1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.…
The Corinthians were to be delivered from their tendency to glory in men, by being taught to regard them as a part of their heritage. All teachers were for their use, not the particular one whom they chose as their party leader. Besides, a right view of the ministerial office should prevent all boasting in men.
I. HOW MINISTERS ARE TO BE REGARDED. They are:
1. Servants of Christ. They are not "lords over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3), the chiefs of the kingdom. Their true dignity lies in serving the Lord Jesus, from whom they take their orders. They have no authority beyond that which is committed to them. Nor are they the servants of men. Obedience to their own Master delivers them from subjection to every ether (comp. on 1 Corinthians 3:5).
2. Stewards of the mysteries of God. The Church is God's house, in which he alone is Master; apostles and other teachers being dispensers of the good things of the house, the great doctrines of the faith. Every man is a steward, being entrusted with the laying out of the gifts conferred upon him, and the improving of the opportunities put in his way. But this is true in a special sense of the Christian minister. He is entrusted with the dispensation of the Divine mysteries to men. He is not called to deal out his own things, but the saving truth of God, giving to each his portion of meat in due season. How responsible an office! This view of the Christian ministry should guard us against two common extremes. On the one side, ministers are not lords, endowed with a kind of supernatural power, and set to rule the consciences of men. On the other side, ministers are not the servants of the people, appointed to teach only some favourite type of doctrine. They are the servants of Christ, charged to deliver his truth, whether men will hear it or not.
II. FAITHFULNESS THE GREAT REQUISITE. Every steward must give account of his stewardship, and the chief thing required is fidelity. Men ask of a preacher, "Is he able, eloquent, attractive?" God asks, "Is he faithful?" Fidelity does not depend on the quality or quantity of the original gifts, but on the use to which they are put. The man with two talents receives the same reward as the man with five, because he has been equally faithful (Matthew 25:21, 23). Nor is fidelity measured by what men call success, since it is often incompatible with popularity. Let the much gifted minister beware; let the little gifted take comfort. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
III. THE MINISTER'S JUDGE.
1. Not the congregation. It was a very small thing in Paul's view to be judged of men. The verdict of the people on a minister's discharge of duty is not to be lightly laid aside. If they praise, let us beware of being satisfied with this; if they condemn, let us the more thoroughly search ourselves. But from this verdict there must ever be an appeal to a higher tribunal. Men cannot read the motives that lie behind the outward act, nor can they gauge the proportion between a minister's powers and the use he makes of them. Their measure of fidelity must always be imperfect.
2. Not the minister himself. The apostle disclaims being his own judge. He cannot charge himself with any remissness in duty, but he does not regard this as an unfailing proof of fidelity. He distrusts his own verdict. Let those who think themselves perfect ponder this statement. A good conscience is very precious, but let us not run into the folly of measuring ourselves by ourselves. Conscience is not the final judge in the matter.
3. The Lord is his Judge. "Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth" (Romans 14:4). This is man's judgment day; let us wait "until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts." The verdict of that day will proceed upon a perfect knowledge of the whole case, and every steward shall receive the praise of God according to the just award of the Judge. Wherefore:
(1) Do all your work remembering that Christ is your Judge. He knows your weakness as well as your strength, and sees the honest desire to serve him beneath many an apparent failure.
(2) Do not sit in judgment upon, others. Christ will judge his own servants. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.