WikiLeaks would have a field day with the passage we are about to read from God’s Word today. In his letter to the Corinthians church, Paul writes that the leaders of the church have been entrusted with “secret things!” Today many people don’t want anything to be kept secret anymore but think that all secrets are there to be exposed! And this just sounds too juicy to be kept secret, right? The leaders of the church know secret things! It sounds all so mysterious! What are the secrets? And more to the point, why can’t you know them?
Next Sunday, we will ordain and install two leaders to the Council of Faith Church. They will know the “secret things” that have been entrusted to the leaders of the church! And not just “secret things” but “secret things of God!” That’s heavy stuff, right? Well, today I’m going to play the role of WikiLeaks and divulge to you the secret things of God that Paul is talking about. And here’s a hint. What is secret isn’t really a secret anymore because of Jesus. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 4:1-7
I. There is a need for leaders in the church.
Leaders are needed for the church to work. Why is that the case? Without leaders, there would be little peace in the church. What happens if you are in a contentious meeting where there is not leader? There is a lot of talking and often the tone becomes harsh and there ends up being arguing and not much is accomplished. Good leaders bring peace in a church.
Leaders in the church are necessary for the church to be efficient. There is an old Monty Python video which portrays a race for runners with no sense of direction. The runners were all lined up at the starting line. But as soon as the starting gun was fired, they all took off in different directions, ran into and fell over each other. They didn’t have the sense to know that in order to have a good race, all must run in the same direction. If it were not for leaders, I think the church would end up like this as well: all working feverishly, but going in all different directions and not getting anywhere. Leaders can make us efficient.
But why is that so important? Why is it necessary to have peace and efficiency in the church? The church is the gathering of all who believe in Christ, but God also gathers his church to do a vitally important task. The church of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the wonderful things that God has done in Jesus Christ. In Colossians 4:3-4 Paul writes, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Paul understood that the church has a task and a mission to be on. If we are not organized, we will not be efficient on that mission. That is why there are ministers, elders and deacons. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 talks about the important way leaders help us on the mission that God has for us as a church of Jesus Christ.
Paul says that first of all the leaders are really “servants.” 1 Corinthians 4:1 says, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ...” Paul is speaking specifically of the Apostles but what he says is true for all leaders in the church. Ministers, elders and deacons are first of all not rulers, but servants. The word for “servant” comes from the word that describes a person who would row a large ship. In those days, some ships were propelled by a large number of slaves that would row the ship with long oars. Ships would have two or three banks of oars, one on top of the other. The word “servant” refers to the rowers on the bottom bank; literally a low class position. From this usage the word came to mean one who serves in a lower position. Church leaders are such servants who work at moving the church of Christ.
And what this also means is that they are not their own boss. The work that church leaders do is not their own, but their master’s. Thus, the church servant’s work must always point to Christ. This image also means that being a servant is very hard work. It is very easy to live for ourselves, isn’t it? It is much more difficult to serve someone else because that means that we have to put ourselves second or lower and that means hard work.
Because you see, the leaders of the church are also “stewards.” In the New Testament times, the steward was the servant entrusted with overseeing the master’s business or property. A rich landowner would not be unable to oversee all the day to day administrative duties and so would delegate the routine administration to a steward. This servant had a very responsible and very important position in that he was set over all the others by the master. But again the steward’s responsibility was completely to his master. He was to devote his time and ability to his master’s interests, not to his own. He did his master’s bidding and looked after the master’s affairs. That is what Paul is saying that the leaders of the church are like. They are stewards appointed by God and entrusted with the things God had given them. They have to answer to God as to what they had done with that. So what was entrusted to their care?
As stewards, the leaders are entrusted with the “secret things” or the “mysteries of God.” The word “mysteries” implies that at one point something was hidden. For example, think of a good mystery book or mystery movie. In such a story, there is a mystery; something is not revealed and so not understood. It is there, but we don’t understand it. The beauty of a mystery is when it is revealed or solved. In a mystery story, it is an exciting moment when all the pieces fit into place and the mystery is revealed and now understood.
Paul is saying that there used to be a mystery or secret things about God, but now God is no longer a mystery. People always knew that there was a God and that he was involved somehow in this world, but they never really understood. Some worshiped the wrong gods. Others worshiped the true God in the wrong way. The mystery of God is now finally revealed in Jesus. Now people can really understand who God is and what he is doing. The mystery of God is the whole plan of salvation through which God plans to save all who believe in Jesus and accept him in their lives.
The leaders in the church have been entrusted with this mystery. God as Lord and King of all, has given the message of the Gospel to the church. The leaders in the church are revealing this mystery when they are proclaiming the Gospel and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. And this is indeed a great responsibility and task. An oil company once needed a suave public-relations man for its office in Asia. After interviewing several candidates, the officials decided to ask a local missionary to take the position. Company executives met with this man of unusual gifts. But whatever their proposition was, his answer was always “No.” “What’s wrong?” asked one interviewer. “Isn’t the salary big enough?” The missionary replied, “The salary is big enough, but the job isn’t.” The task God has given to the church and to its leaders is indeed very great.
IV. Because of that great task, there must also be proper accountability.
Verse 2 says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” A steward is given a great deal of responsibility with little supervision. But he will eventually be examined to determine if he has been faithful. It is only at a time of auditing, when the steward hands over the books for examination, that one finds out if he has been faithful. Only then will it become evident whether he has been serving his master or doing things to serve his own interest rather than the interest of his master.
And Paul makes it clear in verse 4 that it is not man but God who will judge when he says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” And that is so important for leaders and for the church because if leaders had to answer only to human beings, there would be the potential for all kinds of abuse. Leaders could do things that would win the praise of others instead of doing the work of God. People in the church could try to control the leaders and have them do wrong things.
Leaders must answer only to God and not work to win the praise of men. Henri Nouwen writes:
Trees that grow tall have deep roots. Great height without great depth is dangerous. The great leaders of this world, like St. Francis, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., were all people who could live with public notoriety, influence and power in a humble way because of their deep spiritual rootedness. Without deep roots we easily let others determine who we are. But as we cling to our popularity, we may lose our true sense of self. Our clinging to the opinion of others reveals how superficial we are. We have little to stand on. We have to be kept alive by adulation and praise. Those who are deeply rooted in the love of God can enjoy human praise without being attached to it.”
A leader’s and all Christians’ first concern should be to win approval from God.
And that is true for all of us, not just the leaders of the church. We are all accountable to God for our work in the Kingdom. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” We are all stewards of God’s grace, God’s gifts and tasks to us. We will all be held accountable to see if we have served the Lord the best way we could.
For you see, we all have been entrusted with the mystery of God. There are still many people who still see God as a profound mystery that is very confusing and perplexing; they are in the darkness. They don’t see what the church is all excited about. They don’t understand what God is really doing in this world. Our task as leaders and members of the church is to reveal the mystery! Are we, as leaders and people, ready for this task this year?