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STEWARDS OF GOD'S MYSTERIES 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 First Presbyterian Church of Georgetown, Texas Dr. Michael A. Roberts November 7, 2010 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. 2Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore 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 commendation from God.

Before today's sermon I want to tell you about coming attractions. Next Sunday November 14 will be Youth Sunday. We have moved that special day from the spring to the fall this year. Our high school youth have worked very hard preparing to lead us in worship. I encourage you to be present and encourage their efforts. David Lee will be preaching. We will also recognize our veterans in worship and at Show and Share next Sunday. I will be away this week on Study Leave. Through my reading and study I will be immersing myself in heaven and hell. I am discovering there is much to learn there. I will be speaking at Men's Christian Fellowship a week from tomorrow, Monday November 15th. All women are also invited. I will be speaking on "What I'm Learning about Heaven and Hell." The following Sunday, I will be preaching on Hell. I have never preached on Hell before and probably never will again. Those with younger children might want to be careful about that sermon. I know the older youth will want to be there but I'm not sure about younger children. I'm not sure how they will process the discussion of Hell. Of course, I'm not sure how I will process Hell either. The Sunday after that will be the First Sunday of Advent and I will be preaching about Heaven. Thank the Lord! Heaven and hell are topics I am frequently asked to preach about so they will be the focus during those two weeks.

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So again, Next Sunday November 14 is Youth Sunday. The following Sunday November 21 is Hell. And then November 28 is Heaven. Each year, we choose a biblical theme for our stewardship emphasis. This year's biblical theme is 1 Corinthians 4:1-2: "Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries... it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." As we dedicate our stewardship commitments on this day, I will focus on these two verses in my sermon. Think of us as servants of Christ. Some context will help here. The apostle Paul is writing to the church of Corinth which has many divisions. Groups within the church were following different leaders. Some followed Paul, some followed Apollos, some Peter, and some claimed to be extra spiritual by following Christ (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Paul addresses their divisions by helping them rethink the nature of leadership within the church. And in doing so, he helps us to rethink the nature of the Christian life as well. In chapter 3 of the letter, he uses first an agricultural image: "5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Then he switches to a building construction metaphor: "like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:10-11). Both images emphasize the believer as a servant. In chapter 4 of this letter, the image changes from agriculture and building construction to the workings of a household. We are to think of ourselves "as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries." A servant is an assistant who might serve in a variety of contexts. The word for servant here (hyperetas) is an unusual one, occurring only here in the New Testament. It originally was used in reference to servants or slaves who rowed in the lower tier of a sailing ship. This is the role of the Christian believer- we are servants of Christ. When Jesus was on earth he modeled servant-hood for us. He washed the disciples' feet, he gave everything including his own life for us. The epistle to the Philippians encourages us: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant."

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I believe that our congregation understands this. Year after year, we have made significant commitments to serve Christ and our neighbor. The service will vary. There are different gifts. 1 Peter 4:10-11 expresses it this way: "10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ." Service may include making calls, corralling kids, baking pies, fixing the pipes, listening to our friends, delivering meals, teaching a class, painting a wall, singing in a choir, serving on a task force. We can all be servants of Christ even if our specific tasks will vary. God calls us individually and as a congregation to continually discern what it means for us to serve Christ. We are to think of ourselves also as "stewards of God's mysteries." Steward is not a common word in our time. When most people in our time think of steward, they think of stewardship campaigns. Some, perhaps, think of someone who works on a cruise ship. But it is not a commonly used word. But in Bible times every well-to-do household had a steward to manage household matters. The steward was the key person who managed property, finances, the farm or vineyard, and other servants. People in that time would certainly have understood what it meant to be a steward- a person who had great responsibility for the smooth functioning of the household. A steward was directly accountable to the owner for actions taken. What does it mean though to be a steward of the mysteries? In the first century, many religions spoke of the "mysteries". The apostle Paul educates the Corinthian church about the true mystery that is Christ and how our proclamation is different from other religions that surrounded them. Christians had a different understanding of mystery. The truth had been hidden from most in past generations but is hidden no longer. Now it is known by all of God's people. In the Bible, mystery refers to something that was hidden or secret in the past but now in God's wisdom and timing has been revealed to human beings. The mysteries are the good news about Christ- the glorious news of his life, death, and resurrection. Commentator Richard Hays writes: "What does Paul mean when he says that he has been entrusted with stewardship of the mysteries of God? This refers to...the gospel message itself, the secret wisdom of God that has decreed salvation for the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus." Scholar Gordon Fee adds: "the "mysteries of God"

