IT'S THE MESSAGE, NOT THE MESSENGER
Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever seen someone who looks like just you? I know a couple of sets of twins I can’t tell apart. I know a father whose wife had one of those sets of twins that used to play tricks on Dad because he couldn’t tell them apart. But that’s rare that someone looks so much like another that you can’t tell them apart. It is amazing we don’t see more people that might look like one another when there are that many parts that make us different. There is a nose, a mouth, two eyes and ears, the shape of the head and color of the skin and hair. There aren’t that many parts.
But there are other things that make people different from one another: height, weight, preferences, talents and skills and a whole lot else. That’s why television offers all kinds of TV channels for. A good news channel and ESPN and Duck Dynasty is all I need. I’m not sure that Judy would approve. Differences between one person and the next makes life interesting.
Pastors are people too. Because pastors are people there is a difference between one from another too. That’s good. One has different gifts from another; one might be a good teacher and another a good teacher. One might be good with kids and another with the white and blue hairs. One a good counselor and another good in the hospital. There are really all kinds of skills that might draw people to a certain pastor or turn some away.
But the apostle tells us today “It’s the Message, Not the Messenger.” There are three points that Paul tells God’s people 1) Remember his duties; 2) Remember the One to whom he is accountable; 3) Remember the goal he has.
Years ago a classmate was called to a church that he wanted to know more about. I was in a position to know more about it. I told him that if I had the call and know all that needs to be done, I wouldn’t go. Mistakes were made in my opinion in the past. I didn’t know if it could be salvaged. My friend said he was up for a challenge so he took the call to be their pastor. I appreciated his willingness but the church ended up closing like they do each year by the thousands.
The church in the city of Corinth was a lot like that. They had problems that needed some serious attention. straightening out. Chapter after chapter reveals one bad thing after the other. One was the problem with cliques. Cliques had formed because people were exposed to different pastors and had their favorites. If one wasn’t a favorite, they were criticized. “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Certain people liked certain messengers. Some like Paul; some liked Apollos, someone we hear about in the early church who had experience with John the Baptist and was brought up to speed by Paul. Some like Cephas; that was Peter. Some said they followed Jesus. They seemed to have it right.
Nonsense people. Get it right! It’s not about who you think is better or worse. “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” Their duty is to be a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. A little investigation into the original Greek here tells us things that are quite significant. When he says that God’s messengers are servants, we often think of slaves. That’s not the word here. The word literally means an under rower. What’s that? You have seen those ships that the ancients used for battle called triremes. They had three rows of rowers – usually sixty on the top row and fifty four on the second deck and lowest decks. Each had an oar in their hands and they were synchronized to do battle to chase down and maneuver around. While they were slaves, they worked as a team under the captain. They worked for the same purpose.
That’s what pastors and God’s people need to understand. It is not about ladder climbing and trying to outdo each other. It’s not about having the biggest church, the most beautiful building or producing the most dollars, it is about working together under Jesus and for Jesus. It’s all about the message, Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose again to forgive us.
He says that God’s messengers are stewards of the mysteries of God. The Greek word that is translated steward is the word for the servant that the master put in charge of his household. You could call him a trustee. C.S. Lewis used the expression that God gives us the dignity of causality. Jesus uses us as arms to do his work. He gives us what we work we need to do. It is not about yoga classes or exercise times. Our work revolves around the mysteries of God. What mysteries?
• The mystery that God does and acts in ways that defies all human reason and yet give us human reason but is not tied down by it
• The mystery that our Majestic God who fills all things and names the countless stars also takes an interest in each of us and loves us as beggardly as we are.
• They mystery of how God became flesh, the Infinite became Finite, the Son of God became the Son of man to make himself a substitute – him for us. Our sin became his; his perfection became ours. His died so we could live.
• The mystery of how simple water in the Triune God’s name washes and cleanses – not the body but the soul.
• The mystery of how bread and wine becomes the vehicle by which the shed body and blood of Jesus convey and seal the forgiveness of sins so we have life.
• The mystery of the a book can change lives because it is not just about the book and the Words in it but the power of the Spirit who changes lives and priorities and gives hope for an eternal future.
The messenger’s duty? To be that team player with the Lord and his team and to be a steward of the mysteries of God.
Paul emphasizes that the is to be accountable. But to whom? I am sure that those of you who work for a company or for someone else often have a tension that goes on inside of you. If you were the boss, maybe you would do something a different way. But the one who pays is the one who gets to rule. Politicians can be bought by their donors.
In the church there can be some tension too. Who is the one who pays? The congregation. But who is really the boss. Christ is the head of his church. How the Devil likes to get in the middle of the situation. The big giver might want to do something his way even though the congregation wants to do something else. Or the big donor is the one who has done something evil and needs to repent, but if he is confronted we might lose his big weekly check in the offering plate. Or someone from the big family is not living the way the Lord commands. To confront or even excommunicate could cause the family to leave. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
The apostle says the messenger must prove faithful. He must be full of faith. Practice what he preaches. A pastor who had gone off the deep end and lost his faith but needed the income was asked how he could say the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creeds that say, I believe in God the Father Almighty….” He said he simply said, They believe instead of I believe.
I have always tried over the years to remember that the sermon is meant for the congregation but that I am a member of it too.
The congregation in Corinth was divided by their likes of certain messengers in their lifetimes. In the end all that matters is that we are faithful to the Lord. “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” We must stand before God. We must ultimately be accountable to him.
That gets pastors into binds. John the Baptist called out King Herod. James and Stephen were killed for their faithfulness to the Word of God. John Wycliff was burned at the stake. Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and a bounty was placed on his head. There literally millions more people because they were full of faith and faithful to the Word of God.
God’s pastors and people are called on very often to give a clear testimony of their faithful in the Lord Jesus Christ. How should we be ashamed for letting things go when someone was tearing down the name of the Lord and we said nothing! Or, as a pastor, when we don’t make a very proper but hard hitting application because it might offend someone. You see ultimately we are responsible and accountable to Jesus.
What’s the goal for God’s messenger? Sometimes people like to make the church to business-like. I have watched the television program “Shark Tank”. There is a panel of five very rich entrepreneurs who have the opportunity to loan money to people to build up their business or even start a business where the shark can make still more money off from their investment.
A doctor had made something that was very good for the medical field. He was asking for three million dollars to get what he made into doctors’ offices. One of the sharks asked how much the doctor had already made on the invention. He basically said that he wasn’t interested in making money but in saving lives. One of the sharks said that he would not invest because the if the doctor wasn’t interested in making money he would not go in on it. He wanted to invest with the doctor only if he were more money hungry.
For some the ministry has become a get rich profession. That’s not the right motive – not even near. Paul says, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” In the end the Lord will expose the motives of the messengers. In the end the real pay off is who knows Jesus and trusts him as their Savior. In the end it all about getting people into heaven.
When it comes to the Lord’s work, it is not about the size of buildings or yearly offering totals, or numbers coming to church. It is not about the messenger. Paul reminds the people that he didn’t die for the world, not did Apollos or Peter. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what makes our work all about the message, not the messenger.