Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

The Nature of Pastoral Leadership

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 4:1-5


Well, as I mentioned this morning, it has been my joy to be at this church for 20 years. And one of the great joys that I’ve had in that time is to watch the Lord raise up leaders in the church. You know, it’s important for us to remember that when we talk about the church of Jesus Christ, when we talk about this church, Jesus Christ is its head. None of us are the chief shepherd. He’s the chief shepherd. We are under shepherds. None of us is the head. We are merely those whom Christ has given to help lead under His headship.

And so, the question that always should come to a group of elders, to the leaders of any church is: what is: Christ’s plan for the church. How does He plan for the church to work?

I had the privilege over the last couple of days at the Faithful Stewards Conference to explain that through Ephesians 4. But let me just remind you that this is how the plan works. Ephesians 4:7 says that Christ gives spiritual gifts to the members of the church. Every single one of you who is in Christ at the moment of salvation received spiritual giftedness to serve the church.

The second thing that Christ does is: He gives gifted leaders to the church. That’s His decision. He gives to the church. He originally gave apostles and prophets to give the revelation. They laid the foundation Ephesians 2:20 says. But now He gives evangelists who are really church planting missionaries who go from one place to another where the gospel is not known and see the gospel is planted, the church is planted and move on to another after they have trained them, equipped them. And pastor-teachers that is the elders of the church or those who are committing their lives to ministry. In some cases, according to 1 Timothy 5:17, some of the leaders of the church are lay leaders. Others are paid by the church to fulfill their mission.

But regardless of which of those is true, Christ is the one who gives gifted men to His church. So, how do we discern, how do we know that Christ has given gifted men to His church? The answer is Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. We look at their lives. And particularly look at 1 Timothy 3 lays it out beautifully.

Do they have the desire to do the work of ministry?

Do they have the character required that’s laid out in those two passages?

Do they have the capacity both to teach God’s word and to manage, proven by how they manage their households?

And then, do they have the confirmation both by the elders and ultimately by the congregation?

If all of those things are true, then those are the men Christ has given to this church and to other churches as those plans are followed.

Tonight, we get to acknowledge that Christ is giving leaders to His church. It’s our joy tonight to ordain four men to the gospel ministry, Lance Burrows, Wes Condra, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Hayhurst. I’m going to address my message primarily to them. But let me just say the truths that I’m going to address tonight apply to every single one of us. If you’re in Christ, they apply to you. So, I hope you’ll listen with that in mind.

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 4, 1 Corinthians 4, and I’m going to read verses 1 to 5. This is a passage I simply could not get away from for tonight because it is one of those passages that is a guiding light in my own mind and heart when it comes to my ministry. And it’s my prayer and hope that it will be for these men as well. Let’s read it together, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

It's interesting when you think about the Corinthian church, that with of all the profound problems that were in that church, one stood out to the apostle Paul. There were quarrels and divisions because groups within the church had associated themselves with well-known Christian leaders. Go back to chapter 1, you see this played out. Chapter 1:11,

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” [and the pious ones] “I of Christ.”

So, there was this huge issue of divisions within the church, but Paul recognized that the real problem was a misconception of the nature of Christian leadership, of pastoral leadership. So, beginning in chapter 3 Paul corrects them by revealing his own thinking about the nature of spiritual leadership. And in so doing, he lays out a pattern that every spiritual leader must follow. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Paul prescribes for us three key perspectives about leadership. You men who are being ordained tonight, let me just challenge you that this was Paul’s mindset, and it must be ours.

Let’s look at these perspectives about leadership together. The first perspective that will help us understand true Christian leadership is to remember your real position, remember your real position. The fleshly attitudes of some of the Christians there in Corinth had caused them to exalt certain leaders. Some of the leaders tolerated, even encouraged, this kind of competition. So, in chapter 3 Paul set out to explain the attitude they all should have toward leaders in the church. Look at chapter 3:5, 3:5. “What then is Apollos, and what is Paul, servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. And Paul, to teach this lesson, to drive it home, then introduces three metaphors to illustrate the right mindset about leadership.

