GOD’S HARVEST IN SAMARIA – John 4:35-42

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One evening a man who lived in the western part of the United States was walking home across an open field.  Looking up he saw his little son running through the tall grass to meet him.  Suddenly the boy disappeared.  The father thought he had just stumbled, but when he came nearer he heard a gurgling cry and found that the child had fallen into an open well.  He was almost too late, and was barely able to save him.  When the little fellow finally regained consciousness, he looked up and said, “Daddy, why didn’t you hurry?”  Those words, and the child’s gurgling cry for help, rang in the father’s ears for many days.

We’ve spent much time studying the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  At the end of that conversation she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, leaving her water pot behind, she hurried back to her town to tell the men about Jesus.  I think she jogged the half-mile or so to her town of Sychar and probably made it there in less than 10 minutes.  Verse 30 tells us that the men of the city listened to her, believed her words, and were following her out of their city and coming to meet Jesus.  Have you ever done any speed walking or power walking?  I don’t know how effectively you could walk in such a way on dirt roads, and wearing long robes and sandals, but she was doing her best to make haste.  Not only is this woman an evangelist to her people, she’s also their personal guide and pace-setter!  She wanted to get everyone there before Jesus and His disciples left the well and continued their journey.  I imagine that the pace slowed down a bit once Jesus and His disciples came into view.

I.  TIME TO HARVEST (verse 35)

Meanwhile the Lord Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples.  In verse 35, Jesus uses a popular saying:  “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest.’ ”  It may have been a saying that a farmer would use in order to let people know that his seed had been sown and the crop would be ready to be harvested in four months.  That’s the normal growing season for grain in that part of the country in those days.  The farmer may also be using it to spread the news, and have others spread the news, that he’s going to need help harvesting his crop in four months.  So those words “there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest”  would be passed along in people’s conversations.   Along with those words goes the promise that he will pay a day’s wages for a day’s work when harvest time comes.  You could say that this was a way of advertising and “spreading the good news”.  The Lord Jesus is saying these words to His disciples as both an illustration and a contrast to what is about to happen.  Once again Jesus is using physical realities in order to lead into and explain spiritual realities.

The Lord Jesus continues the conversation by giving them some startling and convicting news.  “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  He probably used the words “lift up your eyes” because the grain fields were on higher ground which slopped down toward them.  The term “white for harvest” means that the grain is already mature and dried out, ready for immediate harvesting.  He directed their gaze away from Himself by stretching out His hand and pointing in a sweeping motion in the direction of the city, to the grain fields along the way.  As they look, they begin to realize the difference between physical harvesting and spiritual harvesting. What do they see?  At first glance they see green fields of grain that are not mature because it is not yet that time of the year.  What they see next really startles them.  The fields are beginning to turn white as droves of Samaritans, dressed in their white tunics, are walking toward them down the hillside along the paths through the grain fields, and they are being led by the Samaritan woman.  What the Lord Jesus has just said to them is literally coming to pass:  the fields are “white” for a spiritual harvest!

II.  SOWING AND REAPING (verses 36-38)

While the Samaritans are still a short distance from the well, the Lord Jesus uses this opportunity to teach His disciples about sowing and reaping, and about the rewards that come as a result.  He says in verse 36, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.”  Usually it’s the reaper who gets the glory here on this earth.  But the sower works hard cultivating the ground, then planting the seed and watering it.  It’s a responsibility that requires patience, persistence, and faith.  There are prayers to God, often with tears, that God would provide favorable, growing conditions and rain at the proper time.  All this work is done without seeing any immediate results, and without the assurance that he will see any results for his efforts.  Harvesting is also hard work but the results are immediate and the joy is immediate.

In this case, Jesus is pointing out that the spiritual harvest of souls has followed closely behind the sowing of the seed pf the gospel message.  The woman believed and is bringing the men of the city to meet Jesus and to hear what He has said to her.  But even in this case, there were others who may have had a part in preparing the ground and sowing the seed.  The Old Testament prophets predicted His coming and gave information concerning the coming Messiah.  John the Baptist may have been baptizing nearby and many Samaritans may have observed him and listened to his words.

