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. | 1 Corinthians 4:1–3
This Sunday we talked about the gospel call on our life. As Paul prays for the Philippian church, he lays out for robust vision for their Christian witness; specifically:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. | Philippians 1:9–11
This all sounds agreeable, the problems come when you actually start trying to apply it. To be: continually abounding in love, growing in knowledge and discernment, approving what is excellent, and being filled with the fruit of righteousness is a tall order. As Christians, we have been called into a life to which we are not worthy (or able), which at times can be disheartening.
We are used to being given marching orders that we can fulfill. When we come to the Bible, we come looking for an achievable goal. Instead, we are given this divine call to perfection. We are given a gospel that says God owes us nothing, but gives us everything. We get a great commission that has in mind reaching every person on the planet with the good news of Jesus. We don’t know what to do in the face of it.
The response of some is to simply redefine the call: God isn’t really concerned with your purity; there are more important things than theology (knowledge of God); He doesn’t want your whole life, let’s set some manageable goals. This is very effective to motivate people. It not only simplifies the task, but presents them to you in a way where you can feel like a good Christian, like you have done enough to justify your faith (leading to pride).
Another approach is to keep a high calling, to aim for perfection, and to feel despair at always falling short. You are failing at sanctification, evangelism, and holiness and you should feel horrible about it. This is also motivating, as the guilt that come from failure fuels the desire to be better.
The problem with both of these is that they point the Christian life back on the individual: how can I be most effective? Am I doing enough? Have I led enough people to Christ? Will God be pleased with me? Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi is that they grow in love for Jesus, are transformed by His knowledge, that they sacrifice for His good, and that they trust Him with the results. In order for this to be our aim, we have to take our eyes off of ourselves and keep them on Him.
Paul describes to us what this looks like in 1 Corinthians 4. He says that we are stewards of the mysteries of God. While we are proclaiming a known gospel and submitting to a given law, we should be growing in the mysterious aspect of the gospel. The mystery is this: how is God going to accomplish His great promises through a sinful people? How is He going to use you and I to evangelize the nations? How is a church doing its best to love going to effectively be the hands and feet of Jesus? While we ponder these mysteries, we should also be unimpressively doing our best to simply grow; taking one step closer to faithfulness at a time. As we do this, we also need to silence all of the very human measurements that draw us away from being steadfast. Paul says:
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.
This is his way of saying: do what you can and rest in the grace of God. Others will remind you of what you aren’t doing, and you will always be able to see where you fall short, but as stewards, these things can only ever hinder our love for Jesus.
The motivation for this worldview is not achievement or guilt, but a desire to know and love Jesus. It takes the burden from us to prove our faith, and allows us to act from our faith. It says there is nothing you HAVE to do (His grace is enough), but makes our gospel mission about what we GET to do. Jesus allows us to be part of His plan to redeem the world. The more we grow in love for Him, the greater that motivation becomes.
By making Jesus the motivation, we are freed from the mission guilt and mission pride that mar the witness of the church. It allows us to act faithfully (out of a proper motivation) and be the stewards we were created to be.