Servants, Stewards and Spectacles
Psalm 121; John 3:1-17
1 Corinthians 4
Who am I? It’s one of those questions we must ask, but sometimes looking in the mirror or looking around us…we don’t really want to answer it or let the answer come to us. Because when we let the question linger, we’re faced with the reality that we’re often not who we desire to be or even believe we were made to be. There are many things that are true about us…not all of which are easy to accept.
Last time we gathered, Paul reminded us of the deepest reality about who we are. If we have the Spirit, we are Spiritual people…with a capital S.
At the end of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reminds them that everything belongs to them bc they are Spirit-filled people. Everything belongs to Jesus, and Jesus belongs to God, so if they belong to Jesus through the Spirit…everything of God is theirs! We live from abundance…not scarcity. An especially great reminder during the Lenten journey.
But the truth is that even at our best, we are still not whole. We still come up short. We are still in need of a Savior. If people look to us to see Jesus, they might see some not so Jesus-y things. Gahndi is famously quoted for saying something to the effect of, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” And I think our best response to that statement is “Yep! That’s why we need a Christ.” But as Paul reminded us two weeks ago there’s always more than meets the eye…we have the Spirit!
That’s what Paul is getting at in our passage for today. He’s saying, “If you want to base your faith on and in the pattern of us apostles, let me peel back the facade a bit and give you a glimpse into our lives…and then you can tell me if you still want to boast in which one of us you most closely align with.”
He’s also got a bit of a personal issue to set straight with them because clearly the Corinthians were calling into question his own apostolic authority…perhaps based on some of the things he highlights in the following verses.
In verse 1 of ch 4, he says, “So, here’s how I want you to think about us apostles: as servants of the crucified Messiah and stewards of the things God has revealed to us through Holy Spirit.”
Servants and Stewards! What a beautiful description! If at the end of my days people said nothing more about me than that I was a servant in the pattern of Jesus and a steward who held loosely and gave generously of all that had been given to me…I would die a content man. Can I get that on my gravestone? Jeremy Lile: a servant of Jesus and a steward of God’s mysteries. Brilliant!
City Hope that’s my prayer for us. That we would serve Jesus with our whole hearts and that we would take seriously the task of stewarding our vocational calling from God. Let’s first of all look at this idea of servant. It simply means “one who assists or helps.” The main point is that we have a responsibility to serve regardless of our status and situation. You don’t get much lower than foot washing and crucifixion, so there’s not really much below us :-) So where and how are you serving? Are you creating margin in the story of your life to serve and be available to help others?
Next is stewardship. It’s a word we use when we talk about the values of City Hope Mission – specifically vocational stewardship with “vocation” meaning “all that God has called us to be and do.” I think stewardship is one of the best ways for us to view discipleship. You see, the beauty about a steward is that he isn’t ultimately in charge. The word for steward used here is the Greek word “oikonomos” which means “household manager, administrator.” A steward realizes that she isn’t in control, but that she has been entrusted with responsibility to manage what is in her care as a representative of the owner. I envision it as hovering over all that we’ve been entrusted with – home, family, work, friendships, community responsibility, creation, etc and asking God how He would have us make sense of it all for His glory.
I cannot tell you how much comfort I find in this description. As I have lost more and more of the illusion of control over the last year and a half as we welcomed two new girls into our home and started this new mission called City Hope, I have been strengthened by the realization that I don’t really have that much control anyhow. I have found myself letting go of pretention and facade much easier. It is all God’s anyhow, so why not hold it open handed and say, “do what you want with my life.” We have a responsibility to intentionally seek the Lord about stewardship and calling. A good question to ask is, “What have I been given to steward and how am I doing at it?” If you’re feeling especially bold, you might even ask someone you trust to give you an objective opinion…maybe even on a regular basis. That’s what we call a discipleship huddle at City Hope. Meeting with a group of people on a regular basis to ask the questions “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I doing about it?” – essentially, “How am I doing at stewarding all that God has put in my trust?”
In v 2, Paul says that the only requirement for being a servant and steward is trustworthiness. It’s faithfulness to all that God has called us to be and do. God isn’t concerned with how we look or how much success we’ve had. He’s concerned about how we’re handling what he’s entrusted to us – which will be different for every person.
