“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. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore 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 his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
The Apostles are a very misunderstood group of people these days. The word itself simply means “one who is sent”, so technically anyone who is sent by the Lord to do anything – whether it’s pray for a sick person, deliver a casserole, or give a gift card to Freshco –are technically apostles.
But when people talk about apostles today, they are usually referring to the 12 apostles, chosen by Jesus Christ to be the ones who would continue his ministry and even write more scripture to include in the Bible. Do those kids of apostles still exist today? I would say categorically no. But believe it or not, there are people today who claim to be new apostles, drawing followers by their claims to be messengers from God, with the same authority as the ones in the Bible.
This was happening in the ancient world too as teachers claimed to have the same power and authority as the apostles of Jesus. So the question is, how do we know the real ones from the fakes? So using our scripture today, let’s look at what an apostle is and what they do.
Verse 1 contains two important phrases that will be unpacked in the rest of the chapter. It says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” So let’s concentrate on those two descriptors: An apostle of Christ is a “servant of Christ” and a “steward of the mysteries of God.”
Servants of Christ
The first section of verses, from 2-5, explain what a “servant… and steward of Christ” is supposed to be, and the first descriptive word that is used is “faithful”. A real apostle – and perhaps for application we can extend this as far as to saying a real believer in Jesus – is faithful. Faithful to who? Their master, Jesus Christ. That’s how they see themselves. Not elevated above others, but brought into submission to Jesus. They only go where they’ve been told to go, say what they’ve been told to say, and do what they’ve been told to do.
They know, as Paul says in verse 4, that it is to Jesus that they must ultimately give account, not any human being. Part of the back-story here is that not only were some people pretending to be apostles, but there were some people in the churches that preferred the pretenders to the real thing! They even went so far as to criticize the real apostles because they liked what the new guys were saying better.
But a real apostle doesn’t have their own “take” on Jesus and never updates the story. They don’t make the news, the just report it. They don’t write the letters, they just deliver them. All true apostles are in agreement and the story is always kept straight. Anyone who says different is a false apostle.
That’s one of the most amazing things about scripture. It is a series of books written over 1500 years by 40 different authors from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, but it all holds together. Why? Because God is the author of scripture, not man. The real apostles stayed totally dependent on Jesus for all that they were to do and say. Why? Because it was to Jesus they would have to finally give account, not their churches or anyone else.
This is an important application for us too. We may not be apostles, but it remains true that what we think of ourselves (our self-esteem or self-image) and what others think of us (our reputation or popularity) isn’t nearly as important as what God thinks of us.
This is a big struggle for a lot of people. Most people liked to be liked, and they spend a lot of time trying to change themselves, their opinions, their clothes, their jobs, their image, and everything else, so they can be either liked or respected. They will change almost anything so people will say they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, interesting, or whatever.
Teenagers face this perhaps more than anybody, but the temptation doesn’t disappear when you’re older. As a child grows up and starts to realize that they are an individual – that they like certain things and dislike others, and have different skills, abilities, and problems than others – they are sort of forced to figure out who they are. As their minds, bodies, and emotions, change, they are in a constant state of flux, rarely being able to settle on a single identity.
Last year’s favourite outfit, the one that everyone said looked so nice, no longer fits and now you have to find another. Last year’s toys are no longer interesting. Everything is in flux. And on the journey to discover who they are, other people’s opinions weigh pretty heavily.
But this doesn’t go away. It’s intense when you are a teenager trying to figure out everything from how you want to look to what you want to be when you grow up, but when you get older it doesn’t go away. People’s opinions still seem to matter a lot. Does my boss like me? What do my friends think of me? How do people see me? I know plenty of older adults who spend a lot of time wondering if people think they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, or interesting. That’s what drives the advertising industry! We wouldn’t want new clothes, phones, cars, homes, and vacations if we weren’t constantly comparing ourselves to others!
A few years ago country artist Blake Shelton wrote a song called “Who are You When I’m Not Looking” which sounds like the inner dialogue of a man on a first or second date. The first verse says, “My oh my, you’re so good-looking… but, who are you when I’m not looking?” The rest of the song is a series of questions which amount to things like “Do you drink? Are you silly? How do you handle anger? Do you have bad habits? How do you relate to your family?”. He’s essentially saying, “You’re beautiful on the outside, but before we go any further, are you just as beautiful on the inside?” Pretty good questions, actually.
The message here is that the only opinion that really matters is God’s. What does He think of us, our actions, our motives, our words, our clothes, our friends and our opinions?
I said last week that the true test of a person’s character is who they are when no one is looking. The message this week is that regardless of what you present to the world, God knows who you really are.
David and Saul
That’s the story of King Saul and King David. When Israel turned their back on God as their King and asked for a human King, God gave them exactly what they wanted. Saul was the tallest, most handsome, most regal looking man in the kingdom. He really looked the part, but had some deep character flaws.
David, on the other hand was the youngest son of a small-town shepherd. When God sent the Prophet Samuel to appoint the new king after Saul had thoroughly disqualified himself, Samuel didn’t know who he was going to get. The first son who came out of Jesse’s house was Eliab, the oldest boy. 1 Samuel 16:6-7 says this,
“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
That truth is echoed all throughout scripture! David says to his own son, Solomon,
“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (1 Chron 29:9)
He was saying, “Son, no matter what you do, no matter how great you become, no matter what anyone says about you, know this: God knows who you really are, and that’s what really matters.”
The God Who Knows
God is called the One who “tests minds and hearts” (Psalm 7:9; Jer 17:10; Acts 1:24) because He knows what’s going on inside us. We can fool everyone else – sometimes even ourselves – but we can’t fool God. He knows what we really mean when we pray for selfish things. He knows our thought life and watches where our eyes go behind our sunglasses. He knows our browser history even when we use incognito mode. He knows what you really meant when you said what you said. He knows when we come to the Bible to learn or when we just want to be proven right. He knows the difference between acts of love and the desire to look good. There is absolutely no reason to try to fool Him, and He’s ultimately the only opinion that matters, so why bother trying to fool anyone else?
The Bible talks a lot about pleasing God and pleasing people. In the Bible, fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, but fear of man foolish and sinful (Prov 29:25). We are warned to take more account of what God says about us – and can do to us – than anyone else!
When it comes to worrying about what powerful men might do to us, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
And so, Paul says in vs 3 that in comparison to what God could do to him, the accusations of the Corinthians pale in comparison. So he says, “I’ve already examined myself and don’t see anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean much since my judgment of myself and your judgment of me mean very little in the end. All that matters is what the Lord thinks of me! He can see the deepest parts of me and everyone else, and in the end, he will either condemn me or commend me.”
The same message comes to us today, and it’s our concluding question today. Who are you? Who are you when no one is looking?
We’ll look at the second part of what it means to be an apostle next week: that they are “stewards of the mysteries of God”, but let’s leave it there for now. A true apostle of God lives for God and knows it is the Lord who will judge them. So they don’t bend the gospel for the sake of others.
So, if the apostles are following Jesus and demonstrating to us how we ought to live our life –Paul says in verse 16 that we are to imitate the apostles – then we must ask ourselves in what ways are we compromising our beliefs and our obedience to God because we are afraid of what people might think of us? In what ways are we hypocrites who say we believe one thing, but then do another when no one is around?
Jesus has saved us and He is our Lord. Who do you fear more, love more, respect more, want to impress or desire to please more than Him? That’s your true Lord. That’s your real god.
I invite you to ask yourself who you really are and why you do what you do.