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means the revelation of the gospel, now known through the Spirit and especially entrusted to the apostles to proclaim." In other words, we are stewards of the gospel. We have been entrusted with the gospel message. We are to take good care of this treasure. We are to share this good news with our children, youth, and adults. The letter to the Colossians speaks of this purpose: "to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints" (Col. 1:25). We strive to do that in this congregation. We commit our lives and our resources to God's mission. We seek to educate people about the word of God. It is our aim to share the gospel with all people, to impart the mystery of Christ to everyone. What's critical for all churches to understand here is that we are not the owners. We are the stewards. We take care of the gospel that has been entrusted to us. We go where Christ sends us and we communicate what God has given to us. Since God is the owner of the household and we are the stewards we are ultimately accountable only to God for our service. "It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." Are we worthy of God's trust? For God has indeed entrusted to all of us a ministry and a mission to share the good news and live out the implications of God's involvement in our lives. Are we worthy of that trust? Throughout this stewardship season we have lifted up ways that as a church we seek to trustworthy. A few weeks ago Elder Jeff Willett highlighted our understanding of this scripture. The next week staff member Kathleen Wenzel spoke of our ministries with young children including Sunday School, Camp Blast, Logos, and Vacation Bible School. Elder Kent Buikema highlighted many aspects of our mission outreach including Manos de Cristo, Presbyterian Children's Homes, and Georgetown high school's homeless program. Last week I emphasized our mission outreach, the leadership and equipping that our staff members provide, and property improvements we need to continue providing a permanent place for our ministry. There is so much more to our ministry together: Stephen Ministry, adult education, youth ministry, mission trips, all of our music ensembles. "It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." What does God think of our ministry? Are we worthy of the trust that has been placed in our care? God, of course, is the One who will assess and critique our faithfulness or trustworthiness. This is what Paul emphasizes in the remainder of the passage: judgment belongs to God and to God alone. As the apostle states in verse 4:"It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore do

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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 commendation from God." The evaluation will take place at the coming again of the Lord. Human beings are often impatient and want to rush ahead to conclusions. The Lord will come, and that certainty looms over all human action, but until he does come to bring the truth to light and to "disclose the purposes of the heart", we must wait to see what the end will be (Richard Hays p. 67). Just as stewards must account to the owner for the way in which property has been handled, so all will give an account before God. The details of such an accounting and its consequences Paul leaves unstated, but he insists on its inevitability. I know that one day Jesus Christ will evaluate my ministry. Have I been faithful? Have I faithfully proclaimed the gospel and expounded the scriptures? One day each of us will be evaluated. Have we used the gifts that God has given to us? Have I served other people? Am I worthy of the trust that God has given to us? You'll recall that Jesus told a story about this- the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. An owner was going on a journey and entrusted talents to three servants. He gave 5 to one, 2 to another, and 1 to another. The person who had one talent buried it in the ground and he didn't get a very good evaluation. The servants who received 5 and 2 doubled their talents. When the owner returned from the journey, they received a positive evaluation. It is a commendation that we yearn to hear. God's people have been blessed with much, most especially with the good news about Christ. We have been given many spiritual gifts to use for the common good. We have been given many talents. We yearn to hear God's affirmation: "well done, good and faithful servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master".

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