I would like to invite Eric up to share about how he is living as a servant and steward. In fact, this is the first of what I hope to be a series of “Stories of Servants and Stewards.”
Here are some things I know to be true about Eric – he is trustworthy and intentional steward, hard-working, integrity, etc
Eric, you are much more than just what you do because you’ve been given a lot to steward; however, we’re going to focus in on your job to start and then go from there.
1.What do you do for a living?
2. Where do you see God’s character most reflected in what you do?
3. Where do you most experience/see fallenness through your work?
4. Where do you see God at work through your work?
5. In what other ways are you serving through your life and vocation?
6. How can we pray for you and others in a similar line of work?
Thanks Eric. Okay, let’s get back to 1 Corinthians for a bit.
Paul was clearly being judged on some issues, so he adds in, ” Only God can judge me.” Wait! That was Tupac. But his point is the same. We shouldn’t judge anything before it’s time. We’re servants and stewards, not judges and critics.
Next, Paul really peels back the facade that the Corinthians had erected about their spiritual leaders.
First of all, in v 6, he tells them that anything he is calling them to he has applied to himself. That’s my gauge for someone I want to follow. Is he or she actually living what is being preached? I would encourage you to do the same with leaders…except for me of course :-) Then, in verse 7, he reminds them of the reality of stewardship again…everything you’ve received through the crucified Messiah…especially the Holy Spirit…is a gift, so stop acting like you deserve it!
In his ironic tone, he continues on in v. 8 to say, “You’ve already got it all! You’re rich! You’re kings! Okay, you’re not really kings, but I wish you were so that we apostles…we servants and stewards…could join you in that kingship and rule instead of be servants.”
In verse 9, Paul fills in the picture of what a servant and steward is called to be…a Spectacle…last of all, sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, to angels and mortals. He uses very descriptive wording and the image he highlights is that of those who, at the end of Coliseum events, were condemned to die as gladiators or those simply thrown to the beasts. Another way of seeing it is as those who had been captured in war and were at the end of the victorious army’s parade and were condemned to die. In either case, the point is that servants and stewards become spectacles for the whole universe to see…condemned to die. Whether it’s an actual death or merely thousands of deaths as they die to themselves daily. He continues on in v.10 – we are fools for Jesus, but you are wise. We are weak, but you are strong. You are in a place of honor, but we have a poor reputation. In case you’re not already feeling it, he goes on in v.v11-12 - we are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our hands.
And in the middle of v.12, he makes a transition. Even though all these things are true, these servants and stewards who have been made spectacles bless those who revile them, and speak kindly to those who slander them. Sounds a lot like Jesus! As if Paul hasn’t taken us low enough, he finishes v.13 with these words, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”
Anyone depressed yet? :-) Sorry, if you’re looking for happy clappy prosperity preaching you came to the wrong church today.
Here’s my final thought. We don’t suffer or sacrifice well. Well, at least, I don’t. I’d like to be made a spectacle, but more in a rockstar kind of way. Not so much in a rubbish and dregs kind of way. We don’t even like to accept that suffering and sacrifice is a reality for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s like we can only take so much, and then we get squirmy and try to push it aside or slough it off as something Paul was a bit infatuated with because he thought the end was coming soon. But the reality is, Paul’s vision of the crucified Messiah, Jesus, and his vision of the future…of the final consummation and renewal of all things…is what allowed him to face suffering and sacrifice well. It’s what allowed him to face all of these things and not just face them, but actually boast in them.
I don’t have a lot of application for this point, but I think it’s worth saying because too often we only celebrate the joys and successes. The reality is that many of us live in the sorrows and failures too. Life is hard. Work is hard. Relationships are hard. The world is hard.
Probably the best place to end is where Paul does in vv.14-16 – “I am not writing this to make you ashamed (and I would add feel depressed or guilty or even more heavily burdened), but to admonish you as my beloved children…as a loving father who has lead the way and is saying “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.” That’s our final calling that we must keep in mind. We are Servants. Yes! We are Stewards. Yes! We are Spectacles. Yes! And most importantly, we are Sons & Daughters. Yes and Amen!
So, what’s God saying to you?
1. How has He called you to serve?
2. What gifts and position and relationships and talents and responsibility has He given you to steward? 3. Where are you experiencing sacrifice during this Lenten season and what is God saying to you in the midst of it?