“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”(1 Corinthians 4:1–2, ESV)
I don’t think there is anyone that wants to live and die in obscurity. But today, working hard and living a quiet life isn’t enough for many people. For a growing number, becoming YouTube or Tik Tok famous is what they aspire to become. That urge, and many more “acceptable” goals have driven people to do shameful and underhanded things throughout human history.
I wish I could say that this ugly ambition is largely absent from the church of Jesus Christ, but I would not be speaking the truth. Many Christians have moved their ambition from godliness to the glittering promises of our media age. Today, it would seem, anyone can grasp at a bit of celebrity. I am not saying that all ambition is wrong, but what is the goal that we are seeking? How do we want people to regard us?
In 1Corinthians 4:1, the word “this” (“This is how one should regard us…”) refers back to what precedes chapter 4, specifically, 1Cor 3:18-23, where Paul rebuked the Corinthians for boasting in their favorite teachers. Instead of seeking to be lifted up in our identification with men, we should first consider ourselves servants–but specifically servants of Christ. I have seen repeatedly how young men have hitched their wagon to their favorite pastors, teachers and theologians, as if somehow their identification with these men will given them credibility with the right sort of people.
So, who did Paul “hitch his wagon” to? How did he want to be known? He connected himself to Christ, but he did so by being identified as Christ’s servant, as his steward. This reference to servants and stewards fits well with Paul’s self-reference to him and Apollos as humble field workers in 1Cor 3:5. There is no great glory or honor in a field worker, yet there is a great importance attached to this enormous responsibility for the land owner and master. There is accountability that will come at the harvest and there is great dignity for the hard working farmer who sows and then reaps in due time.
So, while the proud, carnal believers in the church were crowing over who it was they were identifying with in order to boost their own credibility, Paul refused to play this game, and instead stated that he was content with simply being a third-galley under rower who is never seen by the Captain. Paul is a work-horse, an inboard motor for the ship. He is happy to work behind the scenes, so that the Master of the house is glorified, guarding himself from stealing any of that glory.
But, there are lazy servants. There are servants who steal, and loaf around, and some who distract the other workers with bickering and fighting. What sort of servant and house steward was Paul ambitious to remain? Paul wanted what his Master wanted-and the Master requires stewards to be found faithful at their work. Faithfulness is what is foremost in importance in the steward. All other attributes pale in comparison if he is not faithful to carry out his master’s desires and bring him the fruit of his labors. The dependability and trustworthiness of a steward has a direct bearing upon his being judged as faithful. The farmer who is not consistent, who does not work hard, who steals from his master, who is lazy will not be judged as faithful. First Corinthians 3:8 speaks of the farmers who will do their jobs faithfully and in the end will receive their wages according to their labor. The comparison of the faithful and unfaithful laborer is seen in 1 Cor 3:14-15.
Paul most likely recognized that as he was writing, some would be coming to their conclusions about how successful he had been in being faithful. Some would deem Paul a failure, and other a smashing success. But Paul cut through all of this, knowing that this sort of comparison ends mostly in sin, and he stated these words in his letter:
“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.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4, ESV)
It is the master of the house who determines whether his servant is faithful. That isn’t for me or for you to say. In the end, on the last Day, that will be determined. For me to try and guess, and for you to try and judge is neither fruitful nor charitable. After all, we should be more concerned about how we will be judged. Because on that Day, the eyes of the Lord will be upon each of us. So, how will we be found? I pray that I will be found faithful. What about you?