In verses 37-38, the Lord Jesus uses His explanation of what is happening before their eyes to teach them two principles about sowing and reaping a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.  “For in this case the saying is true, ‘one sows, and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Each step in the process of a spiritual harvest of souls is equally necessary and equally valuable in God’s sight.  It’s a team-effort, even though we may not know, and may not have met all of the members of the team.  The popular saying “one sows, and another reaps” gives us principle #1:  OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE FAITHFUL AND OBEDIENT WITNESSES FOR CHRIST.  THAT’S WHAT HE DESIRES OF US, AND THAT SHOULD BRING US JOY BECAUSE OUR LABORS WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.  GOD WILL BRING THE HARVEST AND WE WILL BE REWARDED FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 4:1-2, “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.”

In many eastern countries, professional weavers often are unable to complete the extensive tapestries assigned to them during their lifetime.  As one of them dies, however, another weaver picks up the threads and weaves on according to the original pattern until the masterpiece is completed for all to see and admire.  In a similar way, God wants Christians to be faithful witnesses for Him by their words, their prayers, and their example so that others may enter into their labors to continue the work.  Thus, even after we die, others will be reaping where we have sown and watered the seed of God’s word.

A second principle may be drawn from Jesus’ words in verse 38:  WHEN GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF HARVESTING SOULS, REMEMBER THAT OTHERS HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR US, AND THAT ONLY GOD DESERVES THE GLORY.  Speaking of the harvest of souls in the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6).  Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit of God, as He empowers the Word of God, there would be no salvation, and there would be no changed lives as a result.  Let’s give God the glory when He gives us the privilege of bringing others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and as we witness the changed lives that are a result of that commitment.  Remember, only God can make things grow; only God can change the heart of a person and impart spiritual life.

A Chinese National, Christiana Tsai, told of her ministry to her family after years of suffering pain through many illnesses.  One day, one of her brothers, who had rejected the gospel, assembled the members of the family without them knowing the purpose behind it.  He then said to them, “I have been to see Christiana many times and wondered how she could endure all this suffering.  Now I can see that she has been given some sustaining power and can only explain it as coming from God.  So, I have decided there must be a God after all.  I have read the Bible and realize that I am a sinner.  So here and now I want to tell you that I have accepted Christ as my Savior, asked Him to forgive my sins, and promised to follow Him.”

Christiana commented that “the brother who tore up my Bible and persecuted me in the early days at last confessed my Lord.  In all, fifty-five of my relatives have become God’s children and expressed their faith in Jesus.  I have never been to college, or theological seminary, and I am not a Bible teacher; I have only been God’s hunting dog.” (Christiana Tsai, Queen of the Dark Chamber, p. 184).  I like her description of herself.  As a “hunting dog” she has stayed close to her Master, obeyed His every command, and is always ready to retrieve what belongs to Him.  No advanced degrees or professional licenses are required – just a willingness to be of service and a deep love for the Master and for all whom the Master loves.

III.  MINISTRY TO THE SAMARITANS (verses 39-40)

By this time the crowd of Samaritan men from Sychar, who were seen coming toward them, had arrived at the well.  Verse 39 says, “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’.”  So many of these Samaritans had already believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, based on the testimony of the woman, before they even met Jesus.  Such is the effect of a personal testimony empowered by the Spirit of God.  An important principle can be learned from this verse of Scripture, and evangelist Billy Graham expresses it very clearly and powerfully.  He says, “As we look at history time and again, we are struck time after time by the fact that God has used the most unlikely and the most unworthy instruments to bring about spiritual awakening.”  First Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.”

