MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV 1 Corinthians 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
Stewards of the Mysteries of God
This advent epistle teaches us about the pastoral office in light of the coming of Christ. The season of Advent focuses on the birth of our Savior, but also our need to be always be ready for His return.
Someone may think, “Now he is only going to talk about pastors.” But let’s look at what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through Paul. He uses two parallel phrases, which help us, since one is equal to the other. The two phrases are “ministers of Christ” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.” We seldom use the term minister in the sense of the Scriptures. It did not mean “an ordained clergyperson” then, but a household servant. A minister of Christ is someone who serves Jesus the Lord and Savior. If someone comes to our home and US West is repairing a phone, no one thinks to say to the repairman, “Are you the head of the household?” The repairman does only what he is told to do. He may do a good job or a bad job, but he is not the owner of the house. He has a work order and fulfills what that order tells him to do.
God teaches us through Paul that the apostle himself had exactly the same role. He was a servant of Christ, not a tyrant over the believers. The phrase he used is the same we would use for accounting or an audit. “What am I?” says Paul. “Consider me a household servant of Jesus the Messiah.”
This is important, because the apostle’s role is defined as serving Christ. Paul had a responsibility toward all the congregations he served. Not everyone is called to serve in the role of preaching, as Luther wrote:
"All Christians serve God but all are not in office."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 65. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
The current trend among Lutheran synods would have us believe otherwise. I have a photo from the Wisconsin Synod showing the men and women from Martin Luther College (nee Dr. Martin Luther College). They are all listed as “future ministers.” In fact, the theme most often heard among the conservative Lutherans is that “everyone is a minister.” That is why I designed a web page, “Every dog a minister.” It makes as much sense.
In the broadest sense, every Christian has AN office. If a man is married and has children, his calling is to serve his wife and children according to the Scriptures. His office is not the same as that of a wife and a mother. Then too, the children also have an office or place in life, one appointed by God. The duties are clearly taught in the Small Catechism.
Luther often called pastoral work: “the preaching office” or Predigtamt. The person called by the Holy Spirit through the congregation has the responsibility to preach the Word of God faithfully. Someone may substitute for him, but he still has the responsibility. The pastor may sign a check (generally not a good idea) or help with the books (also to be avoided) but he is not the treasurer. That is not his office.
This does not keep the members from learning about Christian doctrine, debating Christian doctrine (with the proper attitude toward the norms of the Word and the Confessions), or sharing in the teaching that takes place. But they do not have the office, that is, the responsibility. The responsibility of the preaching office means absolute subordination of pastor to Christ. The phrase we use from The Lutheran Liturgy is: “called and ordained servant of the Word.” It can be seen as a restricting burden or as a joy. Lutheran ministers know that every result of the Word is God’s will, whether apparently good or bad. (We cannot and should not judge.) If he sees preaching as preaching his own personal opinions, or whatever research has shown to be effective, then he is not a servant of the Word and will be damned for his error and for the souls he has destroyed.
"Thus this text also strongly opposes all human doctrine; for since the Word of God is the light in a dark and gloomy place, the conclusion follows that all besides it is darkness. For if there were another light besides the Word, Peter would not have spoken as he did. Therefore look not to how gifted with reason they are who teach any other doctrine--however grandly they set it forth. If you cannot trace God's Word in it, then doubt not that it is mere darkness. And let it not disturb you at all that they say they have the Holy Spirit. How can they have God's Spirit if they do not have His Word? Wherefore they do nothing else but call darkness light and make the light darkness, as the prophet Isaiah says, in Isaiah 5:20."
Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990, p. 248. 2 Peter 1:19.
If the same man told a cleaning crew to clean his house and they painted it purple and pink instead, he would be furious. Yet God tells him to teach the truth and a mere man substitutes his own ideas.
"Paul does not speak of opposing or antagonistic doctrines, but of those placed beside the true doctrine; they are additions, making divisions. Paul calls it a rival doctrine, an addition, an occasion of stumbling, an offense and a byway, when on establishes the conscience upon his own goodness or deeds. Now the Gospel is sensitive, complete and pre-eminent: it must be intolerant of additions and rival teachings."
Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 376. Romans 16:16-17.
The parallel phrase used by Paul is “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Once again, steward is a fine secular word never found in today’s English in the same way. A steward was a household manager.
KJV Luke 16:3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
In that parable we can see that the household manager is supposed to do his job to benefit his lord, or he will be fired. He is being fired, in fact, so he makes friends with the men who owe his master money, so they will hire him. His master sees how clever he is and commends him. It is a strange parable, but we can see in the portrayal of the Lord/steward relationship that the steward is absolutely accountable to the master.
