A Genuine Servant of Christ
1 Corinthians 4:1-21 Key Verse: 4:15-16
“Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.”
From last Sunday’s message, we learned that we should not boast about human leaders but grow mature as coworkers in Christ, building the house of God on the foundation of faith, Jesus Christ. I thank God for our coworkers in DuPage UBF, who serve in God-given tasks accordingly. May God continue to bless our coworking spirit to raise 12 new disciples in this year, pioneering Wheaton College, Harper College, COD and Lewis University, and supporting UIUC ministry as well. Amen!
Today’s passage is about the qualities and the attitudes of God’s servants. The servant should be faithful to the master, God the Father. To the flock of God, the servant should have the heart of a father. May God grant us the word of God through today’s passage. Amen!
A Faithful Servant of Christ (1-13).
In the previous passage, Paul told the Corinthian Christians not to boast about their human leaders but consider them as servants of Christ. In this passage, he is teaching them right view toward a servant of Christ. Look at verses 1-2. “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Paul and Apollos are servants of Christ. Christ entrusted them the mysteries of God to share with others. He is teaching that the most important requirement of a servant of Christ is faithfulness. A servant should do whatever the master orders. If a servant is not faithful, would you have that person as your servant? Even though the master is not present, a servant should live as if the master is at present. Even if everyone else makes fun of their behavior, a servant should obey their master’s command. Though it seems impossible to do with too much pain and suffering, a faithful servant would deny their feelings or thoughts in order to fulfill their master’s order. Therefore, a servant should listen to the master very carefully and obey it absolutely.
Who was the most faithful servant? He is Jesus Christ. Even though he was the Son of God, he lowered himself as a servant and obeyed everything God foretold for him to do through his prophets. In order to fulfill God’s will, he disowned his power and glory in heaven in order to come down as a baby in a manger. He became a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He touched lepers and opened the eyes of a blind man. God’s will for him was to suffer and die on the cross with excruciating pain and sorrow. What did Jesus do? He prayed, saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done,” three times and obeyed to the end. Jesus summarized his life, saying, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Paul has imitated the servantship of Jesus Christ and is teaching the Corinthian Christians in several ways. First, live before the Lord who judges. Look at verses 3-4, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” Paul was judged by the Corinthian Christians or by any human court or by himself. He could not totally ignore people who judged him according to their human standards as a human being, but cared very little. He even did not judge himself. Yet, he did not do whatever he wanted to do and justified himself as many people do, saying “I don’t care for people but live before God.” He knew that he was not innocent but a sinner before the Lord God who judges him. As a servant is only accountable to their master, Paul made a decision not to judge anything from anyone. It does not mean we should not discern what is right from wrong but that we must make no final judgment. But it seems impossible while we live on earth.
How is it possible? We must trust in Jesus’ final judgement. Look at verse 5. “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 praise from God.” Paul encouraged them not to judge others or even themselves but wait on God’s time of judgement. At that time all hidden sins will be exposed in the light of God. Even the motives of each person will be shown. At that time, everyone will be judged according to what they have done, whether good or bad. Those who have done good will be rewarded, but those who have done evil will be punished. (Ro 2:6-9) A servant of God should believe in the final judgement, which also means the final reward from God. Even if no one recognizes or people misjudge our work for God, a servant of Christ should be faith to God, looking forward to God’s praise in His time.
Secondly, apply the word of God to myself first. Look at verses 6-7. “Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” Apparently, the Corinthian Christians judged Paul and Apollos on many things, bickering with each other, but they should not go beyond the word of God. They should not be proud of themselves, acknowledging that they received God’s word from them and become followers of one or another. Their boasting was groundless because they were taking sides based on what they were taught, though the teachings of Paul and of Apollos were the same.
It seems natural for a human being to teach others, not themselves first. When people teach but don’t live by their own teaching, we call them hypocrites. Jesus warned his disciples not to be like them. But Paul not only taught others but also applied God’s word to himself. He also knew that Apollos did the same in order to set a good example for others to follow. This should be the principle of a servant of Christ, taking a plank from one’s own eye before trying to pick a speck from other’s. When we do so, we will find ourselves as a sinner and may be able to help others with humility, compassion and understanding. This is also my prayer for this year, as I hold on to 1 Co 9:27, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Thirdly, participate in the sufferings of Christ. In verses 8-13, Paul is showing the contrast between Corinthian Christians, especially their leaders, and true servants of Christ. According to verses 8-10, Corinthian Christians lived like kings, reigning over others and living like rich people with honor and glory of the world. They were unfaithful to Jesus’ calling for them to be servants of all, but Paul and Apollos were servants of Christ. They lived like other apostles who were condemned to death at the end of the procession, having to fight against lions and being treated like a spectacle in the eyes of the Roman citizens in the arena. They were considered fools to their eyes. They were traveling all over the places to preach the gospel like homeless people without food. Sometimes, they had to run for their lives, being treated like the scum of the earth. Paul was beaten by many people in many places, stoned to almost death, and even ship-wrecked three times, floating day and night in the open sea. (2 Co 11:23-27) But he endured all of this, because he wanted to be faithful to God’s calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. His true desire was to know Christ, participating the remaining sufferings of Christ and thus experiencing the power of Jesus’ resurrection. (Eph 3:10) When he was cursed, he blessed as Jesus said. When he was persecuted, he endured. When he was slandered by the same Jewish Christians, he answered them kindly. He is testifying about all these, not to shame the Corinthian Christians, but to warn them as his own children.