The first is an agricultural metaphor in 3:5 through the middle of 9. And there he says believers are God’s field, and all of the leaders of the church are merely workers in that field.

The second metaphor comes from the middle of verse 9 down through verse 17 of chapter 3. And there he says the church is God’s building, and its leaders are merely fellow construction workers in a massive multigeneration building project.

Then in 4:1 Paul introduces a third metaphor. Look at verse 1 of chapter 4. “Let a man regard us in this manner….” The word translated “regard” is the normal New Testament word for “reckon”. It means to establish the value of something based on careful calculation. Paul says, calculate the value of the church’s leaders in this way. Men this is how Paul thought of his own position. It’s the mindset that the members of the church, that each of you must have about the leadership. And it’s how we who lead must view our own position.

First of all, our real position is that of servants of Christ. Verse 1, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ.” The word translated “servants” occurs several times in the New Testament. In classical Greek, you probably heard this at some point in your Christian life. In classical Greek this word referred to the bottom level of rowers on a slave galley. That is its etymology; however, by the first century it had largely lost that connotation altogether, and it simply referred to anyone who served as an assistant, someone who received orders from somebody else.

It’s used in the New Testament of the junior officers in the temple guard. It’s used of the one who put away scrolls in the synagogue in Nazareth after Jesus read from them in Luke 4. It’s used of a young John Mark who assisted Paul and Barnabas on a first missionary journey in Acts 13. That’s how we are to think of ourselves. We are to think of ourselves as servants that is assistants of Christ. We are personal assistants. That’s what we are. We report to Him, we take our orders from Him. We must remember that although we are leaders, we are servant leaders.

This title is to remind us of our rightful place, but can I say guys, at the same time there is here a profound encouragement in the truth that we are merely servants of Christ. I find this hugely encouraging. It means the church is ultimately not our responsibility. The field is not ours. We’re merely laborers. The building isn’t ours. We’re just workers. The household isn’t ours. We’re just servants. And that’s helpful to remember. That’s our real position.

But notice, we fit into one specific category of servants in this passage. Secondly, we are stewards of God’s mysteries. We are not only servants of Christ, but we are stewards of God’s mysteries. Look at verse 1 again. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and of the mysteries of God.” We are servants of Christ, and “steward” is the specific duty that has been assigned to us.

In the first century this word “stewards” referred to servants who managed the day-to-day affairs of a great house or a great estate. You had a massive estate, and there was the owner of the estate who couldn’t handle all of the day-to-day duties, and so, he assigned the responsibility for the entire house under him to a “steward, to a house manager” that’s what this word really means. A steward was often a slave, but at the same time, he was the overseer of the rest of the household.

He was responsible for all his master’s possessions. We see this in in Luke 16 where this word is used. And from those goods the steward was to give the rest of the servants their daily rations. The word is used that way in Luke 12.

Often the steward even supervises his master’s children until they came of age. It’s used that way in Galatians 4. The steward was in charge of everything in the household. Titus reminds us, who are elders and pastors, that we are stewards of the church in the general sense that we are overseers of everything. Titus 1:7, an overseer is God’s steward. This title reminds us that we have no right to have independent decisions about God’s household. We just have to stick to the plan, stick to His orders about how He wants His household run. That’s what makes me so sad when I drive around our communities, and I see churches with people who aren’t following the plan. It’s like this isn’t your house. You don’t get to decide how it’s run. We are completely under the directions of our Master.

Notice Paul drills down here to one responsibility, men, and that’s at the core of our leadership. Notice verse 1, “we are stewards of the mysteries of God. As you know the word “mystery” refers to truth that was not known before and could not be known before if God had not revealed it, but truth that He has now, in fact, reveled. That’s a mystery in New Testament terms. At times that’s exclusively to the gospel.

