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Oct 09, 2011

Measuring Maturity

Passage: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life Together--First Corinthians

Category: Christian Walk, Life Together

Keywords: maturity, paul, growth, stewardship, judgmental, comparison


Anyway, as we come to chapter 4 of First Corinthians, we’ve come to a passage in which Paul is speaking to this church which he founded about some of the ways they are measuring maturity, specifically their own and that of the leaders who have built into their lives during those first 3-4 years of their spiritual development. In reading Paul’s words, one gets the feeling that not only were they a bit over-generous on their measurements of themselves; they were significantly under-rating the spiritual fathering which Paul and Apollos had exercised in their lives.


Measuring Maturity

I Corinthians 4:1-21

October 9, 2011


Get Acquainted:  How did you measure growth around your house as a kid? 

      As “the baby” of 5 children, I was always gunning to outstrip my siblings in height.  Passing up my 3 older sisters proved to be a lot easier than catching my older brother.  He was 6’ tall by the time he was in 6th grade!  I was a late bloomer who didn’t get my growth spurt until junior year in high school.  By then he was 6’5” and a captain in the Army in Vietnam.  I decided it was better to set my sights on a different measurement of maturity than height.J 

      So I tried to be the kid who excelled in responsibility.  That was one area of life I figured I had a pretty good chance of beating my brother.  He had a reputation in our family of being an overgrown kid and not exactly the most responsible young adult at the Repsold ranch.  And that was only about the stuff my parents found out he did!  J 

      One of the more irresponsible things he did in his teenage years happened, I think, during one summer when he was in high school.  When my dad purchased an old apple orchard on Coeur d’Alene Lake, it came complete with a small barn. As we were cleaning out the barn, we happened upon an old box of dynamite.  “Cool!”, I thought.  Well, so did my brother.  So apparently one night, after persuading one of his friends with a boat to join him on a late-night adventure, he snuck out of the house, took one of the sticks of dynamite, went down to the local Girl Scout camp…and lit off that stick of dynamite in the middle of the camp ball field! 

      I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t hear about that one until after they made him trustee of their estate.  J


Anyway, as we come to chapter 4 of First Corinthians, we’ve come to a passage in which Paul is speaking to this church which he founded about some of the ways they are measuring maturity, specifically their own and that of the leaders who have built into their lives during those first 3-4 years of their spiritual development.  In reading Paul’s words, one gets the feeling that not only were they a bit over-generous on their measurements of themselves; they were significantly under-rating the spiritual fathering which Paul and Apollos had exercised in their lives. 


As a pastor, it is somewhat encouraging to hear that the comparison game churches and Christians so easily and often get into about ministry leaders is really nothing new.  Encouraging in the sense that, hey, if the Apostle Paul felt like people were always comparing him to some now-completely-forgotten wiz-bang church leaders of his day, my fatigue over the pastoral-comparison game is not a new battle. 


It reminds me of the chain letter I once saw that promised churches they could exchange their old, worn-out pastor for a whole new crop of candidates.  It read something like this:

“Are you tired of your minister?  Is his preaching long-winded, repetitive, or just plain boring?  Here’s the solution to your church’s problems! 

Just send a copy of this letter to seven other churches who are also tired of their pastors.  Then place your current minister in a cardboard box and ship him to the church at the top of the list below. (Don’t forget to poke air holes in the box!)  Within one week, you’ll receive 16,807 pastors from other churches—and one of them should be perfect for your church. 

This letter is guaranteed to work!  But beware that you DON”T BREAK THE CHAIN!  One church broke their chain—and they were stuck with their old pastor for the next twenty years.”   J


There is something a bit out of balance that runs very deep in the hearts and minds of all of us.  We’re constantly looking for…and expecting…that the perfect teacher, the perfect President, the perfect pastor, is just around the corner.  It’s just not the one we know NOW!  It happens in all walks of life: 

  • Kids think that their friend’s parents are so much cooler than their own.
  • Employees think that other boss is SO much better than the one they have.
  • Husbands and wives even get to thinking that Mr. or Miss Right who they thought was SO wonderful years ago when they got married has somehow grown into Mr. or Ms. Wrong…and that the man or woman at work or in the church or at the club is somehow a whole lot more of a man or woman than the one they look at every day.

Dreaming of the illusion of the perfect leader, spouse, politician, employer or teacher is always a lot easier than living with the reality of imperfect people. 


