Sermon Date: January 11, 1911
Sermon By: Pastor Dale Raether
Scripture: I Corinthians 4:1-16
We Are Lights Together... When We Imitate Paul
Do you know anyone with a wayward child? For Christians, watching a child stray from the Lord into all kinds of problems is perhaps the most painful thing there is. I say this to give you insight into what Paul was feeling when he wrote I Corinthians. Paul was their spiritual father. He had told these life-long idolaters about the Lord Jesus and saw the peace that came over them, as the Holy Spirit worked faith in their hearts. Can you imagine what this did for Paul? You, parents, think back to the first time you held your newborn baby? Remember what their cry sounded like? Do you remember the joy? Well, that’s the kind of joy Paul had over the Corinthians coming to faith, and that joy forever bonded Paul to the Corinthians, no matter what.
Unfortunately there were a lot of no-matter-whats. In previous weeks you heard about a few of them. Some of the Corinthians had gone back to worshipping at idol temples, because it was “fun”, it was a social outlet. Others were sleeping around or drinking too much. They could justify those things, because they were letting themselves be influenced by the wisdom of this world. That same “wisdom” was also leading them to doubt God’s truth, and so they began thinking they were smarter than everyone else, including their spiritual father, Paul.
So, how could Paul regain their respect, so that they would listen to him again, and so that they could be with him in heaven someday? Our text this morning has a lot to say about the relationship between a called worker and his congregation, but this applies to the relationship between parents and their children. At the end of this section, Paul is going to say, “Imitate me.” As a pastor, teachers, and parents, may we join Paul in saying to our children, “Imitate me.” 1. In faithful service. 2. In love and respect for those we serve.
We read in our text, “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. – I Corinthians 4:1” It’s a pretty gutsy thing to stand in front of crowd of people, and say, “Imitate me.” It almost sounds proud, but in this case it wasn’t. God Himself had sent Paul to the Corinthians to serve them by planting the seed of faith in their hearts and then through the Word nurturing and maturing their faith.
In the same way, God has brought your called-workers to you, and we are to serve you in the Word, just as parents are to serve their children by bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. However, even though Paul served the Corinthians, the Corinthians were not his boss, neither are you my boss, or children the boss of their parents. Christ is our boss, and we are each accountable to HIM for how we serve.
Our text reads, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. – I Corinthians 4:2” The “trust” God has given us is Holy Word. In it we have
God’s will for our lives. Unfortunately ever since the Fall, His will also shows us that we need righteousness from Him and forgiveness. But God freely gives us these through His Son, so that we may know who we are, where we are going, and how God has our names written on his hands. Faithfulness with this trust, then, is accurately repeating all that God says with all the strength and ability He has given us.
But this is scary. What is as a called worker or a parent, we get something wrong in the Bible and so we say it wrong? The solution to that problem is, imitate Paul. Paul never forgot that he was chief of sinners. So also the starting point for our correctly speaking God’s Word is that we keep examining ourselves in the light of the Commandments, confess our sinfulness, and turn to the Word and Sacrament for forgiveness. Another part of the solution for correctly speaking God’s Word is keep studying it. All of it is true. All of it fits together like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. The more we study it, the more we see the big picture, and the more we see the big picture, the more each part will make sense.
And now here’s what faithfulness doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean having to be cool by the world’s standards or even the standards of the people we serve. Paul wrote, “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we end endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. – I Corinthians 4:11-13” In faithfulness Paul was careful not to put a stumbling block in anyone’s way. But love and God’s Word set his standards for him.
Another thing faithfulness doesn’t mean is getting everything done as well or as much as even we would like. Again Paul did not. In fact there were a lot of visits he wanted to make, but could not get to them. And then when he thought about those he did make, he would lay away at night wondering and praying, “Did I say enough, was I clear enough?” Called workers and parents go through this too. Every day we practice what’s called in a hospital emergency room, triage. We’re always having to do things where someone could get hurt if we don’t and then leaving other important things slide, because we’re out of time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each day we just had a couple of things that needed doing, so that we could do a really good job on them? But often that’s not God’s will for us. Instead He teaches us humble dependence on Him, and then when He blesses us it’s all the more clear to us that this is HIS doing.
We read on in our text, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 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.
– I Corinthians 4:3-5” Because what God is looking for in His servants is faithfulness, and because only He knows what’s really going on in our heart and life, only HE can judge our faithfulness. And so, children for example, can’t judge their parents’ faithfulness, or a congregation can’t judge their called workers’ faithfulness. They can only evaluate words and action in the light of God’s clear Word and where there needs to be admonition or encouragement, let there be admonition and encouragement, just as Paul once had to do for Peter.
Another, who can’t really judge faithfulness, is the faithful worker Himself. We all tend to do that. When things aren’t going well, we ask God, “What am I doing wrong, what are you trying to teach me?” Certainly, reality checks are always good. But assuming we’re repentant of greed, pride, laziness or what have you, we are to let God be the judge of our faithfulness, when He comes again. In the meanwhile, imitate Paul. Remember the special bond God created between you and your children. Remember the faith you long to pass on to your children. Remember also what God has done for you and how He has made you His child. And now keep doing your best with all of your time, talents and treasure each day. Then, when Jesus comes again, He will say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Having Jesus say that is like getting an A+++++, and that’s the grade we will each get as we imitate Paul.
However does leading by example as Paul did, automatically gain the respect of those we serve? Not always. And so let’s see what Paul did to encourage love and respect in His children. We read, “I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 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. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” – I Corinthians 4:14-16” Even though the Corinthians had a lot to be ashamed of, Paul was careful not to shame them. In the verves before this, he had used some sarcasm, but that was just to get their attention. Then he quickly explained that he was saying these things, because their souls were in danger. And so if I may paraphrase Paul’s point in this entire section: listen to me because I care about your faith. Listen, because God has called me to help you grow in your faith. Listen, because I am your pastor, teacher, parent, whom God has given to you to bless you.
The theme of our services these past seven weeks has been, “We are lights together.” That’s what we will be as I imitate Paul, and as you imitate me, and as your children imitate you in faithfulness and in love and respect. Then the lost can be won even in this corrupt society, and the straying can be regained, even when that would seem impossible. Finally, doesn’t imitating Paul seem like too high of a standard? It’s really Christ’s standard, and therefore I invite you to please stand and sing and pray we me, Create in me a clean heart, O God. Amen.