But by using the plural here, “mysteries” Paul undoubtedly means all of the truths that God has revealed. In other words, we are stewards of the word of God. We have many different duties as leaders in God’s church, but our chief duty is to feed the sheep. Back to Ephesians 4, the duty of the leaders of the pastor-teachers that God puts in place, it’s identified in Ephesians 4 as equipping the saints so that the saints can do the work of the service.

And how do we equip them? We only have two tools. We have the Word of God, and we have prayer. Those are the only two tools we have to equip the saints to do the work of service. This is our chief duty. To use the metaphor of a steward is, our main task is to dispense our master’s food to his other servants. We are called to dispense His Word to His servants, not our words.

I love the analogy that MacArthur often used, I heard him say it so many times in my sixteen years there, and that is “look as ministers of the Word, as stewards of God’s Word, we’re not the chef, we don’t come up with a meal, we’re merely the waiters, and our job is to get the meal to the table without messing it up. That’s the job that we have been assigned.

If we want to be the kind of men that honor Christ, we want to be the right leaders and have the right perspective. We have to remember our real position. We are merely servants of Christ, His assistants under His order. And His order is responsible to see what belongs to Him. And our primary duty is to be a steward of His Word.

There’s a second crucial perspective that we must have about our leadership. We must secondly remember the real standard. Remember the real standard. Paul tells us there’s only one real standard of success in ministry. This is where this passage for me gets very personal. Because you may be in a ministry situation as the Lord wills in the future where the church is exploding in a positive way, and things are going well, and you can hardly contain the growth. At the same time you may be in a situation that’s the opposite of that, where things are struggling where things are difficult and hard. That’s not your decision. You have one responsibility. You have only one real standard of success, and it’s not the size of your church.

Verse 2 says, “In this case moreover it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” There’s the standard, trustworthy. What does that mean? The word “trustworthy” really has 2 nuances. First of all, in our relationship with our master, we are to be loyal.

And secondly, in our duties that He’s assigned to us, we’re to be dependable. That’s trustworthy; loyal to the master, dependable in the job. That’s what it means to be trustworthy. Our Lord’s standard of success is not a difficult one. It is achievable because it doesn’t measure the size of our congregation nor the extent of our influence. The Lord’s standard of success is for us to be loyal to Him and to be dependable ion carrying out the duties He’s assigned to us.

The New Testament praises a number of men for being trustworthy uses this word. Timothy, Tychicus, Epaphras, Silvanus, Moses, and even Paul are all called trustworthy. But the ultimate standard of this faithfulness, this trustworthiness is our Lord. Hebrews 3:2 says he was faithful to the Father who appointed Him. And the perfectly faithful One will evaluate our service based primarily on our faithfulness.

Now in this context, Paul’s primary emphasis is our faithfulness as stewards of God’s mysteries. So, do we faithfully proclaim God’s Word? That’s how it will be measured. Do we faithfully seek to live what we teach? Do we guard God’s truth from error and its enemies? And are we faithfully passing on the truth to the next generation? Men, that is our assignment with the truth. We’re to preach the truth. We’re to live the truth. We’re to guard the truth. And we’re to pass the truth on to the next generation. That’s our responsibility. We sang about it just a few minutes ago. That’s our job.

Sadly, there are many ways to be unfaithful with the Scripture. I trust that this will never be true of you men, but we all sadly know of men who call themselves spiritual leaders who are unfaithful with the Scripture in these ways.

You can be unfaithful with the Scripture by spending inadequate time in preparation, by peaching messages created with little thought and effort, messages prepared in a couple of hours on Saturday night or sermons bought or stolen from some website. That’s to be unfaithful, forcing a passage to say what it doesn’t say to make our point. It doesn’t matter if it’s true and found somewhere else in the Bible. To make a passage say what it doesn’t say is a failure in our stewardship of the truth. The question in every case is what does God say in this place?

