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 faithful.1 Corinthians 4:1-2
This past week we covered 1 Corinthians 4:1-5. The immediate context of the passage is Paul defining and defending his ministry to the Corinthians, among whom there was a group that didn’t think much of him. Essentially, he says, “I am ultimately a servant of God and his purposes, and so what matters most is not whether you approve of me—or even if I approve of myself—but that God approves of me.”
We spent most of the sermon unpacking a broader implication from this about identity: Neither the opinions of others nor your own opinions are a sufficient base on which to build an identity. Because “It is the Lord who judges me,” and his “commendation” is ultimately all that matters.
I wanted to bring this back around to the matter of the leadership of God’s people, which is the immediate context. Just as yours and my life is lived ultimately before God, and we stand or fall before God’s judgement, so for those leading God’s people, including your pastor/elders.
God calls pastors to serve, love, care for, teach, pray for, and sacrifice themselves for the church. A pastor without love and affection for the flock will not be an effective pastor.
However, a pastor’s ultimate service and stewardship is not to the congregation and its opinions, judgments or approval, but to God. The writer of Hebrews says that church leaders will give an account not just for their own lives, but for how they “watch(ed) over the souls” of those under their care. Pastors and other church leaders are to live in light of the day when they will give an account to God of their work.
But this also means that a pastor is not free to do whatever he wants, lead the church in whatever way he thinks best, and then claim God’s approval. All authority amongst God’s people is authority under a greater authority; all authority is accountable to God.
D.A. Carson writes,
“In the West, we must repent of our endless fascination for ‘leadership’ that smacks much more either of hierarchical models (I am the boss, and, for all below me on the ladder, what I say goes) or of democratic models (give the people what they want; take another survey, conduct another poll, and scratch where they itch). All valid Christian leadership,…must begin with this fundamental recognition: Christian leaders have been entrusted with the gospel, the secret things of God that have been hidden in ages past but that are now proclaimed, by their ministry, to men and women everywhere.”
What is a great help to both pastors and congregations in this is having the word of God as an objective standard. God’s word is both the source of authority for all teaching in the church, and the means by which a congregation holds their pastors accountable. Without the word of God permeating the life of the church, any individual could claim all kinds of opinions and doctrines as authoritative.
This is why in our preaching, we preach directly from God’s word, and in that, don’t merely tell you what God says but attempt to show you what God says as we work through a biblical text. In other words, we attempt to make clear that the authority lies in God’s word, not in any human being.