Under-Rowers for Christ

According to the Scriptures, faithfulness is the #1 quality of a servant of God. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, the apostle said of himself and his co-workers: 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.

Opposition, criticism, and comparison were among the many problems the Apostle Paul addressed in his first letter to the church at Corinth. The words “This is how one should regard us” connect this passage with the previous chapter in which Paul exhorted the Corinthians to recognize preachers as servants of God. They were not to be placed in competition against one another, nor were they to be looked down upon for firmly standing on God’s revelation over and above worldly wisdom. Instead they were to view preachers as servants of Christ and stewards of God.

Ministers Are Servants of Christ

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 most unnoticed by others. The word was later used of domestic workers and referred to service of a lowly kind.

Ministers of the gospel 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 person 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, they had John Mark as their
  • Acts 26:16 Paul says in his testimony that Christ called him to be a minister and a witness.

Gospel ministers are first of all servants of Christ sent to feed, lead, and protect His flock. They live and serve under His direction and authority. As servants, they are accountable to Him. A pastor is a servant in a church, but the church is not his master.

Ministers Are Stewards of God’s Truth

Steward 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 entrusted one of the slaves to be in charge of the others. He was given the responsibility of running the estate and was accountable to the owner when he returned. For example:

  • Matthew 25:14 (in the Parable of the Talents) it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them.
  • Luke 16:1-2 (in the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward) There was a rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship…’

The concept of stewardship emphasizes responsibility, accountability, and delegated authority.  Pastors and elders are fellow slaves of Christ whom God has chosen to oversee His household. They possess a stewardship for which they are responsible and accountable. Biblical leaders are primarily stewards of the mysteries of God. “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 that are simply training men to be administrators and public relations experts in order to bring into the church as many people as possible. Many are not being trained to think of themselves as stewards of truth, managers of the Word of God, responsible to teach and preach and guard it with their life so that God’s sheep are cared for faithfully. But Paul trained Timothy to think this way:

  • …remain on at Ephesus in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines. (1 Tim. 1:3)
  • In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Tim. 4:6)
  • O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you… (1 Tim. 6:20)

There is one requirement for a steward of truth: that he be found faithful (pistos), trustworthy and dependable. As a servant, a pastor is to be faithful to God. As a steward, he is to be faithful to God’s Word and, by doing so, he will be faithful to the flock entrusted to his care. God doesn’t measure success by worldly standards. Success may be defined biblically by one word: faithfulness.

[These words are from the Introduction of the sermon about Timothy, A Servant of Proven Worth.]

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