Creating a message that’s more about what I want to say than explaining what God already said. That’s a real temptation. I still remember reading a cartoon in Preaching Magazine many years ago when I was still in seminary. And this pastor is on his knees praying, and he’s saying Lord, please give me a message to go with this illustration. We can be tempted to say what we want to say rather than what God has said. Downplaying the place and priority of the Word in the services of the church.

A member of our church told me recently about visiting a church of some family members, and it’s kind of a metaphor of what’s happening in our culture. The pastor of this supposed evangelical church had a little stand in the front of the platform and had a Bible on it, read a verse or a small passage, and then picked up the Bible and the stand and walked it to the back corner of the stage that was dark, you couldn’t even see it. Left the Bible and stand there, came back to the center of the stage and never said anything about the Bible again.

Failing to apply the truth personally is to be unfaithful. Failing to consistently exercise our gifts to their maximum potential either because of laziness or distraction. As I shared with the men at the conference, I hear John MacArthur’s voice often in my ear. At conferences pastors would ask so what’s the secret John, to a long-term successful pulpit ministry expecting some deeply sounding spiritual explanation. And I always remember every week that sort of voice was there, keep your rear in the chair until the work is done. That’s what’s required.

Being faithful, guys, does not mean that you show up every week with something to say and try to use the Bible to say it. Being faithful means that week after week you do the hard time-consuming work required to accurately handle the mysteries of God and to feed Christ’s sheep.

If week after week that’s what drives you, then be encouraged. That’s the real standard of success. If you’re going to develop a biblical perspective about leadership, then you must remember your real position. You must remember the real standard. And thirdly, you must remember the real verdict. This is the message of verses 3-5.

You see, much of what undermines our stability and our joy in ministry is listening to premature judgments about our effectiveness from people whose opinions of us don’t ultimately matter. And in verses 3-5 Paul reminds us that there are, in fact, premature verdicts that simply don’t matter.

First of all, the verdict of the church doesn’t matter, verse 3. “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you.” In the New Testament the word examined refers most often to an actual legal proceedings. There were people, members of the church in Corinth, and some of the leaders who saw themselves as judge and jury with the right to sit on Paul’s, in judgement of Paul’s ministry. In fact, in chapter 9:3 he speaks of those who are examining me. But to Paul the fact that there were some putting him on trial, it was to him, notice what he says, “… a very small thing”. It was insignificant, trivial.

Men, don’t measure your success by living up to the expectations of other Christians, even those in your church. The people in your church are not the ultimate judge of your ministry. It shouldn’t matter to you whether you are their hero or not. Now, don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean that their criticism won’t hurt. And it doesn’t mean that we should never listen to our critics because there is sometimes truth in what they say.

Maybe our preaching does need to improve. Maybe we are making too many changes in the church too quickly. Maybe we are being too strong in our leadership, or too weak in our leadership. And this certainly doesn’t mean that we should refuse to listen to counsel especially to older mature godly men. This isn’t discouraging any of that. But their assessment, their verdict is not the ultimate measure of ministry success. Whether the churches that we serve in highly honor us as I enjoy in this church, or whether we belong to churches where they’re highly critical, they are not the final judge.

We must be open to counsel. We must be sensitive to criticism. But we must never forget that the Lord alone will judge our success. Even though theoretically we know that the assessment of other Christians doesn’t matter, let’s just be honest. We can be tempted to change how we do ministry to gain their approval. Even pastors and elders feel pressure from their own members and from the Christian community at large to follow the latest ministry trends.

Well, pastor, why aren’t we doing what the other church is doing? Wow, they’re growing. Why don’t we do that? If we aren’t careful, we can allow the judgement of other Christians to define what constitutes a successful ministry. And if that happens, then men it means for us, unlike Paul, it’s not a very small thing to be examined by other Christians, in fact, it matters way too much. Paul says remember that the church’s assessment of you is not a primary importance. But in the end I can only hope that the Lord’s assessment of me will be even half of what this church’s assessment is. In the end He’s the one that makes that verdict not the people of this church, and that will be true of your church as well.

