Christian Leadership

I Corinthians 4

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2023

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. (I Corinthians 4:1-5 ESV)

Today, we come to an important passage on Christian leadership.  We are going to talk about Christian leaders.  The world is in desperate need of good leaders.  This passage raises a bunch of questions.

What is a leader?  The biblical definition is radically different from the secular definition.  Leaders in the church should look different than leaders in the world.

What is a leader?  What makes a good leader?  What does a successful leader look like? What does a successful ministry look like?

What does a failure in ministry look like?  How are leaders evaluated?  This section deals with judging pastors.  It deals with judging preachers.

It tells us how to respond when people criticize you.  It tells you how to respond when your leadership comes under attack.

The first five verses tell us how to think about leaders.  They begin with the words, “This is how you ought to regard us” (I Corinthians 4:1 NIV).

This is how you are to think about the Apostle Paul.  This is how you are to think about your pastor.  This is how you are to think about your elders.  This is how you are to think about the leaders in your church.

Today, we are going to look at three qualities of leaders from this passage.  Some may say, “What does this have to do with me?  I am not a pastor.”  There is more than one way to lead or have influence over someone.

You can lead a home.  You can lead a family.  You can lead a small group.  You can have leadership roles at work or in the community but, even if you do not lead anyone directly, these three qualities are true of every Christian.

Three Qualities of Leaders

1. Leaders SERVE

The first quality of leaders is that they are servants.  This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ (I Corinthians 4:1 NIV).  True leading is serving.  That is radically different from what we see in society.  Christian leaders are to be servants.

There are different Greek words for “servant” in the NT.  The two main words are δοῦλος and διάκονος.  We get out word “deacon” from διάκονος.

Paul said, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants (διάκονος), through whom you came to believe” (II Corinthians 3:5 NIV).

Paul calls himself “a minister (διάκονος) of the new covenant” (II Corinthians 3:6)

Paul begins the Book of Romans with the words, “Paul, a servant (δοῦλος) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1 NIV).

Jesus said, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24 NIV).  The main word for slave in Greek is δοῦλος.

In I Corinthians 4, Paul uses a different word for servant.  It is not the normal word for servant.  The word used in I Corinthians 4:1 is ὑπηρέτας. It is used of anyone under the authority of another (cf. Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54, 65).

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants (ὑπηρέτας) would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36 NIV)

Now, that does not sound very glamorous.  The first thing Paul says about Christian leaders is that they are servants.

What do we know about servants? They are people who are owned by another person.

They cannot do their own thing.  They cannot do their own will.  They do the will of another.  They belong to someone else.  They cannot make independent choices about their life.

They don’t go around barking out orders.  They are under orders.  The term “servant” implies subordination.

Real ministers are servants.  They are servants of Christ.  Now, not every pastor acts like a real servant.  Some want others to serve them.  It is all about them.

Many pastors do not act like servants but dictators.  They lord it over the flock (I Peter 5:2).  They are not humble servants but tyrants.  Beware of these types of leaders.

The world’s leaders are different from God’s leaders.  God’s leaders are servant leaders.  That is a completely different style of leadership.

In the traditional pyramid of leadership, the person at the top is the boss, or the CEO.  Upper management is at the top.

The president of the company is at the top.  Employees are at the bottom.  That is the hierarchical leadership structure.

In the Bible, we see an inverted pyramid.  The leaders are not at the top but at the bottom.  They are the servants.  They put other people first.  They lead by example.

Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26 NIV).  To be great in the kingdom, you must be a servant.

He said, “whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28 NIV)

This is a message that is relevant today.  Just a few days ago, I read a news article about a pastor of a mega church in Tennessee who resigned.  I was reading the article to find out why.

I expected it to be because of some major moral problem, like running off with the secretary.  Instead, I found out that he resigned because of an unhealthy leadership style.

You say, “I am not a leader.”  You may not be, but all Christians are servants.  We are servants of Christ.  He is our Master.

He bought us with His own blood.  He owns us.  We will see this in I Corinthians 6.  Paul says that our body is not even our own.

This is completely counter cultural.  The world says that slavery is bad.  Human slavery is bad but slavery to God is good.

One of the greatest titles anyone can give you is that you are a servant of the living God.  That does not lead to bondage but freedom.

It is not done against your will.  People choose to become Christians.  They accept the gospel and believe.

2. Leaders MANAGE

That is the second thing that Paul says about Christian leaders is that they are stewards.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ AND stewards of the mysteries of God (I Corinthians 4:1 ESV).

What is a steward?  A steward is someone who is entrusted with something of value.  It is someone who is entrusted with something which belongs, not to them but to someone else, and the steward is to take care of it.

A steward is a position of trust.  It is a position of responsibility.  Servants do not have a special position, but stewards do.

That raises two important questions.  What has God entrusted to us?  What have we done with what God has entrusted to us?  We are entrusted with all kinds of things by God.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (I Corinthians 4:7 NIV).

We are entrusted with a body.  We are entrusted by God with a mind.  We are entrusted with gifts, talents and abilities.  We are entrusted with financial resources.  What are we doing with it?

We are given other things as well.  We are given revelation.  We are given the Bible.  Paul says, we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

The Mysteries of God

What is that talking about?  All of the gospel centered churches (e.g., J.D. Greear) say that this is talking about the gospel.  That is part of it, but Paul does not say “mystery” (singular).  He says “mysteries” (plural).  What are some of the things that Paul calls a mystery?

1) Jesus is a mystery.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2 NIV)

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3 NIV)

2) The Gospel is a mystery

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19 NIV)

3) The church is a mystery

The relationship of Christ to the church is called a mystery (Ephesians 5:32).  The idea of a church made up of Jew and Gentile in one body is called a mystery (Ephesians 3:6).  That was not revealed in the OT.  Paul said that it was kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints (Colossians 1:27).

