost the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace to be faithful and not bow down to the idol; it cost Stephen, the first martyr, being stoned to be faithful to Lord; it cost Peter being crucified upside-down; it cost Paul himself as he's beheaded for the Gospel and the testimony of the Lord Jesus; and it cost Esther as she went into the presence of her King to plead for her people - but she was a faithful steward that could say: 'If I perish, I perish'.
I tell you, this is what God looks for in men and women in this age, and that's what the Lord will be looking for when He comes again: those servants that do not know the day or the hour when He will return, but those servants whom the Lord will find doing. We're to be directed by the hand of God, to declare the mysteries of God, and discharge faithful service to God. We're to have a right attitude toward ourselves. We don't have full-time to go into this, but you see here that Paul said: 'Look, I'm not fussed about how you judge me' - imagine these Corinthians, and you know the sins that they were dabbling in - they had the gall and the brass neck to be judging the great apostle Paul, the word is 'questioning him, examining him, investigating him'. Now let me say this: we ought to judge righteous judgement according to the word of God with regards to doctrine and with regards to conduct and holiness and way of life, but what Paul is saying here is that we have no jurisdiction to judge the things that are unseen - that being the motivation and the service of the servants of Christ.
Do you know what Paul says? 'It's a small thing to me for you to judge me' - he said that to the church - 'I don't let the church judge me. And whether you praise me to high heaven, or whether you criticise me down to hell, it doesn't bother me one bit'. My friend, you beware of flattering the preacher, and on the other hand you beware of criticising the preacher - but the point is this: if you do a service or a work for the Lord: 'Who art thou that judgest another man's servant' - don't be affected by what the church says! Then he goes on and he says: 'It is a small thing that you judge me', and then he says, 'It is a small thing that man judges me'. Literally, if you look at your margin, it says 'man's day', which means the philosophy of the world. 'It doesn't matter to me that I'm going against the flow of the world, and the world thinks I'm mad in the head'. Then he goes on and he says: 'I don't even judge myself'. Don't get down from the pulpit and pat yourself on the back, and say: 'Well done, Paul. You did it well tonight' - and on the other side he doesn't dissect and do a post-mortem of what he's just said, but if he believes that he's the man of God with the word of God, he doesn't start to judge himself. I'm not talking about self-examination, that's encouraged in the word of God. Do you know what he saying? He's warning any of us not to get on the bema of God's judgement with our brethren and sisters in Christ, or even with ourselves. What does he say in 2 Timothy 2 and verse 15? 'Study', be diligent, 'to show thyself approved', presentable - to who? God!
Can I finish on this note: the reason for all this was that the servant of Christ would have the hope of reward at the bema. Who is qualified to judge the servants of Christ? Only God. Let me just say that this verse has come up in conversation with some folk after the night I spent on the judgement seat of Christ, because this verse says 'every man will have praise of God'. They think that this means that all of us, no matter how we live our lives, will have praise of God. Now, I firmly believe that if you're a Christian you must have done something in your life, at least, to merit at least something of the praise of God - but that's not what this verse means. This verse means that every man will have his due praise of God. They're running around praising Apollos and Paul and Cephas, Paul says: 'No, if anyone is worthy of judgement and praise, he'll get it from Christ!'. I know that because the definite article is in the Greek language 'he will get his due praise of God'.
The question that we end on tonight is: what commendation will you have of God on that day? I know I'm over my time, but I have to tell you this story in closing. There was a woman at the end of the 19th-century in Paris, and she was being investigated for massive fraud. Her name was Madame Hoombear (sp?). She was a poor country girl from a humble background, but she always aspired after the high life of Parisian society - so much so that she married well above her means and station, and she gave out and announced to everybody that she had immense wealth. She told the story on one occasion how, travelling with an old gentleman in the next compartment to her on a train, he took seriously ill. She was there, and she was there to be able to save his life, and because she saved his life as a result he bequeathed all his property to her at his death. It was said that the deeds of that property were supposed to be in a certain safe that she kept in her salon, which sometimes could be seen, and on the door of that safe there was a wax seal so that no one could get through - and on the strength of that great bequeathment she borrowed literally millions of francs. Year after year she borrowed that money until her creditors got so uneasy with it that they stopped giving her the money, and then the matter was brought to court and the judge decided that the safe should be opened in the presence of witnesses. When it was, it was found to contain only one copper coin worth half a penny!
The manifestation revealed her poverty, her bankruptcy, as well as her deceit - and you know what the Bible says, and I leave you with this is sobering word: 'We will all be made manifest at the judgement seat of Christ'. I pray that we will all be found faithful.
Our Father, we pray that on a day we will not be ashamed, but we pray that now, in time, when there is time, that we will make the difference for eternity - that it will be said of everyone gathered here today, that every man will have his due praise of God. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Servant Of Christ" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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