Being an Effective Servant of Christ

Steve Viars March 6, 2010 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

 

- Suppose that a few of us decided to take a trip down to Indianapolis…and we leave real early in the morning before its even light out and I’m the one who was asked to drive…

- since everyone has such great confidence in my driving abilities, you drift off to sleep before we even get to Meijer with the full assurance that I’ll get you there safe and sound…

- however, since I’m somewhat directionally illiterate…I turn onto I-65 north and start heading that direction…

 

- now let’s say that about an hour later you wake up and ask how the trip is going…

- and I say, great, the traffic’s light, we’ve moving right along, the weather’s clear…in fact we’re almost to Lowell…

 

- I think it’s safe to say that I would no longer be driving…but here’s the point – it’s possible to evaluate yourself or your situation in a particular way, and to be really convinced that your evaluation is correct…but in fact, to be heading exactly the wrong way…where what appears to be good turns out to be really bad…or maybe even vice versa…

- the same is true when it comes to being a servant of God…

- some people could be here today and think – my service for the Lord is not going well at all…

- people are criticizing me…they’re treating me badly…

- I’ve had a lot of confrontation…there’s not much demonstrable fruit…

- I must be doing something wrong…

- when the truth is---from God’s perspective, that person is doing exactly what the Lord wants them to be doing…and what they’re experiencing right now is part of the territory that comes with serving God in a sin-cursed culture…

- whereas someone else could be here and say…my service for the Lord has never been better…

- everyone thinks I’m great…I get nothing but compliments…

- there are no problems to solve…things are growing…

- I must be doing everything right…

- when the truth there is – the reason everything is going so well is because the person is compromising truth, and ignoring problems, and simply telling everyone what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, etc.

- in other words, you could have an evaluation of how things are going in your service for Christ that you are completely convinced is accurate…”the trip’s going great” when you’re actually heading in exactly the wrong direction…

 

- we could flesh that out in other ways as well, because we’re called upon to serve God in many areas of life…

- for example, we could have two parents here today…both who had kids who wanted to sleep over at friends houses this weekend…and the challenge is, the parents don’t know the other young person very well, or their parents…in fact, what they do know gives them reason for concern…

- so let’s say that parent #1 let their child go…

- and of course now they’re the hero…they said yes…

- so if you asked that parent this morning, how are things going?...he might say, great…

- I’m really getting a handle on this parenting thing…my child really loves me and appreciates me…

- what he doesn’t know is that new friend just introduced his child to a habit that will eventually enslave his life…but you can’t see that today…

- and then you run into parent #2 who would not let their child go….and of course he’s  now the monster…he said no…

- and you ask that parent how things are going, and he hangs his head and says, my child really blew up at me last night because I wouldn’t let him go…

- and he criticized me and stomped around and made things miserable for everyone in the family…I’m a lousy parent…

- when the fact is he just protected his child from a temptation that he wasn’t strong enough yet to overcome…

- and in God’s mind, the parent who thinks things are great just made a serious error and the parent who thinks things are terrible just took a heroic stand that someday, if the child ever gets his head on straight, he’ll appreciate…

 

- the same is true when it comes to evaluating how things are going at church…

- a church may look like it’s hitting on all cylinders from the outside…

- there’s numerical growth, financial strength…new buildings and growing popularity…

- in fact the members are even strutting around town a bit because everything’s going so well…

- but maybe that’s because they long ago stopped teaching God’s Word, or at least on any subject that might go against the culture of the day…

- or maybe they started looking the other way when it came to the issue of personal holiness in the lives of the members…

- maybe they stopped trying to solve problems biblically…

- so it looks strong from the outside, but the truth is it’s a theological house of cards…

- then there’s church #2 where things don’t seem as rosy…

- there’s some problems that have to be solved…

- and some biblical positions that have to be taken…

- and some people that have to be confronted, and some sacrifices that have to be made…

- and persons in that kind of ministry may even become “weary in well-doing” as Scripture says…

- and they may conclude – things are going poorly, we’re not very popular with some people…we must be doing something wrong…

- when the God of heaven would evaluate their ministry in an entirely way – well done, my good and faithful servants….

 

- now, there are a lot more ways we could flesh that out…but that’s enough to make the overall point -- it’s possible to evaluate yourself or your situation in a particular way, and to be really convinced that your evaluation is correct…but in fact, to have it all wrong, for either good or ill…

- well, the $100 question then becomes…are there any principles that can help us get this issue of evaluating ourselves right?...and the answer is, absolutely…in fact, it’s the next very next topic in our study…

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 4…page 131 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…

- our theme this year is Taking the Next Step…with Joy…this is a verse by verse study of the book of 1 Corinthians…

- today we’re going to be starting to land the plane on the first major section of this book which has been all about divisiveness and unity in the church…

- because it’s been such an extended portion, there have also been several other important topics addressed under the heading of this overall theme of unity…

- ideas like how the wisdom of God differs from the wisdom of man in chapter 1

- and the place and power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life in chapter 2...

