Today’s passage is one that I see as being dangerous to misinterpretation. Cut and paste theology can easily distort what Paul is trying to say about our purpose as believers in Christ as Savior. Let’s read about it and discuss.
1 Corinthians 4:1-7
4 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 6 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. 7 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?
Paul spent 3 chapters talking about our salvation and that it isn’t up to humans to convince others to believe, rather that’s God’s job. So what role are we to play then? Does that get us off the hook and we can just sit back, coast until death or Christ’s return, and just have pity on those who don’t believe? This is the path that some of us have taken, completely distorting the message altogether. Sometimes those who do “work” slack off as well (so I’m not saying I’m innocent of this). One of the things that continues to baffle me is why God would want to use me, a fallible and stumbling human, to “do his work.” Yet, we cannot avoid that this is what He has called us to; our purpose as followers and believers of Christ is to tell others about Him. This is Paul’s meaning.
As a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God, we are called to give testimony of what God has done in our lives. This will cause some to reject us and others to want to know more. Before we even get to that point, however, we need to be seen as trustworthy beholders of these things before anyone will approach us or take us seriously. Have you ever compared what some people say about God to what the bible says about God? If they aren’t congruent, then they aren’t trustworthy. This is why Paul teaches Timothy about exhortation because it is important for us as Christians to work together and refine each other in God’s Truth.
One of my favorite books about what it means to be a Christian, The Best Kept Secrets of Christian Mission by John Dickson discusses what it means to be a witness. I’ve never forgotten what he says, “It means to live a life worth questioning and when asked, give the apt reply.” Some of you might nod your heads at the all to common, “preach the Gospel and when necessary, use words.” This phrase was well intended but has led some of us to avoid talking about Christ only when we are approached. Let’s be real; it’s necessary to use words when you aren’t approached! The point here is that our walk must match our talk and our talk must match The Word. (The correlation, if you didn’t pick it up, is that our walk must also match the Word.) We must constantly live a life of transformation by the Holy Spirit. This is Paul’s point about not even trying to correct himself. He doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about transformation, but rather that he gets his fleshly desires out of the way and asks God to completely consume him and empty him of sinfulness instead of assuming he knows what to do.
For a long time I struggled with a statement from Jesus’ sermon on the mount, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Our initial response is, “well, that’s impossible, so Jesus either meant that as a metaphor or He was just kidding.” Maybe I was the only one who ever thought that but as I continue to study the bible, I am learning more and more what He meant. Even those of us who are considered “saved” or “born again” continue to fall into temptation and sinful behavior. So what was Jesus talking about? The perfection He was discussing wasn’t our outside actions, but rather our inner “heart condition.” I’m not talking about us having “good intentions.” The soldiers who led the crusades had good intentions too, didn’t they? Rather, Jesus’ exhortation to “be perfect” is in our reaction to sin. What happens when we sin? How do we respond? What about when someone sins against us? Remember Paul’s words, “cling to what is good and hate what is evil”? Jesus wants us to perfect our reaction to sin, both internally and externally. Do we continue in that pattern or do we act to break free from the slavery of sin? In Romans 6 we read, “5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.”
This is the testimony Paul is talking about. This is how we prove ourselves trustworthy to be approached and respected in regards to the mysteries of God. It’s just like what one of the trainers I follow says, “don’t try to emulate someone who loses weight quickly, emulate someone who maintains a healthy lifestyle.” Everyone knows tricks to drop 5-20 pounds in as little as a week. It’s a bit different to get there and stay there! Before I finish I want to touch upon what Paul says at the end of this passage. He clarifies his figurative speech to give his audience something to think about and recognize the importance of God in their lives in regards to their salvation. It isn’t because they created it or worked for it, but rather that it was given to them. They only were able to receive it because God made it happen. Paul’s first point in being trustworthy is that we must maintain humility and constant recognition of the gifts and love of God in our lives.