Yesterday, I was talking to a pastor who has been fighting discouragement. He wondered if it was worth serving God anymore, if it was worth his continued sacrifice and the sacrifice of his family. He wondered if he should have chosen the well-paying business leadership position offered to him years ago. At least, then, he would not have to try to please everyone. So, I reminded him of two verses: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
Perhaps you find yourself discouraged today. Take a moment to think about what the apostle is saying here. From these verses we learn of God’s one requirement for His servants: faithfulness. Though the context reveals that these truths were first applied to pastors, ministry leaders, the key principle applies to every believer who has a desire to serve the Lord.
Ministers are servants of God.
Servants (hyperetes) means “under-rowers” and refers to the ones who rowed in the lower part of a ship. These were the ones who worked in the stinkiest part of the ship and were unnoticed by others. The word was later used of domestic workers and referred to service of a lowly kind. Charles Hodge says the word refers to a “common sailor; and then, subordinate servant of any kind. It is generally and properly used of menials, or of those of the lower class of servants. This is not always the case, but here the idea of entire subjection is to be retained. Ministers are the mere servants of Christ; they have no authority of their own; their whole business is to do what they are commanded.” Pastors are under-rowers for Christ, completely subject to His authority. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament in the following ways:
- Matthew 5:25 Jesus used the word to refer to the officer in the courtroom responsible for throwing the judged into prison.
- Matthew 26:58 mentions the servants in the High Priest’s court.
- Luke 1:2 used of servants of the word that handed down eyewitness reports of the ministry of Christ.
- Luke 4:20 refers to the attendant in the synagogue who handed the OT Scriptures to Jesus.
- John 7:32 the word is used of officers sent by the Pharisees to take Jesus captive.
- Acts 13:5 Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch and took along John Mark as their
- Acts 26:16 Paul says in his testimony that Christ called him to be a minister and a witness.
Pastors are first of all servants of Christ sent to feed, lead, and protect a flock. Christ is the One who will one-day judge a ministry and will say to those who faithfully serve Him, Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).
Ministers are stewards of biblical truth.
Steward (oikonomos) is a compound word from oikos meaning “house” and nomos meaning “law,” thus “the law of the house.” It refers to the manager of a household. In Paul’s day, wealthy landowners would entrust one of the slaves to be in charge of the others. They were given the responsibility of running the estate and were accountable to answer to the owner (See Matthew 25:14ff and Luke 16:1-2).
The concept of stewardship emphasizes responsibility, accountability, and delegated authority. Pastors are fellow slaves of Christ that God has chosen to oversee His household. Pastors possess a stewardship for which they are responsible and accountable. The same household imagery is used of church elders in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?). Elders are managers for God; stewards entrusted with the household of God. Pastors are primarily stewards of the mysteries of God. A mystery in the New Testament refers to truth that was once hidden and is now revealed. The primary sphere of the preacher’s responsibility is that of being a steward of God’s revelation in Scripture. We live in a day and age in which many pastors do not realize this because they have not been taught properly. There are too many seminaries in this land that are simply training men to be good administrators and “public relations experts” in order to bring in as many people as possible. They are not being told that they are primarily stewards of truth, managers of the Word of God, responsible to teach and preach and guard it with their life. The Pastoral Epistles are filled with the exaltation of Biblical truth and the responsibility of the pastor to fight for it. Consider numerous examples: 1 Timothy 1:10-11; 4:6; 4:16; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14; 2:15; Titus 1:9; 2:1.
There is one requirement for a steward of truth: that he be found pistos, faithful, and dependable. God doesn’t say he must be able to bring hundreds or thousands of people through the church doors. It doesn’t say he must be able to write fifty-two books a year and travel all over the world. Faithfulness is the one requirement. If a pastor is not faithful to manage God’s Word, he is an unfaithful minister. He may be sincere, but he is sincerely wrong. God doesn’t say it any other way.
As a servant, a pastor is to be faithful to God by loving and feeding His sheep. As a steward, he is to be faithful to God’s Word. By doing so, he will be faithful to the flock entrusted to his care. If a pastor is not faithful to the Word of God he cannot be faithful to the flock of God since biblical truth is where his authority lies. First Corinthians 9:16-17 reveals Paul’s passion for biblical truth and how seriously he took his responsibility: For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. As a steward of biblical truth, Paul could not fathom doing anything but preach. God doesn’t measure success by worldly standards. He measures it by faithfulness.
Recommended reading: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.