There’s a second assessment that doesn’t really matter, and that is the verdict of the world doesn’t matter. Look at verse 3 again. “But to me it is a very small that I may be examined by you or by any human court.” By any human court in the Greek text by “man’s day”. It’s like our expression, “having one’s day in court”. Any day when man passes judgment. Paul refers to men generally, but it’s clear he means primarily those outside the church. Ministry success cannot be measured by living up to the expectation of the court of fallen human opinion. The unbelievers in Corinth both of the Jews and the Greeks had already evaluated Paul and his ministry. And they had concluded that it was all foolishness. It was moronic. Chapter 1:18 says the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

The Gentiles rejected Paul’s simple message because it didn’t live up to worldly wisdom. The Jews rejected it because the concept of a crucified, dying Messiah was unthinkable. It was a stumbling block. Paul refused to let the world’s verdict on his ministry matter. In the face of that pressure Paul says in chapter 2:2, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

It doesn’t matter what you think. This is the message. Men, today there are immense pressures from the world we live in to change our theology and our practice if we want to have their favorable verdict on our ministry. And sadly, Christians and churches, denominations, Christian colleges are giving in to the world’s pressure so that they can receive a favorable verdict in the court of fallen opinion. They are simply buying into the cultural trends so that people say, oh yeah, they’re great.

Men, ultimately what the world thinks of us doesn’t matter. In fact, even your own verdict doesn’t matter. Verse 3, he goes on to say, “… in fact, I do not even examine myself.” He says, I don’t try to evaluate my own ministry success. Verse 4, “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted….” The Greek verb translated, “I am conscious” is the root from which the noun, the English word “conscience” comes, and Paul here emphasizes the word “nothing”. He may have meant in a general sense. His conscience was clear of any unrepentant sin.

More likely, Paul meant that he was not aware of any significant failure in his stewardship in his ministry. But he adds, “I am not by this acquitted.” The fact that you and I have a clear conscience about how we conduct our ministry doesn’t mean the Lord agrees. There are a lot of guys in the metroplex who have a perfectly clear conscience about the ministry they are doing, and it’s totally out of step with Scripture. Paul’s point is not that we should avoid self-examination, but that our own assessment of the effectiveness and faithfulness of our ministry is completely insignificant. In fact, Paul reminds us of the only verdict that really matters, look at the middle of verse 4, “… but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

What Paul says here reminds us of, in my own mind, of Christ walking among the lampstands in Revelation 1. You know the lampstands representing the churches. And there’s this picture that I can’t get out of my mind of the lampstands representing those seven small local churches in Asia Minor in the first century. And Christ is walking in and out of those lampstands. He’s inspecting. He’s checking out what’s going on in those churches. And he holds the leaders of the churches in His hands.

Men, that picture is still every bit as much true today as it was in the first century. And it’s not just true in Asia Minor, it’s true in Dallas/Fort Worth and wherever it is the Lord has our ministries in the days ahead. He’s walking among the lampstands. He’s inspecting. He has a perspective, and you see the perspective He had of those seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. He has an inspection going on. He continues to review each of His churches today, and the day will come when He will tell each of us face to face His honest assessment of our ministry.

Verse 5, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes.” Paul lived under the constant awareness of that judgment, the judgment seat of Christ where every believer, you will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and your service for Christ will be evaluated. Just like the leaders of this church, just like this church as a whole. We will be evaluated. You will be evaluated. Second Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgement seat (the bema seat) of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done whether good or ‘worthless.’” Verse 5 says “therefore.” Paul says, in light of the fact that the Lord’s final verdict is the one that matters, stop sitting in judgement in your thoughts on the leaders of the church. Your assessment is premature. Wait until the Lord comes, and we learn the real verdict.

