************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 4:2 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 2, 2000

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
verse 2
"Success Equals Faithfulness"

As far as I know, no bird ever tried to build more nests than its neighbor. No fox ever got ulcers because she had only one hole in which to hide. No squirrel ever died of anxiety because she could not gather enough nuts for two winters instead of one. And no dog ever lost sleep over the fact that he did not have enough bones laid aside for his declining years. Yet, none of us would say that the bird, fox, squirrel, and dog were unsuccessful, that somehow they had failed.

Ours is a success-oriented society. We reward the successful whether they be businessmen, executives, pastors, athletes, teachers, students, politicians, dairymen, or parents. Of course, how the Christian measures success is not at all the same way as the world measures success. The world says success is an extra nest, an additional hole, more nuts, an investment of bones. Without them, says the world, our life has counted for nothing.

Today is the last day in church office for four of our men. Today is the first day in church office for another five of our men. How do we know if any of those who are retiring have been successful as a deacon or elder? How do we know if any of those just installed are successful as a deacon or elder? In this book (HOLD UP FORM OF SUBSCRIPTION BOOK) are the signatures of all those who have held church office in Trinity United Reformed Church; in the first five lines I see the signatures of men like Gerrit Hofstee, Pete Dragt, Frank Bosman, Edward Anker, and Nonning Leyendekker. How do we know if they and all the other men in here were successful in church office? What standard do we use to measure success or failure in church office? Actually, I am asking the wrong question here. What I should be asking is, How does God measure success? When does God say deacons and elders and myself as pastor are a success?

You know, of course, that God does not measure success by profit, by prosperity, or by prestige. God measures success by faithfulness. That's what I want to talk about this morning: Success Equals Faithfulness.

I Slaves and Stewards
A I hope none of you who were installed this morning ever has the experience with this congregation that Paul had with the congregation of Corinth. Although some thought highly of him, by others he was criticized, misjudged, and ignored. Paul admits some say about him,
(2 Cor 10:10) His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.
Further on he admits he is not "a trained speaker" (2 Cor 11:6). Paul has to admit he is timid when face to face, but bold when away (2 Cor 10:1). Judged by the standards of popularity and persuasive power, Paul's ministry at Corinth was a failure.

But listen to what Paul says about the judgment passed on him by those people of Corinth:
(1Cor 4:3-4) I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. (4) My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Do you know what Paul is saying? "My success," says Paul, "is not to be measured in terms of what the church thinks of me, but in terms of what God thinks of me." "My judge," says Paul, "is not man or even myself, but God."

B In verse 1 Paul identifies who he is in God's sight. "Men ought to regard us," he says, "as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God."

Paul uses two words here. The first word is "servant." Another translation for this word is "slave." The second word that Paul uses is "those entrusted." Another translation for this is "steward." Paul is a slave and steward. Slaves and stewards are not part of our culture, but the people of Corinth immediately understood what Paul was saying. A steward was a confidential slave to whom the master entrusted his affairs. He was a director of the master's household, but still a slave of the master. He was an administrative assistant in the master's business, but still a slave of the master. He was a crew chief in the master's work, but still a slave of the master. A steward had great responsibility, but always and in everything he was accountable to the master. Both he and his work belonged to the master.

Paul was a slave and steward of God. Entrusted to him was "the secret things of God." "God's mysteries," say other translations.

What are these secret things of God, these mysteries of God, that have been entrusted to Paul, the slave and steward of God? It is the Gospel, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

C Those in church office are like Paul. We are slaves and stewards of God. We have been called by Him. We work for Him. We are accountable to Him. By Him we have been entrusted with the Gospel, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. By Him we have been made custodians of the Good News. By Him we have been given orders to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, exercise discipline, and relieve the needs of the poor and suffering.

II Faithful Slaves and Stewards
A If you were a master, what one quality would you look for in a slave or steward? Words that spring to my mind are reliable, trustworthy, integrity, loyalty. That is what we would want our steward to be. God directed Paul to use the word faithful.
(1Cor 4:2) Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
The one quality that God looks for in deacons, elders, and pastors is faithfulness. The one quality that God, the Master, looks for in us, His slaves or stewards, is faithfulness.

B Notice what Paul says about faithfulness. He says, "it is required." Faithfulness "is required" of those in church office. The word required is an interesting one in the Greek. It is a form of the Greek verb "to seek in order to find."

Do you get the picture here? The picture is of God looking us over. The picture is of God in His sovereign majesty putting us under His magnifying glass. The picture is of God examining us under His microscope.

And what is God looking for? He is looking for faithfulness. He looks us over carefully for the faithfulness He requires of us. In the old days mothers used a fine-tooth comb on the heads of their children, checking them over carefully for lice. In the same way, God goes over those in church office with a fine-tooth comb looking for faithfulness.

C God looks for faithfulness. He measures our success or failure in terms of faithfulness. He gives or withholds His blessing on the basis of faithfulness.

