1 Corinthians 4:1-13
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 trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (ESV)
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Nativity of St. John the Baptizer
24 June 2014
John Chrysostom says "mine" and "yours" are just words. They do not correspond to reality for us Christians. How profound, but why should we consider this profound? No gape-mouthed reaction of shock could arise if we just fully understood the words of the Psalmist: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps 24:1). What in this world could be considered ours in distinction from its Creator? What possession could we ever rip from the hands of our Lord? We are but stewards of what belongs to the Lord. We are not ourselves the Master. His is put into our hands to use for His purposes in the world, and for no other reason. No one has the right to use what belongs to another according to his own whim. Even in the world, the employee who embezzles the assets of his employer goes to jail and has ignominy heaped upon him. The employee who wastes the assets of his employer loses his job.
In ancient times, the rulers of many lands were considered to own everything: animals, crops, homes, and the people themselves. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt promulgated this lie and arrogantly used the land's bounty for their own purposes. The pharaohs considered themselves gods in the land. Their divinity arose in tandem with their claim of ownership over everything. Government run amok takes on divine airs, claiming absolute authority over the people, the land, and its bounty. A constant tug of war ensues between government, and the people, both saying and wrongly, "mine" about the earth and its fullness. Government has no greater claim to God's world than we do. It is all God's. Ultimately, the claim to possess what is God's is not merely greed or covetousness; it is self-deification. It is the claim to be god. This is why we must use faithfully what God confers to our stewardship. Not as mine or yours, but His.
Among the most important stewardship is that of those whom God uses to distribute the alms of His kingdom. The gospel message demands its proclamation to poor sinners that they might be brought from darkness into the light. God has arranged that stewards be appointed to do that work (1Co 4:1-2). We must not abolish what God has commended to us for our good (Is 52:7), any more than we could desire to abolish the sun's daily rising. The stewards of the mysteries must proclaim the speech of God to give comfort to poor sinners like us.
Today, many people are offended by the office of pastor in the church, considering it undemocratic and pompous, "Those clerical collars are so full of themselves. We don't need them. Anyone can do this work." But no decent steward would ever allow his master's possessions to be taken over by those not appointed to the task. What right would he have to change the conditions by which the master runs his household? Yes, the stewards should distribute the King's possessions with the generous munificence commanded by the King, but, no, the steward may not just give up his office or off-handedly hand off its authority. To do so is to question the master's competence in arranging his own household. Certainly, the office holders are common men, with nothing to commend them to the world. Their weakness commends the excellence of the gift conferred by them. The stewards of the divine mysteries share them with the poor sinners not as their own possessions, but as the divine gift of forgiveness through the mouths of His messengers. Not mine or yours, but His.
"'Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy' (1Co 4:2), that is, that he do not appropriate to himself his master's goods, that he not like a master lay claim for himself but administer as a steward. For a steward's part is to administer well the things committed to his charge. He is not to say that his master's things are his own; but, on the contrary, that his own things are his master's. Let every one think on these things, both he that has persuasive speech and he that possesses wealth, namely, that he has been entrusted with the master's goods and that they are not his own. Let him not keep them with himself, nor set them down to his own account; but let him impute them to God who gave them all. Would you see faithful stewards? Hear what Peter said, 'Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made [this man] walk?'(Acts 3:12). To Cornelius he also said, 'I too am a man' (Acts 10:26) and to Christ Himself, 'See, we have left everything and followed you' (Mt 19:27). And Paul, no less, when he had said, 'I worked harder than any of them,' added, 'though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me' (1Co 15:10). Elsewhere also, setting himself strongly against the same persons, he said, 'What do you have that you did not receive?' (1Co 4:7). For you have nothing of your own, neither wealth, nor speech, nor life itself. For this also is surely the Lord's. Therefore, when necessity calls, lay down also this. If you covet life, and if being ordered to lay it down you refuse, you are no longer a trustworthy steward.
"What if you have come into great honor, and have obtained some high office of church government? Don't be proud. You have not acquired the glory, but God has given it to you. Therefore, use it sparingly as if it were another's. Don't abuse it nor use it upon unsuitable things. Don't be puffed up, nor appropriating it to yourself; but esteem yourself to be poor and without glory. If you had been entrusted to keep a king's purple regalia, it would not become you to abuse the robe and spoil it, but with the more care to keep it for the giver. Has beautiful speech been given to you? Don't be puffed up. Don't be arrogant. For the gracious gift is not yours. Do not be grudging about your Master's goods, but distribute them among your fellow-servants. Don't be elated with these things as if they were your own, nor be sparing as to the distribution of them. Again, if you have children, they are God's. If you think this way, you will both be thankful for having them, and if bereft of them, you will not take it too hard. Such was Job when he said, 'The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away.' (Job 1:21).
"For we have all things from Christ. Both existence itself we have through Him, and life, and breath, and light, and air, and earth. If He were to take from us any one of these, we would be lost and undone. For we are 'sojourners and exiles' (1Pt 2:20). And all this about 'mine,' and 'yours,' is bare words only, and does not stand for things. For if you but say the house is yours, it is a word without a reality. Since the very air, earth, and matter are the Creator's, who framed it; as you yourself also are, and all other things too. Sometimes you suppose that the use is yours. But even this is uncertain, not only on account of death, but also before death, because of the instability of things."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 10.5
Collect for the Nativity of St. John the Baptizer
Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Pastor Elmer Hohle, that the Lord Jesus would give him the strength to meet every day
For all pastors who proclaim the truth of the gospel to the brokenhearted, that they might be upheld in their stewardship of the holy things
For President Lawrence Rast and the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that the Lord Jesus Christ would bolster their faithful proclamation
For all public safety officers that they would be kept safe in the conduct of their duties
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014