So the term “steward” is fairly obvious. But what are the “mysteries of God.” Some people have tried to create false parallels. This has nothing to do with the mystery religions of paganism. Also, the term mystery is not the same as sacrament. That is, the term is not limited to “sacrament.”
Mysteries apply to everything revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a mystery revealed by God, not something we deduce by math or science or prove with logic. That is why we rely on the Word to convert people rather than reason and logic. A person without faith cannot see or understand the mysteries of God. That is why it is so important that the underling of Christ, the pastor, be a faithful household manager of these mysteries.
Can a pastor say to God, “While you were gone, I decided that evolution was better than Creation, a flow of ice better than the Flood. The 10 Commandments are a burden. I declared them obsolete. I am all Gospel. We are all Gospel. I will give Holy Communion, the sacrament you established through the death of Your Son, to anyone who strolls into my church, whether they believe it or not. God, I have a vision for my congregation. One day it will have 8,000 communicants. 8 THOUSAND. And our parking valet ministry will be known throughout the world.”
You are saying to yourselves, “He is making that up to prove a point.” No, I am stating the open and public confession of a WELS pastor who had the support of the district president, vice president, and the friendship of synodical leaders, even the mission board chairman. No effort was spared to protect his position and keep him in the pulpit. Finally, the members had to say, “You must retract your errors.” He said, “I will resign first.” The congregation responded, “Resignation accepted.” He was not a faithful steward. Nor were the synod officials. The members finally accepted their office, which is to discern the spirits, to judge between sound doctrine and evil doctrine.
Oh well, they got away with it for a long time. And everyone has forgotten. Except One.
"On that day every false teacher will wish that he had never been born and will curse the day when he was inducted into the sacred office of the ministry. On that day we shall see that false teaching is not the trifling and harmless matter that people in our day think it is."
C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 88.
So much is said by Paul about this very subject. He could not be judged by any man. He was not above it all. Ultimately what a minister has done can only be judged by God. Man looks at huge buildings, huge parking lots, and huge budgets, and says, “They are doing well.” God looks at the heart. We cannot do that. We can see certain outward characteristics. For instance, the most successful pastor, in the worldly sense, in Columbus, Ohio, was in the paper. A painter wanted the good reverend to pay for the painting of his mansion. The Pentecostal minister and his father held down the painter and beat him up, according to the news account. That suggests a lack of humility and honesty. But perhaps he will repent before he dies.
On the other hand, someone may be completely orthodox for many years and yet fall away from the faith before dying. Many temptations come along. Probably the obvious sins come after a loss of faith, but the obvious sins end the call. That is why we should not be hasty to judge. Liberals grow into the historic faith and we know many people trained properly fall away completely. I know a pastor who hated all the radical liberal tendencies of the Lutheran Church in America. He joined the LCMS. Then later he joined the United Church of Christ, a group that makes the LCA look staid and hidebound.
At the end, everyone will have his due praise from God. That is another unfair aspect of the Christian faith. The person who believes in Christ alone for his salvation does not have his sins held against him. They are wiped from the account books by the atoning death of Christ. The believers places all his trust in the great exchange made by Christ, who became sin (while without sin Himself) to give us His righteousness. The believer receives this blessing each and every day. His sins are forgiven and forgotten. God moves all believers to do good works to glorify His name. The motivation to follow God’s will and to do God’s will comes from God alone, yet God will praise believers for being His servants and doing His will, even though tainted by sin. The sin is set aside and the good works are rewarded. That is not fair. God is not fair. He is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
The last verse is a great comfort for those believers who sacrifice a great deal, or endure great hardships, or patiently take on thankless jobs (such as being a mother). Nothing that belongs to God is highly regarded by the world. And yet God will praise these things in the end. He knows and he will reward people. And God will show how little He values what the world esteems. Many Christian paupers will suddenly find the treasure laid up in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt.
"When the time comes that the worldly shall gnash their teeth, they shall witness all the elect and angels saying to God: 'This man has been a faithful minister and teacher. He has proclaimed the saving Word of God to a world of castaways. On yonder earth he was despised, persecuted, and maligned, but he shines now as a star with imperishable luster.'"
C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 402. Daniel 12:3.
This does not apply to pastors alone, but to all believers who have endured hardships because of the Word and have faithfully served in whatever office God has given them.