The Accountability of the Preacher
1So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
6Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 7For 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?
8Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
18Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?
This message was given by Ray at the 1st Congress on the Bible in San Diego.
Thank you very much. I too am sorry that we don't have more time to cover what I think is an extremely important subject, and one that takes a good deal more time than what we have had to allot to it. But if I can just stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, and get you started, there are tremendous things that can be done by a deep commitment of the will to become a preacher, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. That's what we're called to do.
I mentioned yesterday and the day before that we publish our messages every week. They come in this form; they are printed; the message that is delivered one Sunday will be in the racks in our church entrance on the next Sunday. And so people are used to picking them up. And then we mail these out all over the world to those who ask to be on our mailing list. I meant to bring along a tablet and circulate it; if someone would loan me a couple of sheets of paper to start one on each side I would appreciate it. And just let people fill out their names and addresses if you'd like to be on this mailing list. There is no set fee for doing so, though at the first mailing you will receive an explanatory mailing informing you of what the costs are to us, and inviting you to give as the Lord lays on your heart. We make it perfectly freewill, and those who can't afford to do so are welcome to receive them anyhow. In the first mailing you will receive a catalog of all the back messages, and then you are welcome to order those as you like. This one I have up here -- and I'll leave these up here for you to look over at the end of the series today -- for the most part there is a brief 5-message series on Psalm 77, and then there are some of the messages that were delivered on 1 Timothy, including that very knotty problem about women's ministry, called "Adam's rib or women's lib?" and you can pick that up too if you like. So after people have looked at them if you'd like to have them you are welcome.
This hour I want to go back to the passage with which we originally began, which as I said has been to me a great guideline on the ministry. In the 4th chapter of 1 Corinthians the apostle is describing his own ministry. Now you could hardly ask for a better model of a preacher and teacher than the apostle Paul. The impact of that remarkable ministry is with us yet today. This is the man who in the providence of God and in the grace of God has changed history in every generation since he lived. And he did it by the power of the message that he spoke. This is that secret and hidden wisdom of God, which contains within it the lost secrets of our humanity. These truths when known by and practiced by men and women will bring them out of their brokenness and fragmentation and hurt and emptiness, into wholeness of life, and fulfill or produce the intended glory of humanity. Now I believe that with all my heart. I believe this is the business of the church -- to instruct the minds of the people, first of all by the preaching and teaching of the word as to what these secrets are -- God's view of life -- because God's view is reality. And when you begin live biblically, you may for the first time begin to deal with life realistically. It is the world that is confused and following pipe dreams and illusions, and not even knowing their illusions. And it is the business of the preacher to so understand the scriptures under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and by diligent effort in his own study to be able to impart to the people the truths that will dispel the illusions and produce fruitful humanity.
This is a confused age in which we live, you know that. Somebody has well said, "If you're not confused today, then you're not thinking clearly." And how do you get people to thinking clearly? Well, by getting them to think like God thinks! He is the ultimate realist; he never deceives himself or anyone else. He always deals absolutely realistically with everything. That's why therefore the business of preaching is such an important calling -- because it is correcting all the confusion and the illusion around about us.
Now we looked in the passage at two words the apostle uses to describe the ministry: servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. And in our first study we tried to explore what is meant by a steward of the mysteries of God. I've just briefly reviewed what we said along that line. Now I'd like to turn to the first of the words which I will handle secondly in order, as the apostle himself does in this passage: servants of Christ. If the steward, and what the apostle says about that is discussing the responsibility of a preacher or teacher, then the word "servant" which he employs is discussing the accountability of a preacher or teacher: whom does he answer to? Who is responsible for him?
Now as many of you know I'm sure, the word that is employed here is a rather infrequently used word, it is not doulos (or douloi in the plural), a bondslave, but it is the word huperetes, the under-rower. It derives its meaning from the military life of the Roman empire, notably the warships, the war galleys of the Romans, which as we're told in that ancient world had a low deck just a foot or so above the water, and there were the seats of the rowers, the slaves, who were for the most part chained to their seats. They were impressed into servitude, many of them educated people, captives who had been taken by the Roman armies. If you've seen the picture -- isn't it "The Robe?" -- you have a vivid description of Ben Hur who served as such an oarsman. And then in a slightly raised deck at the prow of the ship where every rower could see him was the director, or the captain. And it was he who gave orders to the rowers. And they had to instantly obey his orders because this was a warship. They couldn't depend on the winds to maneuver the ship in battle -- they were too uncertain, they didn't blow in the right direction, it took too long to change the sails -- and so in battle they used the oarsmen. And the ship had to stop suddenly, back up even, turn to the right or left, and be very maneuverable. And therefore the duty of the oarsmen was to instantly obey the word of the captain.
