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  Weakness or Power? 1 Cor 4


  There's an old Indian Fable I heard recently. A water bearer had two large water pots which he carried on either end of a pole slung across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, so every day as he carried water to his master's house he arrived with one full pot and one only half full. This went on for two years. One pot was very proud of its accomplishments, while the imperfect pot was embarrassed at its failure. Its distress at being able only to accomplish half of what it had been made to do, resulted in its speaking one day to the water carrier.
  "I am so ashamed," the pot said. "Why?" asked the carrier. "Because water leaks out all the way to your master's house and because of my crack I've been only able to deliver half of the load." The water carrier looked kindly at the cracked pot and said, "As we return to my master's house today, I want you to look at the beautiful flowers along the path."
  The pot was a little cheered by the beauty he saw along the way. "Did you notice that the flowers were only on your side of the path?" the water carrier asked. "I've always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it. I planted seeds on your side of the track and as we walked back each day from the stream, you watered them." For two years I have been able to pick fresh, beautiful flowers for my master's table. Without your being just the way you are, this beauty would not have graced his house."
  If you were here two weeks ago you may remember that I suggested that there's no such thing as a part time Christian in God's kingdom. Each of us has a part to play, a role picked out for us by God himself. We may not be as gifted as some others. We may not be as theologically educated as some. We may not have the time or the money or the resources of some. We may even be a bit cracked in places. But what we found back in 3:6 was that while some of us plant while others water, it's actually God who does the work of growing the seed. So the growth of his kingdom doesn't depend only on the highly gifted or educated or resourceful. It depends on each of us doing our part, even if we're like a leaky pot watering the plants be the side of the road.
  So today, as we begin to look at this passage from 1 Cor 4, I want you to stop for a moment and think about what your particular area of Christian ministry might be.
  It might be caring for others. It might be telling others about Jesus, or about this Church you belong to. It might be being in a Bible Study, encouraging others as they share their life with you. It might be offering your particular viewpoint or your particular understanding of the issues we face as Christians. It might be being a parent raising young children or a son or daughter caring for aging parents. It might be being a friend to someone. It might be serving on Vestry, or one of our various organising committees.
  It may even be that you have a number of areas of Christian ministry. God gives us a variety of gifts and with them the responsibility to use those gifts. So you might be able to think of lots of ways you serve God. In fact, you may not want to know this, but the more gifted you are the more God expects of you.
  [Now I'd like you turn to the person next to you, or in front, or behind, and ask them what their areas of ministry are.]
  Now let me ask you, having thought about what your area of ministry is, what do you think God requires of you?
  Here's where we come to today's passage. Look at 4:2. What does God require of those to whom he's entrusted his various gifts? That they be trustworthy. So, what does that mean?
  Well, that they use their gifts well. Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the servants who were each given various amounts of money to use for their master? (The parable of the talents.) Which of the servants was commended? The ones who used their money well. And it was the servant who took the money and buried it in the ground who was chastised for being untrustworthy. So I take it that to be trustworthy, first of all implies using our gifts as well as we can.
  But there's actually more in this passage than just that. Look at v1. He says we're stewards of God's mysteries. That is, the service we exercise involves not just caring for people on a human level but it also involves taking care of a precious treasure that's been revealed to us by God: the treasure of the gospel; the message that God has involved himself in human affairs in a new and radical way: by himself taking on human form in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ; by dying on a cross; by coming back to life on the third day so he could give us that same life that he now has. And that message of the gospel is a mystery that he's now revealed through the preaching of the apostles. And in turn we too have been entrusted with it.
  Look at vs 4&5. We're responsible to the Lord for how we fulfill his calling. Now that has 2 implications. First of all, be careful how you carry out your ministry. It's a sacred trust. As we saw last week, the way we build will be tested as if through fire. God doesn't want to see any shoddy work in his church. And shoddy work won't stand up to the pressures on it. So make sure you build with gold and silver and precious stones. Or I guess these days you'd say with titanium and stainless steel.
  But the other implication is that it's God that we're responsible to, no-one else. So don't go around judging the work of others. Nor should we pay too much attention when others pass judgement on what we're doing. Not that we shouldn't listen to constructive criticism, but never listen to those who want to tell you whether or not your ministry is useful or successful or effective, because sometimes you won't know the answer to that until the last day when all is revealed and because in the end it's God who gives the growth anyway.
  But there's more. Look at v6: Make sure that whatever your ministry is you don't go beyond what is written. That is, beyond the revelation of God that we find in his word. Why not? So that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.
