Critics in the Crowd (1 Corinthians 4:1-7)

From 1975-1996, there was a popular TV show on public television called Sneak Previews. The program was hosted by two film critics in Chicago, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.[1]

They are the duo that came up with the thumbs up or down system for evaluating movies. Their popularity launched a crowd of film critics, resulting today in websites like Rotten Tomatoes that give movies a score of fresh (represented with a red tomato) or rotten (represented by a squashed green tomato)

When it comes to movies, there are always critics in the crowd.

But we all have to face critics, don’t we?

  • Those of us in academics face critics called professors.
  • If you are an employee, it is likely you go through an annual performance review.
  • Coaches understand this kind of pressure.
  • So do pastors.

This is what Paul is facing when he wrote today’s passage. There were critics in the crowd. Critics who were questioning and criticizing his pastoral faithfulness.

In response to his critics, Paul’s concern in our passage is to define the essence a pastor’s job description so that we can have some objective criteria on which to evaluate faithful pastoral ministry.

Let’s start where Paul does, in…

Chapter 4, Verse 1

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard (logizomai) us: as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the mysteries of God.

1) Servants of Christ – not servants of the people

  • The term Paul uses for servant is hypērétēs
  • In Classical Greek, the term hypērétēs first occurs with reference to Hermes, the messenger of the gods. It denotes one who does the will of Zeus and has his authority behind him.[2]The pastor/apostle took his marching orders and his job description from his master of the church. He was to do what the people needed him to do, not necessarily what they wanted him to do.

2) Those entrusted (lit, “stewards,” “a manager responsible for the house”) – entrusted with what? “The mysteries.”

What are the mysteries? The truth of God contained in the gospel as revealed in the whole counsel of God.

The essential role of a pastor is one who reveals the mysteries of God’s word through teaching and preaching.

  • Acts 2:42-47, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together (to hear the apostles teach) and breaking bread in their homes (think K-Groups), they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Teaching and living life together (fellowship, prayer, generosity) was the simple model that began to change the world.

  • Ephesians 4:11-16, “11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (offices), 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (with a healthy diet of truth), 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (doctrine), to mature adulthood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

So, the pastor is a teacher/equipper. That is his essential role.

Verse 2

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

The trust is described in Jude 1:3 as “the faith [the doctrine] that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

What does it look like to be faithful with such a trust/responsibility?

Paul tells us in two other key passages:

  • 1 Timothy 4:6, 13-16, “6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed… 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:15, “15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

According to the apostle Paul, what does faithfulness look like?

Before we answer that…

Thom Rainer is President of Lifeway Christian Resources. He formerly pastored several churches. Once he surveyed his church leadership years ago, he realized that the congregation’s expectations for his average work week included a minimum of 114 hours spread over a multitude of church and community activities. Yikes!

According to the apostle Paul, what does faithfulness look like?

  1. Careful study (my week)
  2. Public teaching (my Sundays)
  3. Practical equipping believers for ministry (TFL on Mondays and Wednesdays)

Verses 3-5

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their approval from God.

Paul is very concerned about being faithful in his ministry.

There are three places he could look.

  1. The Corinthian congregation.
  2. To himself.
  3. Or to Jesus.

He decided to look to Jesus.

Richard Pratt commends Paul’s choice, saying, “[Pastors] should be evaluated only by the standard of fidelity to Christ—their trustworthiness in handling the mysteries entrusted to them.”[3] Not personal preference or cultural models.

However, because the Lord is the judge of faithfulness, there is always room to repent and grow — not to change into someone I’m not but to be the most faithful me I can be (my “divine design”).

  • My unique personality: enneagram 5, Myers-Briggs — INTJ, DiSC – off the chart C… But God does not want me to be an extrovert!
  • My unique gifting: as you know, the Holy Spirit gives each believer a specific gift to use to edify the church and contribute to the mission – leadership, mercy, helps, teaching, etc.

Isn’t it freeing to know that you can be yourself?

Part of spiritual maturity is recognizing the variety of personalities and gifts and refusing to demand that one person have the personality or gifts of someone else—or that one pastor function like another pastor in order to be considered faithful.

Verses 6-7

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

How might we go “beyond what is written” with our expectations concerning a pastor’s role?

I know a pastor who had someone show up for an appointment to complain and express disappointment: “I expect my pastor to feel like my best friend.”

Really? How many best friends do you have?

How many “best friends” did Jesus have? Seems like about three.

Yet we expect a pastor to have between 100-200 or more best friends?

What does this teach us about pastoral expectations?[4]

  • Why is it that 80%of pastors believe the ministry has negatively affected their marriage?
  • Why is it that only 1out of every 10 pastors actually retires as a pastor? [5]

I heard someone say that their mother “loved her family with her cooking.” That is it! That is what a pastor is to be for a congregation. Not a mother, but a cook.

A pastor is to love a congregation with his cooking. And that is what I do all week by reading, study, and message preparation to provide you a feast of home-cooked gospel goodness every Sunday, reminding us that we are saved by grace through the substitutionary work of Jesus and showing us how that grace changes everything.

I may not be able to love some the way you want to be loved. Or the way a previous pastor loved you.

But I do love you… and will love you the way you need a pastor to love you – by showing you week after week the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s love that has been revealed to us through the cross.[6]

[1] Roger Joseph Ebert was an American film critic, journalist, and screenwriter. He was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013.”Gene” Siskel was an American film critic and journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Along with colleague Roger Ebert, he hosted Sneak Previews from 1975 to 1999.

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1231.

[3] Richard L. Pratt Jr, I & II Corinthians, vol. 7, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 60.

[4] Then there is the pastor’s family: wife and kids (we don’t know even one apostle’s wife’s name or the names of their children)