The Cross and Christian Leadership
1 Corinthians 4
This an outline of chapter 4 of D. A. Carson’s book The Cross and Christian Ministry. All quotes are taken from this chapter.
Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2003.
“Only rarely do those who dream of leadership, but who have never experienced it, think through the responsibilities, pressures, and temptations leaders face. Almost never do they focus on accountability, service, suffering.”
“Christian leaders are servants of Christ and are not to be accorded allegiance reserved for God alone. Indeed, as servants, they are accountable to God for the kind of ministry they exercise. Since God cares about his church, he holds its leaders to account. Indeed, he threatens judgement on all who destroy his church.”
- Christian leadership means being entrusted with the “mysteries” of God. (1-7)
1 Corinthians 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
3 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.
4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
5 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.
6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
“Christian leaders are “servants of Christ.”
“They have been “entrusted with the secret things of God.”
“The gospel itself is the content of this mystery, God’s wisdom summed up under the burden of Paul’s preaching: Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
“Leaders are not in a special, priestly class. Rather, what is required in some sense of all believers is peculiarly required of the leaders of believers.”
“Those of us who want to be leaders in the church today, then, must begin by recognizing that there is no special, elitist qualifications.”
“The most remarkable thing about the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is that it is unremarkable.”
“True, the household steward held a position of trust, but in a society far more hierarchical that ours that position was commonly occupied by servants, even by slaves.”
“What it means to be a servant of Christ is to be obligated to promote the gospel by word and example, the gospel of the crucified Messiah.”
“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, but their ministry, to men and women everywhere.”
“They have been entrusted with the gospel, and all their service turns on making that gospel, known and on encouraging the people of God, by word, example, and discipline, to live it out.”
- Christian leaders must prove faithful to the One who has assigned them their fundamental task. (1-4)
i. Requires faithful prayer
ii. Demands diligent study
iii. You are a servant, a household steward. Faithfulness to the master is your primary calling.
“Those who are servants of Christ, those who are entrusted with the secret things of God, do not see themselves winning popularity contests – not even within the church’s borders.”
“What he means is that his own judging of himself cannot possibly have ultimate significance.”
“Christian leaders worthy of the name will constantly be aware that they owe fealty and devoted allegiance to only one Person: to the Lord who bought them.”
- Those who follow Christian leaders must recognize that they are called to please the Lord Christ – and therefore must refrain from judgementalism & ungodly criticism. (5-7)
i. Even if organisationally it is helpful to have a hierarchy of role, before the Chief Shepherd there is no distinction between Senior and Associate.
- Don’t form loyalty factions
- Don’t see the Associate as less than a “real pastor”
ii. Pastors/elders are accountable to the congregation to be sure. You must not overlook sin of any kind.
iii. Pastors/elders have not been called to pander to the whims and wishes of the congregation, but to lead the congregation in following Christ.
“It appears that some of the Corinthian believers were quite prepared to write off certain Christian leaders, simply because they preferred to follow some other leader as a guru.”
“Paul is not here absolving Christians from the responsibility to discern, to test all teaching by Scripture, to pursue the best. Rather, he is roundly condemning that kind of judging that simply writes a Christian leader off because his does not neatly fit into my camp or because he appears to complete with my preferred guru or because he is not in my pocket.”
“Christian leaders doubtless make all kinds of mistakes and say all kinds of daft things. But they are not pawns the churches are to hire and fire as if they were nothing but the churches’ employees. The church is not the head and the pastor is not the hireling. Both the church and the Christian leader have one supreme head – Jesus Christ himself.”
“One-upmanship among those redeemed by a crucified Messiah is replusive.”
- Christian leadership means living life in light of the cross. (8-13)
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,
12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
- We follow a crucified Messiah.
“Until the end of the age, we will take up our cross – that is, we will die to self-interest daily – and follow Jesus.”
- Christian leaders should expect to suffer the most.
“To praise a form of leadership that despises suffering is therefore to deny the faith.”
- In measure, all Christians are called to a life of suffering for Christ.
- Christian leadership means encouraging and if necessary, enforcing the way of the Cross among the people of God. (14-21)
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.
20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
- Encouraging the believers. (14-17)
i. You are called to love God’s people.
ii. Your ministry to them in word and example ought to increase their love for Christ.
iii. Encouragement, building God’s people up in Christ, ought to characterise your ministry.
“In the context of these chapters, of course, what Paul wants them to imitate is his passion to live life in light of the cross.”
“What he does expect of them is that they will imitate his values, his stance with respect to the world, his priorities, and his valuation of the exclusive centrality of the gospel of the crucified Messiah.”
“This suggests that the Christian leader today not only must teach the gospel, but also must teach how the gospel works out in daily life and conduct. And that union must be modelled as well as explained.”
- Warning the believers. (18-21)
i. You must not shy away from warning/rebuke.
ii. You can warn in an unloving manner, but warning itself is not unloving.
iii. Be sure the plank is out of your own eye and the warning is clearly sin and not preference.
“Mere talk will not change people; the gospel will.”
“In other words, bringing the people of God to consistent Christian living in light of the gospel of the crucified Messiah is so important to Paul he will not turn from this goal. If he moves people in this direction by encouragement and admonition, all the good; if severer discipline is called for, he will not flinch.”
“And if the people of God dig their heels in disobedience, there may come a time for Christian leaders to admonish, to rebuke, and ultimately to discipline firmly those who take the name of Christ but do not care to follow him. The sterner steps must never be taken hastily or lightly. But sometimes they must be taken. That is part of the responsibility of Christian leadership.”