Now that is the word that describes a servant of Christ, a preacher or teacher of the word of God. He is to take his orders from the captain, who of course is clearly stated to be Christ, the Lord Jesus himself. He tells us what we are to say. We are not to get it from Time Magazine, although we can use that as illustrative material, we are not to get it from any other source, especially we are not to take it from the secular convictions around us, because they are the very thing we are warned against, the wisdom of the world. Human knowledge, as we saw before, is perfectly acceptable to the believer, and we are encouraged to explore every dimension and every channel of human thought these days, and use it as we will. But how is it put to practical work? That is where wisdom comes in, and human wisdom does not lead men to God. In fact, it leads him to make, as we have ample demonstration on every side today, the most atrocious blunders that result in human misery and degradation and dehumanization and the glutting of our city streets and the polluting of our atmosphere and our rivers and all these things, and the failure to properly distribute food throughout the earth -- that's all the result of human wisdom. And everywhere the word of God challenges the wisdom of the world. It is the business of preaching, you see, to set forth the wisdom of God.
Now, we are to keep our eyes, therefore, upon the captain. And the figure which is employed here is particularly emphasizing the singleness of purpose of a preacher, the one from whom alone he takes his orders. And the apostle now goes on to develop this in the passage that follows. He is writing to these Corinthians who, like everyone else, were anxious to tell him how he should conduct his ministry. When you are dealing with the accountability of a preacher, every one of us has discovered that there are hundreds of volunteers who offer themselves in this capacity. And we have to be aware of that fact, and the apostle even suffered from this phenomenon. And he writes to them these rather startling words: "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you." I imagine that was a very popular verse in Corinth. I imagine that they printed it on little cards and put it up on their refrigerator to remember. Memorize. It is a very small thing, said the apostle, that I should ever be judged by you. No, they must have felt very offended when he wrote this. But he wrote it nevertheless. "Or by any human court." Literally, it is "by man's day." I do not even judge myself, he says. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 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. And then every man will receive his commendation from God."
Now in that passage there are stated clearly four possibilities of judgment of a preacher's ministry and message. The apostle recognizes them, lists them here for us, and they constitute subtle or very open pressures upon him to influence what it is he teaches. I think it very instructive that we have these clearly in mind.
The first one we could call congregational evaluation. That is the pressure upon the preacher. Every congregation has certain methods by which it either covertly or overtly puts pressure on the preacher to change his message. And this he needs to be aware of. Now, as we have seen, Paul's declaration on that is that's at the bottom of my list, he said. I pay least attention to that. It is a very small thing. You know, it is amazing, isn't it, that we listen sometimes to people who are suffering from spiritual malnutrition and indigestion and various other complications and diseases, and expect them to analyze their own problems and prescribe for their own disease. Now no doctor would allow that. A good doctor never listens to the patients' analysis of what's wrong with him. Now he may listen, but he doesn't really give heed to it. He must trust his own superior medical knowledge. Now I grant you that doctors are human beings, and they can make mistakes, and sometimes because doctors do not take adequate time to analyze the patient may be right and the doctor wrong. But in general no doctor expects the patient to analyze the disease. And when we are preaching the word of God -- the healing word to a hurting congregation -- we must not expect the congregation to analyze what it needs. It is God who analyses. That is why Paul says, "It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you."
My good friend and dear friend Stuart Briscoe, whom many of you know -- he's right now up in the Bay Area preaching while I am down here -- pastor of the Elmbrook Church outside of Milwaukee Wisconsin -- has pointed out that there are three major ways by which congregational pressure comes upon the preacher. He calls them adulation, which swells the head, and manipulation, which ties the hands, and opposition which breaks the heart. And I am sure there is no teacher or preacher here who hasn't experienced these.
