I’m supposed to preach on 1 Corinthians 4 in a few weeks. Nothing in the passage has stood out to me yet as being a really clear place to jump off from. I’m going to try a few writing/thinking exercises to see if I can come up with something to talk about that has more gospel in it. This is my first stab and rewriting or expanding on the text.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
-1 Cor. 4:1 (ESV)
How should you think of us? As stewards of the mysteries of God. What kind of mystery is this we are talking about? What is so mysterious about what we have to say? It’s because you can’t learn this stuff on your own.
That God exists, that the natural world is beautiful and amazing and unique – all of these you could have figured out on your own. Most of you have figured them out more or less, even if some are confused. You know there is good and evil. You know there is right and wrong. You can feel it in your very bones, not just inside your soft socially-constructed grey matter. Karma feels real. It also feels terminal. You taste death every day, even those of you who live in luxury and are able to sufficiently insulate yourself from it most of the time.
What is the end of all this? Who is behind all this? These are things that cannot be derived simply by observing the world with your senses. When you use your eyes and ears and hands to detect the living world around you, you can see evidence everywhere of a creator, of order, and also of evil. You can put your rational mind to good use and contemplate these things and discover patterns and some of the logic behind the workings of nature and even of the dubious nature of the heart of man. But you cannot find the end, cannot find the key, cannot know the originator. These are mysteries. That is where we come in. We are stewards of the mysteries of God. He delivered to us – his chosen people – some special communications about who He is and who we are and what we are about on this earth. You may have heard that God spoke to the children of Abraham many years ago. This isn’t like the myth about Zeus or gods from the stars, but something that happened in history to real people. Well, what has been written down of this we know well and it turns out they all point toward one person, one event concerning a certain Jesus of Nazareth. This was no mere man but God himself come to all of mankind. He lived and was murdered by the people and then came back from the dead of his own accord three days later. If you had been there, you could have seen these things for yourself. But no matter – we get to tell you all about them and explain some of what they mean. It is important that we do a good job telling you about God and his desire that you know him yourself. What we have to say is not a condemnation to any of you, but rather good news, extremely good news about life and death and love and all the things that you know deep in your soul are the most important aspects of your existence.
Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (v. 2-5)
We do not care what any human court thinks of us. We do not even care what we ourselves think of ourselves. Our judgement does not count and neither does the crowds’. We stand before the judgement of God and so do you. But take heart! He has sent someone to mediate for us who will ensure that our death sentence is lifted. Woe to us if we do not instruct you in this so that you realize what has been given to you.
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
But not everyone wants to hear the good news we are compelled to deliver. In fact, many people consider us to be a bad joke. That’s OK – it’s just part of the job. The enemy of God, though his time and reach are both short has stirred up the hearts of men in strife against what we have to pronounce. Do you love having lots of money, lots of wealth? Do you love accomplishing great things and feeling important? These are good things to possess, but no end in themselves. Some of you are rich and some are poor, but you are all mortal. The good news we have to bring you of Jesus Christ has a leveling effect – it proves all people to be the same. The world you live in hates this sort of fairness. It wants to chop people into groups – the weak and the powerful, the have and the have-not, the shiny elite and the filth on the street. And if you only use yours eyes and ears, what they are saying about how great they are and how lame you are seems to make sense. You should work hard to be more like them they suggest. This seems natural. But the mysterious good news we have for you is eternal life is intended for all of you.
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
Put away your foolish striving and rivalry and learn to love each other as equals. What we have to tell you is not a formula for behaving this way – nothing like that would actually work anyway. What we have to tell is a good news about how our wickedness has been erased, is being erased, will be erased and the beauty inherent in each of us brought out and amplified when this relatively short age is over. Even now, we hear the echoes of new creation. Jesus Christ was the first to go down this route, blazing the trail for us to follow. Though there are plenty who mock us and call our story silly, you who have had your hearts stirred by the spirit of God when you heard it know of its veracity. To the people that don’t believe us, we can only assume God has something else in store for them at the moment. Perhaps they will listen to someone else later. Perhaps their children will. It is of no business of ours. But you are our business because we have become like fathers to you. We are not here to Lord it over you as if you were our slaves, but love you as if you were are own children. But just as any father or mother desires their children to grow straight and strong, we must on occasion chastise or discipline you. Don’t act like teenagers who think they know everything. That is why I have written this long latter to you. I hope some of you will be humble and willing to learn.