Now, let me be clear, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t speak out against error or confront sin and compromise, or that we should suspend all judgment. Paul’s point is that the Lord’s final verdict is the only one that matters because only He knows the whole story, and because only He knows our motives. And most importantly because only our master has the right to judge our service, and He will evaluate our service to Him. Go back to chapter 3, 1 Corinthians 3:12, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones.” Now remember the context here. Paul is using a construction metaphor about leaders in the church. This is not about individual Christians. This is about leaders building Christ’s church.

But, of course, the implications go beyond leaders to every member. He says, “Now, if any man builds on the foundation, that is Christ the revelation through Christ, “with gold, silver, precious stones, wood hay, straw” (two different groups of materials) valuable and worthless and ones that aren’t as valuable, but the key difference between those two sets of groups is one burns and the other one doesn’t.

In the first century that was huge, particularly in Corinth. They had been destroyed by fire before. He goes on to say,

“each man’s work will become evident; for the day (that is the day of judgement, at the bema seat, when we stand before Christ) will show it because it is to be revealed by fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” If any man’s work is built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

The measure of a successful ministry is this, are you building with the right materials, with gold, silver, and precious stones. What do those materials represent? Well, when Paul comes back to this future judgment in our text in chapter 4, he tells us exactly how Christ will evaluate His servants. He’ll do so on the basis of two criteria. We already saw one in verse 2, faithfulness, trustworthiness. Loyalty to Him and dependability in carrying out our duties.

The other comes in verse 5, and that is motives, motives. Look at what he says in verse 5, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light things hidden in the darkness….” This has to do with our faithfulness, things hidden. This sometimes speaks of what is evil. Sadly, a man in his ministry may look good, but there may be hidden things that if known would produce an entirely different verdict on his service.

D. A. Carson writes, “There are some leaders who function competently and can please great crowds, but whose hearts are seething swamps of lust, arrogance, and ambition.”

In verse 5 however, Paul not only is referring to sin that is hidden, and this is really shocking, but also to acts of service that are hidden to others and possibly even to ourselves. That’s clear, because the end of the verse he speaks of Christ praising us based on what He finds. At the judgment you and I may discover a ministry that God in His grace accomplished through us even when we had no idea. In fact, I love the picture of the judgment in Matthew 25 when and Jesus says to the righteous, you know, I was hungry, and you fed me, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink, and when, when did that happen? Hidden. Verse 5, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts….”

There it is: motives are an essential part of what determines our reward. So, what are the right motives for ministry, for leadership. Obviously, we are to serve to the glory of God, out of love for Christ, that’s John 21, and out of love for His people. We are seeing that both in John 21, and remember seeing that in 1 John. So, those are motives, but in addition, it’s interesting to me that the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians lay out a series of contrasts in motives. Each paragraph contrasts Paul’s motives with the motives of some of leaders in Corinth. So, if you want to have the right motives for ministry, where Christ says, yes, those are the right ones, here you go.

First of all, in 1:10-17, we learn that we must desire to encourage loyalty to Christ rather than loyalty to us. Don’t be one of those guys who says, line up behind me, I’m Apollos, not that Apollos was doing that, but people were doing that. Don’t be one of those leaders. Is it more important to you to have people attach to you and your group or your movement or have them loyal to Christ?

A second motive is in 1:18-31, and that is have a desire to elevate the glory of God and the gospel rather than our own glory. This is what was happening in Corinth. Paul says, no that’s wrong. Here’s the mindset you have to have. It comes down to this, do you want people to think of you as intelligent, and cultured, elite and educated, or are you content to be thought of as foolish, weak, base, despised, as a nothing and a nobody so that God gets all the glory.

A third motive is in 2:1-16. We must desire to promote the wisdom of God, in the Word of God rather than our own cleverness. Are you concerned that people think you are cool, you’re edgy, you’re clever, or are you more concerned that their faith rests on the power of God? Do you want the people who hear you to be more impressed with your mind, or the mind of Christ?

