1 Corinthians 4.1-21

Title: A Christ-Centered Leader

Text: 1 Cor 4.1-21

Ps 119.18; Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous truths out of your law.

A quick word about my usage of the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’. I was raised to write using masculine pronouns. I mean no offense by simply saying ‘he’ when referring to an individual. I’m talking about leaders today and God calls both men and women to lead. The only position of authority I see where only men serve within the Church is in the role of Pastor/Elder.

I understand clearly from Scripture that women can serve anywhere else in the church. Hear me now, I even understand Scripture referring to women who serve in the official capacity as servants or deacons.

I was planning to focus my Wednesday night study on the area of being a ‘people pleaser’. But, if you would like, I can turn the focus for this WEBS to women in ministry.

So, when I say he or him, only in reference to the role of pastor/elder/bishop/overseer do I mean only men. Otherwise, ladies, if God calls you into a leadership role – this applies to you, too! 2nd, maybe this morning you’d say that you don’t serve in some sort of leadership position within the church. This message is for you, too. In that, you have a responsibility as a member to be careful in selecting people for positions of service. God has organized the body to be served by qualified individuals. You, as a regular member, must be careful before God when putting people in such positions. So, while I may seem to be pointing the finger at Christ-centered leaders, I’m also speaking to the church body as a whole.

We’re right in the middle of a sermon series on The Focus of a Healthy Church. The previous two weeks we focused on Our Blessings and Our Unity. Today, we turn our focus to Our Leaders.

Introduction: When I was a new pastor, I had never been a part of choosing adult leaders, namely deacons. We were in a Business mtg, and before I knew what had happened, the church voted for a man to become a deacon, without vetting him first. A Woman in the church wanted to get her son active in church, so on the spur of the moment, she nominated her son to be a deacon. There was a 2nd and a vote. I couldn’t believe what had just happened in a matter of seconds.

The guy was nice, but deacon material he wasn’t. He didn’t even go to church. His mom had hoped that he would begin attending if he knew he was a deacon. The selection of deacons and elders is an important function of a church. The church should be very careful who she chooses to lead her.

Paul had been concerned for the Corinthians who had divided their loyalties among men, some of whom were not godly men. These men had been leading them astray, they were unfaithful, and their teaching was heretical. Paul warns the Corinthians of the importance of their leaders being godly, Christ-centered men.

And in this section, Paul gives us Five Traits of a Christ-Centered Leader:

I. His Identity is Christ-Centered (1a)

exp.: rd v 1; regard us; servants & stewards

  • He is a servant – of Christ; servant – not διάκονος as in ch. 3; but rather ὑπηρέτης (hypēretēs); Fee: This word originated to describe the slaves who rowed in the lower tier of a trireme. Eventually, it came to be used of any who were in a subservient position, with emphasis on the relationship of one who served a superior. Also, he says of this word, that it is a more general term, but often refers to one who has the duties of administering the affairs of another.
  • He is a steward; οἰκονόμος (oikonomos); this word is more like the word for which we get deacon. This word represents someone with authority and responsibility – He’s not the boss, he just represents the boss; he’s been given the authority of the master’s things.

ill.: The picture we use here was Joseph, son of Jacob; He was still a slave but was given the keys to the house of Potiphar.

app.: A good leader knows who he is in Christ and that he works for Christ. He’s not the boss – he only represents the boss. He manages the affairs of the master’s Household.

t.s.: He takes care of the master’s things. His identity is centered on his Master.

II. His Message is Christ-Centered (1b-2)

exp.: rd v 2; Faithful means:

  1. Faithfulness to the Master. The one in whom he or she finds their identity.
  2. Faithfulness to the Message of the Master; Jn 8.28 Jesus tells his followers that he speaks only what the Father tells him to speak and in Mt 10.20, he teaches them about their witness and words – that those words will come from the Spirit of the Father.

exp.: it really is more complicated than just saying ‘that leaders are faithful to the message’. Mysteries describe so many facets of the Christian life: marriage (Eph), the last days, the church; gentiles joining Jews in the faith, that is being grafted into the body; here, I think Paul is referring to the mystery of the Gospel, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles; Hence, the message of the Gospel.

app.: A good leader is faithful to the message of the gospel; he doesn’t water it down and he doesn’t transform it into something it’s not.

t.s.: which is a great segue for our third trait: His fear

III. His Fear is Christ-Centered (3-5)

exp.: rd v 3-4; In Texas Lingo: I ain’t scairt of nothing.