The church seems to be no different, unfortunately.  I’ve seen churches with a long history of good pastors manage to remember only the strengths of long departed pastors while focusing on the weakness of their current shepherd.  I’ve seen churches coming off of dynamic ministries decades gone by think that Charles Stanley or Rob Driscoll or Toni Evans is just waiting to get their invitation to come and pastor their now-dysfunctional church.  The gap between reality and spiritualized fantasy can be light-years apart! 


Well, it’s always good to take a look at what should really matter when it comes to measuring ministry, your pastors…and your own.  So let’s start reading 1 Cor. 4:1ff. (NIV)

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 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. 5 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.  

Paul begins by telling this church he founded exactly how he wants them to view him and any other teacher or preacher of the Word of God:  “as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with [NKJV—“stewards of”] the secret things of God.”

      Paul uses a couple of interesting words here.  The word he uses for “servants” isn’t the normal one used in the N.T. (usually diankonos).  It’s a compound word (huperetes) that doesn’t show up in any other place that we know of in secular Greek writings of the day or in Paul’s writings.  If you break this word into its two base words you come up with “an under-rower.”  Why would Paul choose such a word instead of the much used “deacon” or “servant” word used repeatedly in the church?

      Corinth was, after all, a major port city where the war galleys of the Roman Empire often docked.  Perhaps Paul was wanting to borrow a word that had surprisingly vivid imagery for these costal people.  The lowest deck of a Roman war galley was comprised of rows of benches.  The rowers sat on these benches and did, guess what.  ROWED!  When the captain shouted, “Row!”, you asked, “How fast?”   It was not exactly your preferred Mediterranean Carnival Cruise!  These kinds of servants lived and died at the whim of their captains. 

      This is a word that Jesus used to talk about US, however, when standing before Pontius Pilate, he told that Roman governor, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants [huperetes] would fight to prevent my arrest” (Jn. 18:36).  Jesus knew that he needed only to “say the word” and his followers would have taken up arms and laid down their lives if it was world domination he had come to pursue. 


Paul, the founder and great Apostle, is telling the entire church, “Look, I’m not in the ministry to build the kind of kingdom I want.  I’m not here to live the lifestyle I want.  I’m not here to pastor the church or teach God’s people or develop any ministry as I want to.  I’m enrolled in the least-free, sometimes the most-demanding type of servitude imaginable.  That’s what real leadership in the church is supposed to look like. 


But so often church leadership attracts people with power issues.  So often the leaders of God’s people think they are there to be served rather than to serve.  They believe that leadership is about making decision, not changing spiritual diapers and wiping runny, snotty spiritual noses or cleaning up the messes of ministry.


ILL:  One of my favorite images of one of the premier local pastors in this community was when I was a teenager, seeing this senior pastor of what was then probably one of if not THE largest church in Spokane, vacuuming the carpet late at night after most people had gone home.  He wasn’t the janitor; the church had one.  He didn’t have to do it.  He chose to do it.  And he didn’t do it so everyone would see him.  He did it after most everyone had gone home because he actually saw himself as a servant of the Lord. 

      Most large-church pastors today wouldn’t be caught dead with a vacuum or toilet bowl brush in their hands.  Frankly, that’s what troubles me about many Bible colleges and seminaries today:  they don’t accept ministries of humble serving as “real ministry” but instead train and require their students to take only “leadership” ministries where the student is supposedly leading others in the church.  Didn’t Jesus say something about, “The greatest among you will be your servant”…and “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Mt. 23:11, 12)?   


The next measurement word that Paul chooses for church leadership is “those entrusted with the secret things of God” (vs. 1).  The term is translated “steward” in some versions.  Perhaps the modern term “trustee” carries more of the sense in our money-oriented culture. 


Just what is a trustee?  Well, it is someone who manages and takes care of something “in trust” on behalf of someone else. 

ILL:  My grandfather was in the middle of his career when the Great Depression struck.  He happened to be a pretty savvy butter and eggs broker on the agricultural exchanges of the day.  So he did quite well and weathered the years of leanness in this country reasonably well. 

      As he and my grandmother grew older, they began to have to decide what they were going to do with the moderate fortune they had acquired.  So they set up “trusts” that were for the benefit of generations to come.  The day came when my grandfather died and my grandmother, while having a good business sense about her, nevertheless realized it was time for someone else to manage her finances.  So she went looking for a good, Christian “trustee” who would manage the estate for the benefit of generations to come.  This trustee would never own the estate.  In fact, any trustee who has designs to do so with any legal “trust” they are overseeing usually ends up behind bars. 

      I’ve been the beneficiary of that gentleman’s good stewardship.  Much of my doctoral studies were paid for by that trust.  Some of my children have benefited from that trust.  They, too, have been able to attend college some years because of this man’s good stewardship. 