- and the importance of growing up and being best prepared for the judgment seat of Christ in chapter 3…

- each one of those concepts, properly understood, would help these men and women work harder at building unity in the body…

- this morning we’re going to work through chapter 4…and learn about Being an Effective Servant of Christ…you never want to rely on the wrong evaluation…

- read 4:1-2…if you’ve been around our church, you’re certainly very familiar with those verses because we often reference them during stewardship month…

- however, I’d like to suggest that the next part of the argument is crucial to understanding Paul’s meaning…

- read 4:3…now, what’s Paul talking about there?...I believe he’s referring to the people who are the “I’m of Paul” group…

- do you remember the church had divided themselves up around their favorite teachers…I’m of Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ…so at least a portion of them thought Paul was the greatest…

- and that could get a bit heady…people saying that you were the best, the big dog, etc…if a person’s not careful, they can start believing their press clippings…

- re-read 4:3-7…

- now, before we go further, I probably need to point something out…

- in these next verses, Paul is employing the use of sarcasm…that will be very apparent…and remember that we believe every word of Scripture is inspired by God…

- however, that does not validate the way some of us use sarcasm sinfully…

- it’s just like when Jesus exercised His anger on multiple occasions…He could go right up to the line of using anger properly without crossing over the line of sin…that’s certainly not true for us so we have to stay away from the line…

- that’s also true for some, if not many of us when it comes to the issue of sarcasm…so we need to benefit from the way the text is written without justifying anything sinful on our parts…

- read 4:8-21…

 

- so we’re talking about Being an Effective Servant of Christ, and with the time we have left, let’s look for 3 principles to guide us as we seek to serve our Lord well.

 

I. Servants of Christ Seek to Develop Humility.

- this might be one of those times when it’s best to look at the punch line first…

- 1 Corinthians 4:6 - 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.

- that’s what had been occurring…they were exalting certain teachers in the church and then bragging about how they were smartest because they were following the right teachers…

- and sure the Scripture speaks about showing appropriate honor for the leaders of the church…but they had gone far beyond that (they had “exceeded what was written”)…so they could brag about their superiority in rallying themselves around the best teacher…

- and Paul says, all of that is the polar opposite of the humility that servants of God ought to be trying to develop, and that kind of pride just keeps dividing up the body…now, let’s go back and break some of this down…servants do that…

A. By remembering our position.

- Paul says, let a man regard us…that is Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or whomever…as…

1. ministers.

- huperetes – under rower

- the picture was of a large ship which was powered by layers of slaves rowing eith giant oars…

- and it was a hard enough position as it was…but the worst spot was to be on the bottom row…the huperetes…the under rower…

- and Paul says – that’s all we are…menial slaves of Christ and that’s all we ever want to be…

- don’t exalt human beings because that is inconsistent with the position we’ve been given by Christ…

- Paul, though an apostle, considered himself to be a hupēretēs, a galley slave, of his Lord, and he wanted everyone else to consider him, and all of God’s ministers, as that. Galley slaves were not exalted one above the other. They had a common rank, the lowest. They had the hardest labor, the cruelest punishment, the least appreciation, and in general the most hopeless existence of all slaves. As Paul had already written, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants [diakonoi] through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one” (3:5). A minister of Christ can be useful only as the Lord gives opportunity and power: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (3:7).

- remembering our position in the family is part of what keeps us humble…all of us are…

2. steward.

- now stewardship is a great truth in the Bible…especially when you add what this verse says – that we are stewards of the mysteries of God.

- but it is still a position of servant-hood…someone had to entrust you with whatever truth you know, or gifts you have…

- and Paul’s point is – please don’t ever think about us as big-shots, or supermen…and please don’t think about yourselves that way…we’re under rowers, and stewards…

- now, how does verse 3 fit into this?...you can also develop humility…

B. By taking accolades with a grain of salt.

1. From others.

- 1 Corinthians 4:3 - But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court…

- of course everyone enjoys a compliment…and there’s nothing wrong with being encouraged by that…but be careful, because sometimes people might want to put you on a pedestal…and who doesn’t like to be put on a pedestal?...

- and Paul says – whatever positive statements are made about me, that is a very small thing…in fact, he even goes on to say…this is even true of accolades…

2. From yourself.

- 1 Corinthians 4:3 - 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.

- now, each one of these statements has to be balanced with other verses in Scripture…

- the point isn’t that we don’t listen to the compliments of others, or the criticisms of others…

- and it’s not that we never acknowledge the good things about us or the things that need to change…

- but the idea is – part of what is intended to keep us humble is the understanding that the evaluation of others, or the evaluation of ourselves, might be skewed…we might think we’re heading to Indianapolis when in fact we’re heading to Gary…

3. Because the ultimate issue is what God thinks.

- 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 - For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.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.

