A sermon preached by Bob Keller on May 25, 2008 based upon 1Corinthians 4:1 – 5.
Earlier, David read to us from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth.
Why was the letter needed?
First, a little background about this fair city. It was a large and very prosperous city established by the Greeks, and by the time Paul established the Christian Church there, it had been destroyed and rebuilt by the Romans.
Corinth was a seaport and a very important stop on East to West and West to East trade movement. Its inhabitants were of many cultures and backgrounds, and, due to its location on the trading route, it was also a very prosperous city. This wealth, as it often does today, left for idle time that was often spent doing things that were at best unseemly and at worst downright decadent! In fact, Aristophanes coined a Greek verb that, translated, means to “act like a Corinthian,” a synonym for “to act with sexual immorality.”
Plays of the day often portrayed Corinthians as drunkards and reprobates.
Still, Corinth was where Paul took about a year and a half to build a Church. He started by trying to convert the Jews, but later turned to the Corinthian Gentiles. The Church was undoubtedly a reflection of the multi-cultural, and somewhat ‘seedy,’ diversity of Corinth. But what better place to show the redeeming and transforming powers of Christ to the Roman world than by converting Corinth?
So now Paul is in Ephesus, setting up the Church there, and he gets a couple of letters that tell him “There’s Trouble (with a capital ‘T’), in Corinth.
Aside from the societal problems I’ve already mentioned, problems exist in the Church. Paul’s letter could likely be applied to many churches today. It’s a pretty interesting read.
The small section of the letter we read today has to do with the way church members are viewing their leaders. One of the problems was that many church members were identifying themselves as followers of one or another of the leaders rather than as followers of Christ.
In some translations of Paul’s letter, he mentions two common vocations during his time as illustrations.
First, he uses the word “minister.” The Greek word is huperetes. In classical Greek, this word refers to an under-rower. Under-rowers man the oars of a ship below-decks.
Two things must be said about under-rowers. First, they work the oars in the belly of the ship. They do not know where the ship is going. They simply obey the direction of the Captain.
Secondly, under-rowers must work in harmony. If they do not work together, their efforts will be wasted, to say the least.
Christians are assigned the role of under-rowers. They propel the church forward. They are under the authority of our Lord. He gives the orders. But they must listen to the Captain, the Lord, and pull together.
The second word that Paul uses is “steward.” The steward is in charge of the administration of the house or estate. He administers the affairs of his master. He has authority over the master’s servants and makes crucial decisions. Ultimately, he is accountable to his master.
Paul chooses these two words to answer those that were holding him up as the responsible leader as well as those that criticized him for the seeming failure of the Church at Corinth.
This is really a pretty stiff rebuke from Paul for he basically tells them “I can’t even judge myself! Why should I worry if you judge me? My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. The Lord will be my judge.”
And that was my “AHA!” moment in preparing this message for today.
We spend a lot, probably way too much, of our time in judgment, don’t we? We judge ourselves and we judge others and we allow others to judge us.
Is any of it valid? Well, since the Lord will be our ultimate judge, the easy answer is “Yes and No.”
As we go through life, we judge ourselves. Typically, that judge is the still, small voice called ‘conscience’ – or perhaps the angel on our shoulder that whispers “Nay – Nay” in our ear when we’re about to do something that we shouldn’t be doing. That is stuff for the moment. Judging ourselves calls for more and that’s self-evaluation. We have to ask ourselves – not once a year or once a month, but continually – “How is my life squaring with what God wants from me and for me?”
Then there is “THEM.” What will “THEY” say? What will “THEY” think of me? I confess that I worried a bit about that this morning when I was getting dressed. I said, “I’m in the pulpit today. If I wear my usual sneakers, blue jeans, shirt and sport coat, what will “THEY” say? Should I show a bit of respect for “THEM,” and for this pulpit, and dress a little better than I usually do?
Paul addresses worship situations in this letter as well. He also tells the church that it is important to keep in mind what others think of them. Maybe I shouldn’t have read that far ahead, but I did tell you that this letter is a good read.
Should I have been concerned with how I dressed this morning? I know to some of you it doesn’t matter. Others may be thinking “Nice of him to put on a tie for today.” Still others are thinking “I got up on a holiday weekend to come to church and the preacher didn’t even show up!”
The story is told of a man and his grandson traveling down the road, walking and leading a donkey. They met a man who said, “How foolish for you to be walking. One of you should be riding the donkey.” So the man put his grandson on the animal.
The next traveler they met frowned and said, “How dreadful for a strong boy to be riding while an old man walks.” So the boy climbed off the donkey and his grandfather climbed on.
The next person they met said, “I just can’t believe a grown man would ride and make a little boy walk.” So the man pulled the boy up and they rode the donkey together. That is, until they met another man who said, “I never saw anything so cruel in all my life — two human beings riding on one poor defenseless donkey!”
Down the road a ways, they met a couple of men. After they passed, one of the men turned to the other and said, “Did you ever before see two fools carrying a donkey?”
The point is: We can’t please everyone we meet. But we do need to be considerate of how our actions and our words will affect other people.
And then there is the ultimate judgment that Paul wrote about – the judgment of God.
This Memorial Day weekend I’m reminded of the sacrifices of so many, so very many, men and women that have served our nation and provided the freedom and liberty that I have to stand here before you to proclaim God’s Word. In so many countries today, this would have to be done in secret, if it could be done at all.
G. K. Chesterton, an English author that was very popular early in the 20th century, wrote that a true soldier is not one that hates that which is before him, but loves that which is behind him.
Many men and women, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, gave their lives in service to our great nation, to preserve “that which is behind them”, that which they loved.
As we remember them, can we also remember the One who gave us life to begin with? Can we remember the sacrifice made by God giving his Son to die in our place? Can we remember that when we face that final judgment that God will ask “Did you believe? Did you believe that I loved you so much that I gave my Son to die in your place? Did you love yourself and others as I loved you?
Again, from G. K. Chesterton, he said, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.” That road is our faith and traveling that road, through God’s word, is Jesus.
Can we remember our place in God’s kingdom? Can we remember that when we have feelings of failure that God loves us and will help to pick us up and that maybe we’re being too hard on ourselves? Can we remember that everything we do and say has an effect of those around us? Can we remember that God will be our ultimate judge?