4) The rapture is a mystery

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed (I Corinthians 15:51 NIV)

Prophecy is a mystery.  It deals with future events.  There are several mysteries in the Book of Revelation.  There are many mysteries in the Bible.

What is the common denominator?   What do all of these mysteries have in common?  They are all revealed.  They are all in God’s Word.  It is our job to share these mysteries with others, not keep them to ourselves.


Leaders are accountable to Jesus.  They are going to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  We will all stand before this judgment seat.

Paul said so but leaders will have a stricter judgment than non-leaders.  They will have greater accountability before God.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIV).

That is a terrifying verse for every pastor and for every Sunday School teacher.  It is a warning for every Bible teacher.  To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48)

How will leaders be judged.  Paul said, “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2 NIV).

What is God looking for? Faithfulness. What makes a great ministry?  Faithfulness

It is not intelligence.  It is not education.  It is not fame.  Some leaders have big names.  Everyone knows who they are.

It is not success.  You don’t have to pastor a mega church to be successful in God’s eyes.  It is faithfulness.

We see that in the Parable of the Talents.  God gave one servant five thousand dollars.  He gave one servant three thousand dollars.  He gave another servant one thousand dollars.  he gave the4m a job to do. He told them to make good use of that money.

Then, there was an accounting.  He met up with each one and said, “How did you do with what I gave you?”  What did He say to the servants who did what He asked them to do?  “Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant!” (Matthew 25:21, 23)

Applications for Today

What are the applications for us?  There are three important applications that come right out of this passage.

1) Are we faithful to Christ?

All of us are stewards of something.  We have all been given something.  Are we faithful with what we have been given?  Are we faithful with what God has called us to do?

Are we faithful to the ministry He has given us?  Are we faithful with all of the things that God has entrusted to us?  Are we faithful, day after day and year after year?

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (I Peter 4:10 NIV)

There are many who are not faithful.  Some come to church only twice a year (Easter and Christmas).  One pastor used to say to those type of people on Easter, “See you at Christmas.”

There are many leaders who are not faithful.  They do not faithfully teach the Word.  Some start out their ministry great but end it in scandal and disgrace.

God is looking for faithfulness.  The world is looking for that as well.  Employers look for that.  They look for people who come to work every day and do their job.

Christians are to be faithful.  In fact, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells us to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10)

2) Do we respond properly to criticism?

One thing that all leaders face is criticism.  It comes with the territory.  No matter what they do, they will be criticized.  Not everyone will be happy.  You can never please everyone.

If you can’t deal with criticism, never be a leader.  How do you respond to criticism?  No one likes it but you can actually learn a lot from your critics.

A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool. (Proverbs 17:10 NLT)

Even the Apostle Paul was criticized in his day.  Many in Paul’s day criticized him.  They said that he was not a real apostle.  He was not one of the Twelve.  He did not follow Jesus around for three years, see His miracles and hear His teaching.

You can learn from your critics, but you should not let what they say bother you.  Paul didn’t care what other people thought of his ministry. 

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. (I Corinthians 4:3 NIV)

Paul didn’t care what other people thought of him.  He didn’t care what the government thought of him or what other Christians thought of him.

He didn’t even care what he thought of himself.  He only cared what the Lord thought of him.

Are we obsessed with what other people think of us?  Are we people pleasers?

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NIV)

3) Do we judge other Christians?

One of the biggest problems with Christians today is that they are always judging people.  There are some really judgmental Christians.  There are some big critics in church.

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.

We need to be careful about going around and judging another Christian.  Paul talks about this in Romans.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. (Romans 14:4 NIV).

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1 NIV)

Is All Judgment Wrong?

How many times have you heard people say, “Don’t judge.”  Jesus said, “Don’t judge.”  He said, “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV).  This is  favorite bible verse.  Atheists love this verse.  “Don’t judge.”

Paul said, “Don’t judge.”  Paul said, “Judge NOTHING before the time” (I Corinthians 4:5 NIV)

Is all judging wrong?  No.  Jesus did not say that.  Paul did not say that.  It is the danger of taking verses out of context.

It is the danger of reading only half of the Bible.  That is what many people do.  That is what many non-Christians do but many Christians do it as well.

Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV).  That sounds final.  Don’t judge and yet in this same passage He talks about judging other people.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NIV).

Jesus says to look out for false prophets who don’t look like false prophets.  You have to identify them.  That requires judgment.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5 NIV)

Here, Jesus says it is okay to judge your brother if you are trying to legitimately help him, once you first judge yourself.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24 NIV)

Paul said, “Judge NOTHING before the time” (I Corinthians 4:5 NIV).  That sounds like an absolute prohibition.  Nothing means nothing or are we allowed to judge some things?

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about ALL THINGS (I Corinthians 2:15 NIV)

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? ARE YOU NOT TO JUDGE THOSE INSIDE? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13 NIV)

There are clearly some things we are to judge as Christians and there are some things we are not to judge.  How do we distinguish the two?

There is a big difference between judging and being judgmental.  There is a difference between discerning right from wrong and hypocritical, self-righteous judgment.

The first involves basic discernment.  The second involves being part of the sin police.  Often, those judges are guilty of the same sins they are so passionately condemning.

There is a difference between judging actions and judging motives.  We can only judge actions.  Only God can judge motives.  He is the only one who can judge hearts.  We can’t speculate about motives.

God searches hearts.  He is the only one with all of the facts. God sees everything.  He hears everything.  He knows everything.  He is omniscient.  He is all-knowing.

He will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. (I Corinthians 4:5 NIV)



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