Adulation, which swells the head. When I was a young preacher in Palo Alto, there was a woman in our congregation, a very remarkable person. She had a fixation on the color purple. She only dressed in purple. I have never seen her in any other color. She had her house painted purple, and she actually dyed her cat purple. And so she was known in our congregation as Mrs Purple. She was a Texan originally, a very outspoken, forthright women; she used to stand up in the meetings of the congregation at times and say, "I am a woman of very few words, but I use them all the time." She did indeed. She was a wealthy woman, and a very generous woman. And for some reason because I blessed her heart in some of my earlier messages she took a liking to me. And she used to feed me a line of propaganda about what a great preacher I was that was very difficult for me to handle. She used to come up to me at the end of a message with tears running down her face -- this was never a put on with her at all. It was always real. But with tears running down her face, she would say, "Oh, Mr Stedman!" (She was the only one in our congregation who ever called me that -- most of them call me Ray, which is fine with me, but she called me Mr Stedman.) "Oh, Mr Stedman! You can make the truth so simple, and so clear. What a marvelous preacher you are!" And I just took that all in. I thought it was wonderful. I had forgotten that there was a doctor in our congregation that I used to play golf with. And one day I asked him. "Doc," I said, "What is the most remarkable thing that you have ever discovered about the human anatomy in your medical practice?" And I've never forgotten his words -- I didn't expect them. He said, "Well, the most remarkable thing I've ever discovered is that when you pat it on the back the head swells up." And I am afraid this happened to me. Now what made it more difficult was that this woman had several very pronounced opinions about the Scriptures. She didn't like the theme of death at all. She was one of those people who ran from the word death. She didn't want death talked about, she didn't want any references to funerals or burials or any form of dying or death. She was a relatively young Christian, and many suffer from that. And I found myself finally paying heed to that. I found myself downplaying the themes of death when I came to them in the Scripture, and passing over them lightly and saying very little about death. She didn't like pain or suffering, and I found myself on occasion watering down passages that dealt with the fact that Christian were called to suffer, for her sake. Until the Lord brought them to my attention and I felt deeply convicted. I think the passage that set me free was reading in the book of Galatians where the apostle says, "If you then are a pleaser of men, then you are no longer a servant of Christ." And dealing with that I had to face the fact that I could not temper my message because of the adulation of this dear woman. And I began to preach, and she didn't like some of it, and she told me about it, but God also used those very messages to change her mind about these themes. And by the end of her life she had a totally different view of death and suffering.
Now there is adulation that swells the head, and there is manipulation that ties the hands. Every preacher, especially every young preacher, knows that in every congregation there is a built in power structure. And it isn't always the official board. There are unofficial leaders and bosses in church congregations who know how either by open threat or by subtle implication to manipulate a preacher, to get him to change his message, or avoid certain themes, or to come on strong with a certain program. They are very good at it. I don't want to be misunderstood here. Preachers are not to be bosses, to be kings over their congregations. They are not to be the only ones who consider what is preached -- elders are charged with that responsibility as well. And there is a team play in the congregation that is very important and very biblical, where the pastors and elders together are to be continually seeking the mind of the Lord. If I were to put my finger on what I would say is the greatest weakness of the church in the world today, it would be the loss of the sense of the immediate headship of Christ in the local congregation. We think of Jesus as head of the church at large, but it is very rarely that you run up against a church in which the board, the elders, or leaders of the church really think that Jesus in in their midst directing the activities and programs of that church. Oh, we all pay lip service to that. But to really expect him to give leadership, to answer questions, to open doors -- that's a missing element in most congregations. But that's what you read in the book of Acts everywhere you turn, isn't it? The leadership, the overall strategy, the direction of the church, came from the Spirit: "The Spirit said to the church at Antioch, Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them." Now that is proper. But there can also be a lot of improper manipulating, of pressure put upon pastors and elders alike to follow traditional roles. Just like in the Lord's days, the community of God is in the grip of much tradition that people don't recognize as such, and are controlled by, which, as Jesus said of the tradition of his day, substitutes itself for the direction of God. He said, "You set aside the commands of God and teach in their place the traditions of man." Now every church board and every pastor must be continually examining what the church does as to whether it is tradition or biblical. And whether the tradition is one which reflects biblical principles or not. Not all traditions are wrong. Tradition in itself is not wrong. But it needs to be constantly evaluated. And the pastor must be aware of this tendency on the part of people who instinctively believe that the way they were brought up is the proper way to run a church. Now we all suffer from that. And he has to be very gentle and understanding when he deals with that kind of a problem. But he must not allow himself to be manipulated by those who rest upon tradition alone.
And then there is opposition which breaks the heart. I want to tell you as I have traveled around this country and in many countries of the world everywhere I go I run into wonderful, splendid young preachers whose hearts are broken, who have been turned aside from a most promising ministry by the callous, cruel treatment they have received in the churches that have called thme. I run into them all the time -- last week I met a young man who said, "What would you do if you were in my place? What would you do if your elders called you in and said to you, 'Look, you've been here a year now. And we like a lot of your preaching, but there are a couple of things we would like you to understand. First, we want you to know this is our church, it is not yours. We were here before you came, and we are going to be here when you leave. And some of the things you are suggesting based upon the Scriptures are not what we appreciate. We don't want them. And this is our church, and you have to adjust to us, and not we to you.'" That's what they said. And furthermore they said, "We hired you to do the preaching here. You are our employee, and you take directions from us as to what you do or say in your official capacity as a pastor." Now, he said, "What would you say to them?"