Billy Graham continues by giving a challenge:  “If God could use such a woman two thousand years ago to bring a revival to the city of Sychar, how much more can He use you and me today, if we would put ourselves in His hand!  He can use us in our community, our town, our city, our country!” (Unto the Hills, pg. 166,167)

Verse 40 says, “So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.”  What a generous and enthusiastic response by the Samaritans!  They were treating Him like a King with His royal officials, and were eager to show their hospitality and learn more about Him!  Never had Jesus received such treatment before, and never would He receive it again during His three years of ministry; and it came from Samaritans, not Jews!  You might say that a revival was taking place in Sychar, Samaria, and Jesus gladly accepted their invitation.  He had already shown them that He was free from racial and social prejudices.  Those two days in Samaria included more than just holding meetings, sharing God’s Word, and answering questions.  Jesus and His disciples were getting to know the people of the city personally, on a first-name basis  – visiting their homes, meeting their families, eating their food with them, and sleeping in their beds.  What a learning experience this must have been for His disciples!  Many of the Jewish rules and traditions were being set aside because people are more important than traditions.

IV.  THEIR RESPONSE (verses 41-42)

What was the result of their time spent with the people of Sychar, Samaria?  Verse 41 says, “And many more believed because of His word.”  Not just “more”, but many more”!  You know how it is when something really unusual and exciting is going on – people from outlying areas come to the city to find out what’s happening.  Good news spreads fast, doesn’t it?  Especially when the good news is that the Messiah is here in Sychar – “Come and see”!  Notice that the Samaritans didn’t ask for any signs.  Jesus performed no miracles for them.  They didn’t need any miracles because they believed who Jesus was, and eagerly received the words He said to them.

After spending two days with Jesus, the men of the city said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”  This is the first time that the title, “the Savior of the world”, is used when referring to Jesus, and the title was given to him by the Samaritans.  Jesus had said to the woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews”.  By using that title (“the Savior of the world”) when referring to Jesus, the Samaritans were saying:  “We have found, not just salvation but a Savior, and not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of the world.”

CONCLUSION:

Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?  If not, why not?  Can you face that question honestly and be honest with yourself and with God?  You are in the process of sinking into the mire of your own sins by your own choice, and you’re the only one who can choose to be pulled out of it by the grace of God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in your place.  The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is true.  Delayed intentions are “non-intentions” in the sight of God.  He doesn’t accept “promissory notes” as proof of repentance and commitment.  The saying, “You’re playing with fire; you’re going to get burned” is also true.  Please, don’t put off until tomorrow what you will eternally regret if this turns out to be your last day on this earth.  If there was something that you really wanted to do, more than anything else on this earth, and there was nothing standing in your way, would you put it off?  I don’t think so.  If you say to yourself, “I’m working on it”, what’s left to be done that can’t be done right now?  Please don’t put off for another moment the joy of being a new person – a child of God, and the assurance of spending eternity with Him in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, are you concerned about those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?  If you saw a little child fall into a well, you would do everything in your power to save his physical life, wouldn’t you?  What are you and I going to do today, and every day, for those around us who are drowning spiritually and eternally?  Be sure to apply this lesson from the response of the Samaritan woman at the well:  IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO KNOW WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR THEM, LET THEM SEE AND HEAR WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR YOU.

May God give you the desire and enabling to do what you know He wants you to do as a result of studying this passage of Scripture.

DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH – I Corinthians 1:10-17

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INTRODUCTION:

How important is it that there be unity within the Church?  How important is it that there  be unity in the Church where you fellowship?  How important was unity to the apostle Paul, and to the Holy Spirit who moved Him to write this letter to the Church in Corinth?

This issue was so important that Paul devotes the first four chapters of I Corinthians to divisions in the church.  In verses 10-17 of Chapter 1, Paul establishes the fact that there are divisions and begins to deal with them.

