I would like to think that I always think biblically, but I think that’s not the case; like right now. I am dwelling on the Scripture at hand, and yet my mind is not picturing Paul serving the Corinthians, but Alfred catering to Bruce Wayne. Alfred is a well-dressed, elderly, stately gentleman whose station in life is to be the personal assistant, friend, and confidant to a wealthy home owner. He is in on all of the secrets and can be trusted with the information. Alfred, it would seem, is important to the success of the Dynamic Duo’s reputation as the saviors of Gotham City. However, Alfred never takes any credit. He is happy to be a helper, server, subordinate, friend, and wise listener if needed, but he never steals the glory that was never his to begin with.
I think Paul would like Alfred. Paul gives his readers in 4:1 the proper titles he and other workers are to be known by; servant and steward. Paul is using his God-given gifts to serve the church; a body that does not belong to him but belongs to another (God), and deserves the greatest amount of care possible.
The stewardship of God’s people in Corinth, or any other church Paul plants or is in charge of, means that he is accountable for those entities to one person, and one person alone, God (v.4). That is both scary and encouraging at the same time for those of us in pastoral ministry. Scary in that we are accountable to God for our actions, inactions, and motives. Encouraging in that our fellow man, minister or congregant, whether well-meaning or not, are not the ones we are to please. God will test and prove the intents of the servant’s heart and reward them accordingly (v.5).
Paul was the kind of leader who applied the same criteria to his own life as he required from his children (v.6). There is no “do as I say, not as I do” mentality with Paul. As a spiritual father, he tells his children to do as he does, because it matches what he says (v.16). As a natural father, I want my daughter to emulate me, not for my own vainglory, but because I am following Christ in word and deed. I have a very long way to improve as an example, but improve I must if I am going to point my family to Christ and be the person God needs me to be.
And lest we think that pastoral ministry is 1.5 hours per week (Sunday mornings) and lunch and coffee breaks the rest of the time, Paul’s words bring us back to reality. The Message sums up verses 10-13 nicely: You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.
Welcome to service for the Lord. Even as the Corinthians were puffing themselves up and arguing about who followed the best leader, Paul, and then Apollos were pouring themselves out and suffering derision for the Corinthians sake. When we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will suffer because Jesus suffered. The world will hate us and that’s the way it is.
Paul wasn’t looking for pity, he was trying to encourage believers to get their eyes on Christ, and that no matter what the world did to them, they would be rich in the Lord and payday would come in heaven. The Corinthians needed to quit honoring themselves and pick up their crosses, that way God would be the One who would honor them and that’s all that should have mattered.
It is much easier said than done. Those Corinthians should have known better, right? What about us? Are we more concerned about God’s opinion of us or the world’s opinion of us? Are you willing to be considered something that is scraped off someone’s shoe for the sake of the Gospel? Paul was. Apollos was. The martyr’s were. And by God’s grace I will be too; it is much easier said than done.
Alfred was a good servant to his master, with his impeccable speech and dress, but that is hardly the picture of a servant of Christ. Strange, isn’t it? Seems backward and upside down. And it is here that we have one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith; For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matt 23:12). Serve God and let Him exalt you instead of the other way around.
Grace and Peace,