 

- for example, I had a friend in school who was an outstanding athlete…and everybody told him he was…

- and I was with him one day at the mall when some woman came up to him and told him he was attractive and handed him her card and told him to call her if he was ever interested in modeling…

- there I stood with like – where’s my card?...(apparently she ran out…)

 

- but it wasn’t long before all of that went to his head and he started cutting all sorts of corners ethically and morally…

- and pretty soon it was OK to be hanging out in the bars…and sleeping around…

- and if you had asked him at that point in his life how things were going – he would have said, great…

- because that’s what everybody else was telling him…and that’s what he kept telling himself…

- but that’s certainly not what God thought…and that pride eventually had to come tumbling down…Pride goes before a fall.

- verses 6-7 add this idea…even when something is going well, servants develop humility…

C. By recognizing the source of all you have.

- 1 Corinthians 4:7 - 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?

- so even when we are doing something well – that’s simply the result of a gift we received—so we shouldn’t boast about it nor should we allow anyone else to put us on a pedestal…

- servants of Christ seek to develop humility…how would you rank yourself on that important issue?...

 

- now, what do we do with this section of Scripture where Paul clearly uses sarcasm to convey his point?...the idea is…

II. Servants of Christ Evaluate Themselves Properly.

A. What the Corinthians thought they were – v. 8-9

1. full

2. rich

3. reigning as kings

4. wise

5. strong

6. distinguished

 

- they thought they were heading to Indianapolis…life was great and that was proof that God was blessing them…Paul said, here’s what serving God sometimes entails…

 

B. What Paul knew he was

1. a spectacle.

 - v. 10 – we have become a spectacle to the world.

- that was an image that would have been very familiar to the Corinthians…

- when a Roman general won a major victory, it was celebrated by what was called a spectacle, or a triumph…

- the general and his troops would enter the city with great military splendor…and behind them would be the prisoners and the conquered king and his soldiers for everyone to see and mock…

- and then the prisoners were taken to the arena to fight with wild animals…while everyone laughed and jeered as these conquered prisoners met their deaths…that was called the spectacle…

- Paul says, that’s what it’s sometimes like to serve God…not prestige, honor, approval of man…

2. fools

- v. 10 – We are fools for Christ’s sake

 

3. sufferers

- 1 Corinthians 4:11 - To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;

 

4. scum

- 1 Corinthians 4:13 - we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.

- scum and dregs was what came off the pots after they were scrubbed…

- so this afternoon, after the wife serves a great meal, the husband will say – honey, please let me and the kids do the dishes while you rest you sweet head…

- and he and the kids get all the dishes together and what do you always save for last?...those nasty pots and pans---because you don’t want to get all that junk in the water until the very end…

- and then you scrub the fire out of the pots and pans and let the water out…and what do you have left at the bottom of the sink?...the scum and the dregs…Paul says – sometimes that’s what it’s like to serve the Lord…

 

- now, he’s not having a big pity party – he even says – we’re still going to work with our hands (v. 12) regardless of how we’re treated…we’re still going to try to bless, and endure, and make peace…

- but here’s the big point – where the Corinthians thought they were as servants of God, and where Paul knew he was as a servant of God, could not have been more different…

- that’s because true servants of God have to evaluate themselves properly…

 

C. Applications for you and me?

1. The ultimate evaluator is the cross of Christ.

- one of the biggest mistakes people can make is believing they can earn their own way to heaven.

- I’m a fairly good person---I’m better than the next guy---I don’t need help from anyone…

- believing you can gain heaven by your effort is a terrible pedestal to be on…I’m full, I’m rich, I wise, I’m distinguished…

- then why did Jesus have to die?...

- Colossians 1:19-20 - For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

 

- if you’re here this morning and you’ve never trusted Christ, can I gently ask you – is it possible that you’ve made an evaluation of your spiritual condition that could turn out to be the wrong one?...

 

2. Don’t assume when things are going badly that you are displeasing God.

- let’s go back to that parent we mentioned at the beginning of the message…

- you might say – my child is really upset with me right now…and he’s been sulking around the house…and sending mean text messages to my x-husband about me, and blah, blah, blah…I must be a terrible mom…

- the truth of the matter is…you may be holding the exact standard God wants you to be holding but your child, at this point in his life, is a fool…

- and you might say – but I feel like that scum that gets scraped off the pots after lunch…you’re in good company…a lot of faithful servants of God feel that way from time to time…that does not mean you’re displeasing God.

 

3. Don’t assume when things are going well that you are honoring God.

- you might say – my popularity ranking is going through the roof…

- that might be great, or it might indicate that you’re compromising your values…

- did that popularity come with a price?...

- did you have to dress like a hooker to get to that place?...

- did you have to start cussing like a sailor?...

- did you have to tear someone else down?...

 

- this is true of churches too…do you remember what Jesus said to the church of Laodicea… Revelation 3:15-18 - I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

4. Don’t be overly concerned with the opinions of people.

- of course we have to balance this…we should be open to confrontation…and we should be glad when someone encourages us for something good we’re doing…but…

- Galatians 1:10 - For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

 

III. Servants of Christ Accept Correction.

 

A. Because someone was sent to admonish them.

1 Corinthians 4:14 - I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
 

B. Because someone was sent to lead them.

1 Corinthians 4:17 - 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.
 

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video