I.  PAUL’S APPEAL FOR UNITY (verses 10-12)

In verses 10-12, Paul begins by giving an appeal for unity.  In verse 10 we see both Paul’s affection for the Corinthian church, and his authority as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He addresses them as “brethren”.  They are his family in  Christ.  And he speaks “in the name of” or by the authority of, our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are several important terms in this passage.  Paul exhorts them to “agree”.  The Greek word used here literally means “to say the same thing”.   This doesn’t mean that they have to agree on the minutest points in areas where there is no clear teaching in Scripture.  In these cases there should be freedom to “agree to disagree”.  But when it comes to the clear teachings of God’s Word, there cannot be two conflicting views that are both right.  God is not confused, and He does not contradict Himself.  His Word does not disagree with itself.  So Paul is insisting that the Corinthians, and all believers, have doctrinal unity that is clearly based on God’s Word.  He appeals to them “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  In other words, there must be agreement with Christ, with His will, and with His Word.  For a local church to be spiritually healthy and effective, and for there to be harmony in the local church, there must be doctrinal unity.

Paul continues in verse 10 by saying that “there be no divisions among you”.  The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word “schismata”, from which we get our English word “schism”.  This word was normally used to refer to a tear in a garment.  What happens when you get a tear in a piece of clothing and you keep washing and wearing that piece of clothing with the tear in it?  Unless it’s mended, the tear gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?  The church in Corinth was a group of people who were tearing themselves apart!

Paul doesn’t want these divisions to continue, so he offers them an alternative.  Instead of tearing themselves apart, he urges them to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment”.  The words  “made complete” mean “to be perfectly joined together”, like a jigsaw puzzle.  How many of you have ever put together a jigsaw puzzle?  Every piece of that jigsaw puzzle is different, isn’t it?  But when each piece is fitted together into its proper place in the puzzle, you have a beautiful and complete picture.  Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw puzzle together with the pieces turned upside down so that they are all blank?  Try it some time.  It’s a lot harder!  On a large jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces or more, it’s almost impossible to put it together upside down!  That’s not the way a jigsaw puzzle was meant to be put together.  In the same way, that’s not the way the Church was meant to be fitted together.  God wants the local church congregation and the local community to see the beauty of a church that is unified and “fitted together” in love.

Unity in the chuch is something that requires cooperation with each other and with the Spirit of God.  We need to be “perfectly joined together” in the love of Christ.  One day in Africa, a small boy was lost.  The news went out but no one had seen the little fellow.  The search went on until nightfall, but no answer came to their urgent calls.  The anxiety of the child’s mother contined to grow, for she knew that her boy was somewhere out in the darkness where wild animals were constantly on the prowl.  When daylight again appeared, they looked for him with renewed energy but still without success.  In desperation they returned and held a meeting.  Perhaps, in their individual efforts, they had missed some spots;  so the suggestion was made, “Let’s all join hands and go through the long grass again.”  Finally the child was found, but it was too late.  When the lifeless body of the little one was carried back to the anxious mother, she cried aloud, “Oh why didn’t’ you join hands before?”

When it comes to seeking the spiritually lost for Christ, we can be much more effective if we are “perfectly joined together” in an unfailing zeal for God’s glory, not our own.  Believers who are joined in heart should not find it difficult to be joined in hand, working together for the common good and for the glory of Christ.  This applies also to the leadership in the church.  The elders should make their decisions with “the same mind and the same judgment.  There should be unanimous agreement.  Not even a three-fourths vote should carry a motion.  There should be oneness of mind, no matter how long it takes.  Because the Holy Spirit has but one will, and because a church must be in complete harmony with His will, the leaders must be in complete harmony with each other in that will.  The congregation then is to submit to the elders because it has confidence that their decisions were made under the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.

The words “made complete” in verse 10 are translated from a Greek word which was used to speak of mending such things as nets, bones, dislocated joints, broken utensils, and torn garments.  The basic meaning is to put back together and make one again something that was broken or separated.  Paul wants the Corinthian church to mend the broken relationships that have been caused by the divisions among its members.

In her book, “The Key to a Loving Heart”, Karen Mains includes a parable about the church entitled “The Brawling Bride”.  It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony.  The families have been seated.  The groom and his attendants are in their places.  The minister is waiting, Bible in hand.  The bridesmaids have come down the aisle.  The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone stands.  A gasp bursts from the guests!  The bride is limping!  Her gown is ripped and covered with mud!  Bruises show on her arm!  Her nose is bloody!  One eye is purple and swollen!  Her hair is messed up!