We all know of “stewards” who have failed the test of their stewardship:  the Enrons and Freddy-Macs and Salindras of the world. 


Paul knew that the God had entrusted THE most valuable asset ever given to mankind into his care: the “secret things/mysteries of God.”     Those mysteries or secret things were the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the message that apart from a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, no one will know God or enjoy him forever.  While the Jews knew plenty about faith in God for the several thousand years leading up to the coming of Christ, it was a mystery that God would take on human flesh, live the only sinless life ever lived on earth, take our sin upon himself on the cross and by so doing take the punishment that should have been ours, all in order to reconcile everyone on earth who simply receives Jesus Christ as their own Savior and Lord.  It was that amazing “mystery” that God had entrusted to Paul to spread all over the Roman Empire during the latter half of the first century A.D. 

Aren’t you glad Paul proved to be a “good steward,” a “faithful trustee” of that message? 


This is the measuring stick Paul brings out right at the beginning of this discussion about how we’re to measure both church leaders and church participants.  I have yet to see any Christian who makes these two criteria (serving and sharing the Gospel) fail to be a great trustee of God’s people or God’s message. 


APP:  There are lots of well-known, highly public and visible ministries that seem to have forgotten that this is the measuring stick God is using.  God isn’t going to ask how big the budgets were…or the financial empire…or the buildings…or the staffs…or the listening audience.  Really sharing Christ’s gospel requires taking time to explain it, often individually, to people for whom it may still be a “mystery.”  Really serving as a below-deck spiritual servant to people won’t look very glamorous to either you as the servant in the galley or the people you are serving on the deck above.  But it’s what matters to God. 


I must ask myself the same 2-part question I want to ask you today:

1.)   How well am I acting as a trustee of this spiritual mystery called the Gospel of Christ?  Am I sharing it liberally?  Am I going out of my way, rearranging my life and lifestyle so that I can get the Gospel of life in Christ to as many people as possible?  Or do I need to repent of my lack of compassion for people and my abundance of spending my life on myself, for myself?

2.)   How much of my life is really following Jesus into what may look like very menial, very unseen, very self-sacrificing service to other people so that they might grow up strong in Christ?  It doesn’t matter what your occupation is, what your hobbies are, or whether you are single or married.  What matters is that our energies and efforts in life are applied to following the orders of our Captain and Lord Jesus. 

Now, in the rest of this paragraph, Paul keys off of his statement in vs. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Several question naturally come to mind with this statement.  

  • “By whose measuring stick?”
  • “How will we know when someone is proved faithful?”
  • “What kind of faithfulness are we to look for?”
  • “Who gets to do the judging of success and failure?”


In vs. 3 Paul begins answering that by saying who is NOT to be doing the judging.  His answers, frankly, surprise me.

  • He says that neither they, the Corinthians, whom he poured 18 months of his life into and probably years more of his prayers should be the judges of that nor should any human body of “judges” or critics should be the deciding vote on his trusteeship.
  • Then he disqualifies even himself from the list of qualified critics by saying, “…indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” 

Paul understood that even his clear conscience didn’t mean he was a faithful steward.  He understood something too many of God’s people and great church leaders have failed to understand:  Jesus Christ is the only being capable and worthy of judging his own people, period!

“…It is the Lord who judges me.  (5)Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes, He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.” 


I don’t know about you but I am very prone to judge not only my own ministry performance but also that of so many ministries I see today.  Does this mean that we should never pass judgment on any ministry, be it a Jim Jones cult or a wacked-out heretical quasi-Christian theology?  

No, Paul definitely called false teachers to account and definitely “judged”, as we shall see in the rest of I Corinthians, fellow believers who were out of line spiritually and morally.  So he’s clearly not dismissing any and all judgments about Christian ministries. 


But what he does seem to be honing in on is both those who would get their sense of spiritual success from the accolades of others and those who seem to like to question and impugn the motives of others in ministry.  Regarding the former, Paul knows that what often passes for successful ministry in the church is nothing but worldly appearances.  Regarding the latter (motives), he states very clearly here that no one but God can possibly sort that one out.  Not even the child of God himself can fully discern his or her own motives. 


I’m often asked by people how important motives are in ministry.  My answer is, “Very…but….”  I have yet to know any fellow saint or anything I have ever done in the Kingdom of God that was done out of completely pure and selfless motives.  There may be, but spending your time waiting until your motives are 100% godly and totally free from any selfishness is one sure way to guarantee that you never do anything. 