A fourth motive comes in 3:1-9, and that is the desire to magnify the work of God rather than our own accomplishments. Do you think of yourself as a slave of Christ? Do you constantly remind yourself and others that your abilities are a gift from God, that your ministry is a gift from God, that even the results of your efforts are a gracious gift of a sovereign God? Or do you try to elevate your own accomplishments?

I told the pastors and church leaders over the last couple of days, and I’ll say it to you. One of the best verses you’ll ever learn and repeat to yourself when people tell you how wonderful you are is 1 Corinthians 4:7. “What do you have that you did not receive?” You know what the answer to that question is? It’s not nothing, it’s sin. That’s all we’ve contributed. Everything else is grace. Everything else is a gift. Christ will examine our faithfulness and our motives.

Men, in light of 4:5 there is one question that you and I need to ask ourselves every day. Whose “well done” really matters most to us when our Lord completes His evaluation? Go back to our text verse 5 ends this way, “… then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” Literally, “… then the praise will come to each one from God.” Through Christ a judge the Father will express His approval and praise of the faithful servant. It’s worded in Matthew 25:31 like this, “His master said to him, well done good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.

That verse, by the way, points out our reward, two rewards. First of all, a greater capacity for service in eternity, and secondly (and this is the best of all) the praise of our Lord. Can you imagine, men and all of us, can you imagine what it will be like to stand someday before Jesus Christ and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But, did you notice what Paul said? He said, “… then the praise will come to each one from God.” Now, I have to tell you men, that’s shocking to me. That isn’t what I expect after learning that the Lord will examine my faithfulness, He’ll shine the light on things hidden in the darkness, and He’ll disclose the motives of my heart. But it shouldn’t surprise us because it’s like our Lord. It’s just like His gracious generous heart. He is incredibly generous and gracious in every way, and He will also be gracious and generous in rewarding our service to Him.

It’s true, as we saw in chapter 3 that some will receive no praise because they built their entire ministry with inferior materials. At the judgement it will all be burned up. But they’ll be saved yet so as by fire. But most will receive the commendation of our Lord, and we get a glimpse of this in Revelation 2 and 3. Our Lord praised five of those seven churches in spite of their weaknesses, in spite of their struggles, our Lord will shower His praise on the one who is faithful. I love the way D. A. Carson expresses it. “He says, how wonderful, the king of the universe, the sovereign who has endured our endless rebellion and sought us out at the cost of His Son’s death climaxes our redemption by praising us.” It’s amazing.

So, men as we ordain you tonight, my challenge to you would be this text. Remember your real position. You are just an assistant of Jesus Christ and a steward of God’s Word.

Remember the real standard. There’s only one standard of ministry success, and Christ will measure your success by how loyal you were to Him and how dependable you were in your duty, and did you do it with the right heart motives.

And thirdly, remember the real verdict. It’s not the church’s assessment. It’s not the world’s. It’s not even your own that really matters. You only have one master. His verdict alone in the end really matters. So, brothers, my challenge is: be faithful, and when He comes each man’s praise will come to him from God.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we truly are overwhelmed by your goodness and grace. Lord, for all of us You have saved us. You have made us Your own. Lord, you could have passed us by. You could have left us in our sins. You could have left us in spiritual death. You could have ignored us and justly condemned us to hell because of our rebellion and sin. But Father, in grace You saved us.

And Lord, for those of us whom You have gifted and called to ministry whom you have given to your church, Lord we freely acknowledge that ministry itself is grace. We don’t deserve it. We’re not adequate to it. Our adequacy is in Christ. And Father, we want to honor You. I thank You for these men whom we will ordain tonight, and I pray Lord that You would make them faithful, trustworthy men, trustworthy stewards of Your mysteries, faithful assistants to Jesus Christ. Lord help these truths to govern and direct their entire ministry.

We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.