In this parable, the groom in Christ.  “Doesn’t He deserve better than this?” the author asks.  “His bride, the Church, has been fighting again!”

Ridiculous?  Not when we hear of churches with factions or cliques of people who sit on opposite sides of the aisle.  Not when one part of the congregation meets in one part of the building, and the other part of the congregation meets in another spot.  Not when some people in the congregation won’t look at, speak to, or even acknowledge the existence of certain other people in the congregation.  These kinds of things happen when there are divisions in a church.

In verse 11, Paul gives the reason for his appeal for unity in the church at Corinth.  He had received a report from the household of Cloe that there were quarrels among the members of the Corinthian church.  We do not know who the people were who belonged to “the house of Cloe”, but we must commend them for their courage and devotion.  They did not try to hide the problems.  They were burdened about them, and they went to the right person with them.  They were also not afraid to be mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church.

Verse 12 tells us the source of this problem.  Four groups had formed in the Corinthan church.  There were:  the followers of Paul, the followers of Apollos, the followers of Cephas or Peter, and the followers of Christ.  The content of their messages were in agreement, but the followers of these men probably focused on personality differences and distorted their teachings.  Paul was the apostle to the gentiles.  They may have carried Paul’s teachings of justification by faith and freedom from the Law to an extreme and felt free to do whatever they wanted.  Apollos was an intellectual.  Acts 18:24 says that Apollos was “an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man”.  Alexandria was a center for learning and philosophy.  His followers in the Corinthian church may have viewed Christianity as a philosophy rather than a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ.  Peter was an uneducated, common man and may have appealed to that group of people in Corinth.  The followers of Jesus may have believed in Jesus’ words only, and did not believe that the writings of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles were really Scripture.  We have “Jesus only” groups even today.

II.  PAUL’S CONDEMNATION (verse 13)

Paul condemns their behavior in verse 13 by saying, “Has Christ been divided?”  In other words, have different amounts of Christ been given to different people?  In Matthew 12:25 the Lord Jesus says, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Only the Lord Jesus Christ could pay the penalty for our sins because only He is the Son of God.  Luke says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name  under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”  The ground is level at the cross.  We are all equally undeserving of salvation and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anyone who claims that he or she has an exclusive part in Christ is wrong.  Christ belongs fully to every believer in His spiritual body, the Church.  I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, and whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  You and I can’t have more of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can give Him more of ourselves, and experience more fully what is already ours as children of God.

III.  PAUL’S EXAMPLE (verses 14-16)

In verrses 14 to 16, Paul uses himself as an example.  In this passage of Scripture, Paul is very careful to focus the attention on Christ and not on himself.  There was nothing wrong with Paul baptizing people, but Paul didn’t want people to boast in the fact that he baptized them.  In Philippians 2:9 Paul said of Christ, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”  No Christian, no Christian minister, is to put himself in Christ’s place, or allow himself to be put in Christ’s place, and take the authority and honor that is due to Christ alone.

IV.  PAUL’S CALLING (verse 17)

In verse 17, Paul says that his calling of God was to “preach the Gospel”, and the focus of the Gospel is the cross of Christ.  Paul says that he does not preach “in cleverness of speech” because the power of the gospel lies in the facts of the gospel, nnd not in any man’s presentation of them.

CONCLUSION:

We’ve seen how important unity was to the apostle Paul.  How important was unity to our Lord Jesus Christ?  If you will turn in your Bibles with me to John 17:20-23, I will read the passage to you.  The Lord Jesus is praying to the Father, and this is part of His prayer for us:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (NKJV)

Having listened to Paul’s words and the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, how important is unity to each of us today?  Are we willing and ready to pray for unity in His Church, and work at building a stronger unity among fellow-members of the congregations where we fellowship and serve?  Will we do so by the strength which God alone can and will supply?  Are we willing to love each other as Christ loved us?  If we are, all our differences and difficulties would soon come to an end.  Remember, a believer who is at war with his brother or sister in Christ cannot be at peace with our heavenly Father.

 

 

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.