  • 1st, he doesn’t acquiesce to the pressures of his people; He listens, but it isn’t his all in all; He’s not looking for rewards from his people; his reward comes from the Lord.
  • 2nd, He doesn’t even live by his own standards; why? Because his standards are too low! it’s too easy! We usually make our standards above what others are doing and how they are living, but look at his fear; rd v 5;
  • 3rd, he fears the Lord. This is eschatological; the heart’s intentions will be revealed;

app.: A good leader isn’t swayed by what people think about him or even what he thinks about himself. He knows that Christ is his judge and that one day he will stand before his Master and give an account; and conducts himself accordingly.

t.s.: His Identity, His Message, and His fear are all Christ-Centered. And so is his Life.

IV. His Life is Christ-Centered (6-14)

exp.: He’s applied these things to his life as an example; rd v 6; Phil 3.21; 2 Cor 11.13-15; μετασχηματίζω; Schematic; Apollos and I are patterns or diagrams of these things for you to follow; Rd v 16; μιμητής (mimētēs)

app.: A leader’s life is one to be emulated and imitated because he lives out the gospel w/ his life; and finally…

V. His Discipline is Christ-Centered (14-21)

exp.: rd v 14; The root form of Discipline is Disciple; a disciple is a learner; His Purpose isn’t to shame, but rather correction through teaching them; Rd v rd 15-17; He teaches these things, these ways in every church, everywhere. BTW: I don’t think ‘these things’ applies only to this chapter, but for everything from the beginning of the letter to this point (v6);

app.: a good leader isn’t out to embarrass anyone or shame them, but rather through admonition, to correct them; to guide them in the way of the Lord.  


Conclusion: In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer, a Quaker, tells the story of how God used Palmer’s friends to shape his vocational path in a significant way. Palmer had been offered the opportunity to become the president of a small educational institution. He was certain the job was for him, but he honored the tradition of the Quaker community, which is to call on a dozen trusted friends to engage in a “clearness committee,” a process in which “the group refrains from giving you advice but spends three hours asking you honest, open questions to help you discover your own inner truth.” Palmer writes that the initial questions were all very easy, until someone simply asked, “What would you like most about being a president?”

 He writes: The simplicity of that question loosed me from my head and lowered me into my heart. I remember pondering for at least a full minute before I could respond. Then, very softly and tentatively, I started to speak: “Well, I would not like having to give up my writing and my teaching…. I would not like the politics of the presidency, never knowing who your real friends are…. I would not like having to glad-hand people I do not respect simply because they have money…. I would not…”

Gently but firmly, the person who had posed the question interrupted me: “May I remind you that I asked what you would most like?”

I responded impatiently, “Yes, yes, I’m working my way toward an answer.” Then I resumed my sullen but honest litany. …

Once again, the questioner called me back to the original question. But this time I felt compelled to give the only honest answer I possessed, an answer that came from the very bottom of my barrel, an answer that appalled even me as I spoke it.

“Well,” I said, in the smallest voice I possess, “I guess what I’d like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.”

I was sitting with seasoned Quakers who knew that though my answer was laughable, my mortal soul was clearly at stake! They did not laugh at all but went into a long and serious silence—a silence in which I could only sweat and inwardly groan.

Finally, my questioner broke the silence with a question that cracked all of us up—and cracked me open: “Parker,” he said, “can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?”

By then it was obvious, even to me, that my desire to be president had much more to do with my ego than with the ecology of my life—so obvious that when the clearness committee ended, I called the school and withdrew my name from consideration. Had I taken that job, it would have been very bad for me, and a disaster for the school.

This brings me to my takeaways: Too many men enter a leadership role in the church without a clear understanding of that leadership role. They were unqualified to serve in the capacity in which they were placed – or, they abused the authority entrusted to them. Because of its abuse, two disastrous results have ruined lives.

  1. Many have left the church, and some have even left the faith.
  2. others have shunned the office to which the church needs them to serve.

Men who will not serve as elders. Men & women who will not serve as deacons, teachers, or team members. This really is a shame. The damage is … well, spiritual carnage everywhere! But stop, it doesn’t have to remain that way! We can make changes today! You and I can choose to organize ourselves like God designed the church to be and make sure we put qualified people in places of service.

  1. Let us rise to the challenge to organize ourselves according to the Word of God.
  2. Let us choose leaders to serve in areas where they are gifted and called.
  3. How we should regard ourselves: Scum of the World. (verse 13)

Closing Remarks:

  1. I’m thankful for the men and women who serve us by serving Christ.
  2. I’m thankful for the godly men and women in my life who’ve remained faithful through years of service.
  3. I’m thankful for the men who’ve stood on the Word, even under pressure from the church to change and adapt to the culture or the world.
  4. I’m thankful for men who’ve spoken up and spoken out against clear violations of God’s Word – against ungodliness in the church.

As your pastor, I’d like to begin organizing our congregation for service. Will you pray with me about selecting Men & Women to serve our congregation in various roles? Many are already serving, but we need to organize ourselves.


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Filed under 1 Corinthians, Church Polity, Leadership, Scripture

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