As we pray to raise disciples of Jesus, let’s pray to raise faithful men and women of God. 2 Tim 2:2 says, we should pray to raise reliable people to serve the work of God. There is one young man who was not highly educated but was very faithful in serving a small matter. God has blessed him with a vision to pioneer a new campus. I pray that he may be faithful in doing so and God may bless him as a servant of Christ approved by God. Amen!
The Attitude of God’s Servant toward God’s flock (15-21)
Up until now, Jesus taught the quality of God’s servant. From verse 15-17, he is sharing what kind of attitude he has toward them as God’s servant. Look at verse 15. “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Even though Corinthian Christians had many Bible teachers from Jerusalem, Paul not only taught them the Bible but also took care of them like a father. A father loves his child a little differently from a mother. Usually, a mother cares for a child for immediate needs, whether food or education or ethics, but a father provides for long-term needs in many ways, whether through discipline or encouragement or rebuke or compliments. As a father feeds babies, Paul gave them milk thus far, the word of God and compliments. But as a child grows, a father corrects his child for his future. Likewise, Paul is correcting the Corinthian Christians as they should grow in Christ.
As a servant of God, we should have the attitude of a father to our student or to our church members in Christ. One of God’s servants said that it is very hard to discipline our own children. There was one young man who had grown up without a father. He longed to receive discipline but he could not because he never received it when he was young. Many talented young men and women are misusing their time and talent because they could not control themselves. Without the attitude of a father’s love, we cannot discipline God’s flock because it often takes broken heart, a lot of time and even money. Therefore, I urge you to receive training whether physical or spiritual gladly when it is given to you, because it is not easy for your parents and/or your Bible teacher to do so.
Moreover, Paul strongly encouraged Corinthian Christians to imitate him and how he lived. Look at verses 16-17, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” As Paul testified, he not only taught but also lived an exemplary life of faith as a servant of Christ. He even wanted to send Timothy to let them know his way of life in Christ, so they could see that what he said was true. As a servant of Christ, he was faithful in obedience and followed the way of Christ. He did not become rich and reigning over people, but poor and caring for others and preaching the gospel as a matter of life and death. A spiritual father becomes an example for his children to follow, so Paul lived the life of God’s servant.
What a wonderful, exemplary life of faith Paul lived! Life is the most powerful teaching of God’s word. Among us, there are many exemplary men and women of God. Mother Sarah Barry truly has lived like a spiritual mother to raise many Korean young men and women shepherds and missionaries, coworking together with Late Dr. Lee and sacrificing her life. She did not live in a missionary compound comfortably but live with Koreans in a house without toilet and shower system, eating Kimchi and sleeping on a hard floor. Missionary Joseph Chung also set a good example for us to follow! Even though he was a poor medical student, he gave an offering for world mission even through selling his blood. After he sacrificially served Americans for more than 35 years, he could retire comfortably but went to Uganda as a silver missionary for another 15 years. I also find good examples among DuPage UBF. Our messengers prepare Sunday’s message faithfully even though they work full time, putting more than 20 hours for it. Missionary Anastasia faithfully serves 1:1 Bible study in spite of working full time, taking care of children and overcoming news of wars in her country Ukraine. Missionary Mary Kim faithfully studies the Bible and teach her children and other student whoever wants. Joshua, Bamidele, and Danny faithfully go out fishing, and God sent new students: Ayon, Eric and Eri from COD and Caleb, Michael and George from Harper College. Thank God for our music team playing wonderful music faithfully. Our seasoned gentlemen are more faithful to Bible study and serving in their capacity.
Look at verses 18-21. Paul is warning some of the Corinthian Christians who were arrogant and not repenting or receiving correction because they thought that Paul was not coming. But he confirmed that he was coming. When he comes, he is going to find out who they are and how much power they have. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. The power Paul was talking about is not physical strength but spiritual, which is from God through the Holy Spirit, who brings the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Faith without action is dead. Paul would come with love and a gentle spirit but have to discipline those who did not take warning and repent of their arrogant life.
Through today’s passage, we learned the qualities and attitudes of God’s servant. The most important quality of God’s servant is faithfulness. A faithful servant of Christ will live before God who judges and seeks God’s praise. He also applies the word of God to himself first and thus lives an exemplary life of faith. Ultimately, he participates in the sufferings of Christ instead of living like a king, reigning over others. As God’s servant, we should have the attitude of a father to God’s flock so that they may imitate our life of faith as we imitate Jesus and those who have lived exemplary lives of faith. Amen