This should be nothing new for anyone here. You see, faithfulness is the key word in the covenant relationship between God and us. The Bible tells us that God is faithful to His covenant with us. Listen to just a sampling:
(Deut 7:9) Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

(Ps 25:10) All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

(2Tim 2:13) if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

In His covenant faithfulness God binds the whole of Himself to us. He is absolutely trustworthy. He is utterly dependable. He will keep covenant with us, and He will do so forever. He will keep covenant with us, and He did, even though it demanded He nail His own eternal Son to a Roman cross. In describing God's covenant relationship with us we use phrases like: abiding faithfulness, undying love, sacrificial loyalty.

Great so great is God's faithfulness to us.

D This kind of faithfulness is what God looks for in us who have been entrusted with the gifts of His grace. Just as God binds the whole of Himself to us in His covenant faithfulness, so He wants us to bind the whole of ourselves to Him in faithfulness. The Master, Who entrusted His business to us, now wants to find us, His slaves and stewards, faithful. He wants to find us faithful in each day, each relationship, each word spoken and heard, each meeting attended, each visit made, and each dollar counted. He wants to find us faithful to Him and to His Word and to His Work. He wants to find us faithful to the calling to which He has called us and to the kingdom which He commands us to seek. He wants to find us faithful to the church which is His body. He wants to find us faithful to the gospel that is the power of God to conquer sin and to comfort sinners.

As great as His faithfulness is to us, so great must our faithfulness be to Him.

Faithfulness to God: elders and deacons, no quality that we must cultivate in ourselves is more important; no quality that we must discover in each other is more important; no quality that a congregation discovers in her elders and deacons and pastor is more important. Faithfulness to God, Who has made us His own. Faithfulness to God Who has entrusted us with His work in the world.
Topic: Faithfulness
Index: 1228-1229
Date: 10/1997.101

A young man applied for a job as a farmhand. When the farmer asked for his qualifications, he said, "I can sleep when the wind blows." This puzzled the farmer. But he liked the young man, and hired him.
A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure. They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been securely fastened. A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace. The young man slept soundly.
The farmer and his wife then inspected their property. They found that the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements. The barn was properly locked. Even the animals were calm. All was well.
The farmer then understood the meaning of the young man's words, "I can sleep when the wind blows." Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm when it broke. So when the wind blew, he was not afraid. He could sleep in peace.
There was nothing dramatic or sensational in the young farmhand's preparations he just faithfully did what was needed each day. Consequently, peace was his, even in a storm. God doesn't call elders and deacons and pastors to do dramatic and sensational things. Rather, He calls them to be faithful faithful to Him, to the Gospel, to the church of Jesus Christ, to His Word, to the Creeds and Confessions.

III Faithful Slaves and Stewards are Successful
A Faithfulness. That is how Paul spells success. Faithfulness. That is what God would call a successful term in church office. Faithfulness. That is a successful ministry as an elder, deacon, or pastor.

Of course, this definition of success would surprise the corporate executives of Microsoft, General Motors, IBM, and AT&T. This definition of success would even surprise many people here in Visalia. But the Bible has a way of turning the standards of the world upside down and inside out.

B It is helpful to look through the Bible and see the people it identifies as successful. Who are the successful? People like Isaiah, who needed a hot coal placed on his lips before he dared open his mouth for the Lord. Jeremiah, who hated his own sermons and spent the largest part of his pastorate in jail. Ezekiel, who knew no one would listen to him even before he began, yet he preached his heart out anyway. People like the disciples, who, even after Pentecost, seemed weak and powerless. People like Stephen and Peter and Paul and Jesus who all died as criminals. "And what more shall I say?" asks Hebrews 11:32.
(Heb 11:36-37) Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (37) They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated ...
According to the world's standards, all of them were absolute failures! Yet, reports Hebrews 11:38, "the world was not worthy of them."

C All these people were called losers, failures, and duds by the world. Yet they were called winners, successes, and conquerors by God. Why? Because they lived by faith. Or, to say it differently, they were faithful to their Master. They were faithful slaves and stewards. They were successful not because of prosperity and power, not because of prestige or popularity, but only because of this: they were found faithful to the Lord. They were faithful in doing His work.

Perhaps nowhere is the point stated more clearly than in one of the parables of Jesus. In pronouncing his blessing upon his servants what did the master say? Did he say, "Well done, good and successful servants"? Of course not! Rather, he said, "Well done, good and faithful servants."

Elders, deacons, God calls you and me to faithfulness. And this, quite simply, demands we do our absolute best. It demands that we raise rather than lower our standards. It demands total rather than partial commitment.

Don't forget, we are slaves and stewards of the Master in heaven. We have been entrusted with the gospel of grace.

God requires faithfulness of those in church office. That's big. That's exciting. That's satisfying. That's success as God measures success.

Let's be faithful together. So God can say to all of us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
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