Instead, Paul says, live and minister before God in such as way that your conscience is clear—you’re listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, responding when He convicts and rejoicing when there is nothing between you and God.  But know this:  even when that happens, Christ is still the only being in this life who is able to rightly judge your heart, your motives and even the dark places of your soul that you aren’t aware of. 


God’s word is very clear that every one of us who is, by faith in Jesus, a follower of Jesus Christ, will stand before our Savior also as our Judge.  He will not judge us as to our worthiness to enter His Kingdom to live and reign with him forever.  That was settled at the cross of Christ and when we received his pardon for sin by faith in Him. 

      But He who took all the judgment of God for our sin upon himself will one day, as only the all-knowing, all-loving, all-merciful and gracious God could do, be our judge.  I want no other judge but Jesus.  I want no other being in the universe but He who suffered for my sin to be the One who stands in judgment over my thoughts, my motives and my life. 


Do you think that the Savior who suffered such indignities on this earth to bring us back to himself will not make us suffer for the failings of our flesh?  This truth of the judgment of Christ over our very motives is not a terrifying thing; it is a blessed relief.  He who daily intercedes for us in the very presence of God the Father will certainly not turn on us in the end to humiliate us before all heaven and earth.  Instead, I am sure that his blood will cover even my mixed motives, my entrenched selfishness, my stubborn egotism and self-preoccupation. 


Paul is right:  we are not even competent to judge our own motives, much less those of others in the church whose thoughts and hearts we cannot hope to know perfectly.  That’s why, in the end, we must leave our best efforts in the hands of the Savior, hands that bear the marks of the cross, of our redemption… forever.   None of us has the wisdom or perspective to see ourselves clearly.  When we think we have succeeded, we have often failed.  And when we think we have done nothing of value is when we may have accomplished our greatest triumphs in life. 


ILL:  One of the many great stories to come out of WWII was that of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle.  On April 18, 1942, just four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and 3 years before the end of the war, Doolittle served as the lead pilot of a force of sixteen B-25 bombers that launched from the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet.  After Japan’s surprise attack on U.S. forces at Pearl harbor, Doolittle conceived and planned the one-way mission to hit military targets in and around Tokyo. 

      The bombers flew low over the sea, hit their targets in Japan, and continued on toward designated landing areas in China.  But weather prevented the planes from finding their landing fields.  Doolittle and the other airmen bailed out in total darkness.  Some were captured by Japanese occupation forces.  Others were rescued by Chinese patriots.

      Doolittle landed in a Chinese rice paddy, separated from his men.  Alone, freezing, and convinced that his men and planes were lost, Doolittle wept.  He believed that his mission was a failure and that if he ever made it back to the United States, he would be court-martialed for losing his entire command. 

      A group of Chinese guerillas found him, helped him rejoin his men, and got him safely back into American hands.  On the flight home, Doolittle was depressed, thinking he had failed his country.  Only after arriving in the States was he told that his mission was a huge success.  His raiders had damaged Japan’s war-making industries and more importantly sent American morale soaring.  He was rushed to the White House, where President Franklin Roosevelt presented him with this nations’ highest commendation, the Congressional Medal of Honor. 


Similarly, you and I are not called to live for the commendation of the church or the crowd.  We are not even called to live by our own judgment of ourselves.  We are called to wait for that day when we shall see Christ face to face, hear his words about our life, and see unclouded the hands and feet of the One whose truly selfless heart and life purchased us with his own blood. 



  • Time to stop living in judgment of yourself?  The expectations of others?  Feelings of failure and self-doubt?  You are not even an adequate judge of your own heart.  Only Christ is.  And He who loves you more than you love yourself is the One who will be doing the judging on that Day of Judgment.  So flee for refuge in him…from your own self-condemnation and from the feelings of failure and inferiority that come when we live in a world that is constantly comparing itself to others. 
  • Stop judging the motives of others.  Stop judging fellow saints, whether they are leaders in the Kingdom or fellow servants like you.  Let God be their judge.  Bury your pride enough to realize that it is only arrogance that makes us think we are fit to critique fellow servants of God. 
  • Concentrate on whatever “oars” God has put into your hands as an “under-oarsman” in His boat, the Church.  Focus upon the cadence He is calling out for you and for His church. 
  • Determine afresh, by the grace of God, that you will be a “faithful steward/trustee” of the Gospel of Christ in your workplace, your home, your neighborhood, with your friends at college or school, with every lost person God brings into your pathway.  Remember that we’ve been given this amazing truth to SHARE and MULTIPLY, not bury and hide.  Ask God to make you a faithful steward of the Gospel of Christ this week, this year, this one and only life you have to live.