1 Corinthians 4:1-5: Pastors as the Stewards of God’s Mysteries

Eucharist, Stained Glass (610x350)John the Baptizer was a preacher’s preacher, putting the rest of us pastors to shame.  We fuss and fret over preaching what we know God wants us to preach–all because it might upset some people.  We worry about our livelihood, future, reputation, and status.  But John didn’t worry about that.  He just preached.  He didn’t let those distractions bother him.  And he lost his head because of that.

So, although John was not your usual preacher, he was in many ways a typical follower of Christ.  He, at times, doubted.  John even doubted his own preaching, if you can fathom that.  Later, when John was in prison, feeling depressed, he wondered if what he earlier preached about Jesus being the Messiah was true.  Through a messenger, he asked Jesus: “Are You the Expected One, or should we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19)

John, you identified Jesus as the Messiah!  God had chosen you before your birth to prepare the way for His coming.  So, why did you have to ask?  What has gotten into you?  Surely you know that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Savior?

Well, we can all become confused, even pastors.  But that’s no excuse for a pastor to preach such confusion from the pulpit.  For Jesus has told pastors to preach what He wants them to preach.

Now you may be thinking, “Did Jesus do that?”  Yes, it’s in St. Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus was speaking to His Apostles, preparing them for the future.  And as Jesus was doing that, He said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [my] name” (Luke 24:47).

So, Jesus tells preachers what they are to preach.  That’s why the Holy Spirit doesn’t call a preacher to preach whatever he wants.  The preacher is to preach what Jesus gives him to preach.  Any other preaching is not true preaching; any other preaching is not from God, but from man.

That’s why preachers wear robes and stand in pulpits.  This is not by coincidence; it’s by choice.  It’s designed to minimize the person and, instead, present you with the pastor.  For pastors aren’t here to share their own thoughts, stories, or insights.  They’re here to speak for Christ.  Any pastor who doesn’t do that, as Luther said, should “be chased out [of town] by dogs and pelted with dung” (LC, Preface, 13).

In 2nd Corinthians, we hear that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  It’s immediately after that when Paul, referring to himself and Pastor Timothy, added: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is making his appeal through us.  We plead to you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

An ambassador speaks for someone else.  An ambassador of the United States to a foreign nation speaks for the president.  That’s what an ambassador does.  He’s not authorized to make up what he wants to say.  He is to pass on the President’s view of whatever matter may be on the table.

So it is with a pastor.  He is an ambassador of Christ.  He does what Jesus tells him to do.  Jesus is the boss.  He is the Lord of the Church.  That’s why the pastor answers to Him.  We hear this truth from the Apostle Paul, when he told pastors: “Be on guard for yourselves and all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The Church belongs to God.  She doesn’t belong to herself.  She doesn’t belong to the pastor.  She doesn’t belong to the people.  The Church belongs to the One who bought her with His own blood.  She belongs to the Lord Jesus.

And so it follows that a true minister of Christ, a true pastor, is a steward or manager of God’s Word.  He doesn’t own it.  He may not fold, spindle, or mutilate it as he wishes to shape God’s Word into what he wants it to say.  A steward cares for what belongs to another.

Scripture tells us that a pastor is a steward of God’s mysteries.  He is to administer those mysteries faithfully.  But what are these mysteries of God?  Well, the Apostle doesn’t leave us guessing.  To Pastor Timothy, he wrote: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness.  He was revealed in the flesh, kept righteous in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed in around the world, and taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).  So, the mysteries of God are Christ, faith in Him, salvation through Him, and all the treasures of heaven revealed in Him.

Only by faith can we grasp God’s mysteries.  We can’t grasp them by our intellect or senses.  We can’t appeal to our human reason or intellectual powers.  God reveals His mysteries to His people.  It’s as Jesus prayed in Matthew 11:25: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants.”

The word for “mystery” in the original New Testament was translated into the Latin version of the Bible as sacramentum.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  That’s where we get our word “sacrament.”

And, indeed, the sacraments are mysteries.  We can’t understand how water can bring the Holy Spirit.  Yet, Jesus joins His word to that washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).  Jesus promises that this washing is not merely a washing of the body but a cleansing of the soul.  Holy baptism provides us with the forgiveness of sins.  How can this be?  It’s a mystery.

Holy Communion is also a mystery.  How can the bread that we eat be Christ’s body?  How can the wine we drink be Christ’s blood?  We can’t explain it by science or reason.  But God reveals to our faith many truths that we cannot understand.

Yet, the mysteries of God are not just the sacraments.  They are everything that God has revealed to our faith.  Now, it’s true that faith does not reject reason.  But faith does subject our intellect and reason to what God has made know to us.  And so we accept the divine mysteries of God, not because we can figure out how they can be true, but because God reveals them to us.

A pastor is to be faithful in his stewardship.  He does not own the mysteries of God.  They belong to Christ; the pastor is just the steward.  Christ is the true owner.  The pastor, as a steward, manages what belongs to someone else, in this case, God.

So, as a steward of the mysteries of God, what is a pastor obligated to do?  First, he must preach God’s law.  That’s what Jesus meant when He said that repentance is to be preached in His name.  But preaching the Law, preaching that brings someone to repent, is not easy.  People don’t want to hear that.  They would like to hear how marvelous they are, not how they may have turned away from God.

Christians do not have sex outside of marriage, tell lies, steal, harbor hatred against those who do them wrong, get divorced, belittle God’s name, despise His Word, and behave like heathens.  Christians don’t act that way.

But then they do.  And when they do, they aren’t behaving like Christians.  It’s then that pastors (and others Christians) need to tell them that they are sinning and must repent of their sins.  And so to you, I call out: Repent!  Flee from what God’s Word says is wrong.  Turn back to your Lord.

For if you refuse to repent, then that isn’t faith, but rank unbelief ruling your life.  Such willful unbelief that refuses to come clean and turn toward God has turned you away from God.  It’s then that you–yes, you–have fallen away from the faith.

But the law is not the preacher’s main message.  St. John reminds us, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  The central mystery of our faith is the incarnation, sinless life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God.  In Jesus is grace and truth.  In Jesus, you have the forgiveness of all your sins, peace with God, eternal life, and deliverance from all evil.

The steward isn’t faithful if he doesn’t preach Christ.  If he doesn’t preach that Jesus lived and died for you, he isn’t a steward of the mysteries of God.  The pastor must be faithful, for what God has given him to do is for the salvation of others.

He must not baptize unless he is also willing to teach.  He may not give out Christ’s body and blood to those who don’t have the faith to believe what they are receiving.  A pastor is not a spiritual vending machine.  He is a steward responsible for faithfully managing the treasures and mysteries that belong to God.

So, now it’s time for me to come clean.  Every pastor fails in some way or another–and I, too, have failed.  That’s why I need you to do what Jesus did for John the Baptizer.  Jesus encouraged John to hold on to, and believe, what he had preached.  For what John preached was true; it didn’t originate with him.

When you encourage your pastor to be faithful in preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments, that’s also a kindness that you also offer to Jesus.  For doesn’t the pastor have Christ in him just as you do?  Then, as you for the least of His brothers, so also do you do for Christ.  Amen.