  It seems to me that one of our great dangers in the church today is that we have a whole host of teachers who want to go beyond the word of God as it's been passed down to us, in order to push their own point of view. In fact what they mostly do is to dismiss much of what's been written here in God's word and substitute their own thoughts and philosophies. And the result is that the gospel gets watered down. The person of Jesus gets watered down. Even the words of Jesus get watered down where they don't match the presuppositions of these modern gurus. And just as in Paul's day, people divide over whether they're followers of teacher A or teacher B.
  But here again we're reminded that we've been entrusted with a great treasure, one that's been written down for us. Later on, in ch10 vs 11, we're told that the things recorded in the Bible happened to the people back then to serve as an example for us. They were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
  Imagine that someone gives you the latest high tech car. A sort of James Bond style car. It has every feature you can imagine and a few more. It not only has cruise control but it has a navigation system that virtually allows the car to drive itself. It has a collision avoidance system. It has infra red sensors that tell it when there's an animal or a person in front of you that you might hit. But the trouble is, your friend has just left the car in the drive with the key in the ignition and the instruction book on the drivers seat. What are you going to do? You could probably just jump in turn it on and go. After all you've driven plenty of cars before. But then what about all those high tech doodads? What if you were to touch the wrong button?
  In fact, you'd be pretty dumb to just ignore all the things that had been written down in the instruction book for you, wouldn't you? It could even be a dangerous thing to do.
  Yet that's what some people do as they try to reinvent what it means to be a Christian. They throw out the instruction book. They go beyond what's been written down and they invent their own rules for living; not to mention for judging what's right and what's wrong; what's wise and what's foolish.
  But if we're to be faithful servants of Christ we need to remain faithful to what he's revealed to us rather than being puffed up with our own cleverness or whatever it is that leads us to think we can do better than those God revealed himself to in the first place. This is one reason our preaching programs generally are structured around looking at Biblical texts. Because it's the words of Scripture that are meant to guide us, not my great wisdom. You may not agree with what I have to say, but if that's the case then you have the Scriptures to go back to, to see what they have to say. On the other hand if we rely on the latest thoughts of our favourite teacher where do we go if we don't like what they say or to check whether they're right or not? All we can do then is to compare it with our own thinking or that of some other human teacher and we end up with the same dilemma.
  Actually the problem that's identified here in vs 7 and onwards is that they've forgotten where their knowledge of God originates from. Everything we have as far as knowledge of God is concerned has been given to us by God. The trouble is they think they have it all. They think they've already become rich in knowledge. They see themselves as kings in God's kingdom. And there's some truth to that. As brothers and sisters of Christ they will inherit the kingdom, though not just yet. But let's be realistic. Even the apostles haven't got there yet. In fact the opposite is true. The apostles face all sorts of hardships: death, mockery, disrepute, being called fools, weak, hungry & thirsty & weary, reviled, persecuted, slandered, looked on as the dregs, the scum of the earth. Why? Because they're prepared to remain faithful to their calling. To be trustworthy in the way they present the gospel message even if it sounds foolish or unacceptable to modern sophisticated men and women.
  And why are they prepared to do that? Look at v20. Because the gospel in itself is a thing of power. You see, all the clever talk in the world won't change people. All the rationalisation, the attempts to be politically correct, to tailor the message to the expectations of the hearers only empties the message of its power. Those people who want to put their emphasis on clever speech, on their powers of rhetoric, of persuasion, but who forget the essentials of Jesus death and resurrection are relying on something that's innately suspect, on their own human power. Those people today who want to emphasise Jesus' compassion, his wise teaching, his willingness to share in our suffering, but who gloss over the idea that he might have been divine as well as human, or that he not only died but rose again, have emptied their message of anything that would lead people to give up their comfortable lifestyles in order to follow Jesus.
  But if we stick with the message that's been passed down to us, the precious treasure of the gospel, this mystery of God's grace that's been entrusted to us, then maybe we'll see God's power at work as we carry out the various ministries that he's entrusted to us.
  So let's go back to where we started. What are the ministries that God has entrusted you with? What are the areas of Christian service that he's given you? How are you going to carry out that service? Will you be trustworthy in the way you use your gifts? Will you be faithful in the way you stick to what's been passed down to us in God's word? Will you seek God's power, rather than relying on your own as you exercise those ministries? That, it seems to me, is the challenge of today's passage.
  Be faithful, stick to what's been revealed to us in God's Word and rely on God's power to bring the growth.

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