Well, I said, I'll tell you what I'd do. I would invite them, I would say, "Fellows, we are going to have a board meeting next Thursday night, whenever it would be. And would you please bring your Bibles with you -- we're going to have a Bible study before the meeting begins." And when the meeting started, I said to him, I would take the Bible and say to them, "Now I have been told that this church belongs to you men. You were here before I came. Now I want you to open your Bibles and find where it says the church belongs to the congregation or the elders. Because I'd like to show you a verse where Jesus says, 'On this rock, I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.'" And it will be impossible for us to function together until we understand this church is neither yours nor mine; it belongs to the Lord Jesus. He has the right to tell us how to function, what to believe, how to operate in various ways; he has sent the apostles to tell us that our business is to study this word and find out. (My heart said Hallelujah last night when Ed Hill was telling us in that powerful way of his that he took his church and sat down with the book, and they went through the book together.) And furthermore I said, "I would tell them, look. We need to get another thing clear. According to the Scriptures a minister is not the hired employee of a church. Now I don't care what the IRS says. A minister is not the hired employee -- he is a brother who has come to share together in the ministry with them. And as brothers they all have input, all the leaders together, following the direction of the Lord. But we must never forget that the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 23 verse 8 said to his disciples, "All you are brothers and only one is your master." You see, the idea that is widespread today that the pastor has a unique kind of authority in the church is not biblical. "One is your master; all you are brothers. " And it is very important to establish these. Well, he said, "If I did that, they would fire me!" And I said, "That may well be true. You could very well lose this church over that. You need to say it graciously, you need to say it gently, you need to say it lovingly, you need to say, "I love this church, I love you men, I have enjoyed being with you this year, I want to continue. But until we understand the basis on which the Lord himself establishes it, we can't work together." And you must draw that line as a servant of Christ, you see.
Well, he did. He went back and told them and they fired him. But he got another church just a few weeks later, and it's flourishing and growing and abundantly manifesting the power and grace of God. So there's congregational evaluation; Paul puts it at the bottom of the list. And he says, "It is a very small thing with me." Not because their opinion was not important to him, he always listened to people -- in chapter 9 of this very letter, he says, "This is my response to those who would examine me." And he gives a very gracious answer to their challenges and their problems. But he says, "They do not ultimately determine what I am going to do or say."
Then there is what he lists as man's day, or what we would call societal evaluation. Here is another subtle pressure upon the preacher: Society, the opinion of the community in which you live. It is amazing to watch the media today and see how evangelical preachers appear in the media. It is very rare that you find any approval. It is almost always either a kind of contempt, a thinly veiled disdain of them, or occasionally a kind of gentle toleration of them, as the village idiots. You know, you don't attack an idiot, you just treat him nicely and quietly and let him go his way. And most protestant evangelicals appear in the media in that capacity. It's either that, or there is sometimes an overblown patronizing, a lifting up, an exalting of the highest sort, making much over an individual. And occasionally you find religious figures in our country today that are treated like that. But both are the weapon of the enemy to try to destroy, and bend, and shift the preaching of the pastor. They are both an attempt to manipulate, and it is a subtle attempt. All of us feel it. We want to be known, we want to be respected, we want to be honored, and it is not wrong necessarily to feel that way. When James and John came to our Lord and asked for positions of power one at the right hand and one at the left hand, he never rebuked them for their desire -- but he told them God's way of giving it to you will not be at all what you expect; he's going to do something that you won't like. He will fulfill your request, but not in the way you think. And therefore we need to be very much aware of the subtleties of desire for position, fame, influence with others, recognition by worldly standards.
You know I became sensitive to this to the point that I can't do what many preachers do and stand at the door as my congregation goes out. Because everybody comes out and says what a wonderful person you are, what a great preacher you are, and all this stuff -- and I found that's too hard to handle. I don't think it would bother me as much now, but when I was a young preacher it did. And I finally just said, "I'm not going to do that any more -- I will stand up in front, and if people want to talk to me I'm there and available and we can sit down and talk at length, but this automatically, mechanically passing on to a preacher words that flatter him but don't mean anything I think is a very dangerous practice."
So there is man's judgment, man's day. And the apostle says there is a third level of judgment. "I do not even judge myself. I'm not aware of anything against myself," he says, "I've judged everything I know; I've faced in my life what the Spirit of God has shown me to be wrong." This is why the apostle always says that he considers himself blameless. Now a blameless person doesn't mean a sinless person, because none of us would be blameless under that measure, even the apostle Paul. What it means is somebody has handled his sin biblically. He has confessed, he has received the forgiveness of God. And therefore he is blameless. And this was the apostle's position about himself. He said that he was aware of failures, times in his ministry when he felt like he was weak, and trembling and fearful. He tells us this openly. He says, "When I was in Asia I went through an experience that so crushed me and discouraged me and defeated me I felt I had received the sentence of death."
How many pastors today ever confess to their congregation that they are sorely tried, sorely tempted. At the beginning of our body life services, a dozen years ago, I remember trying to introduce the idea of admitting failure among us as saints, that we might pray for one another, and bear one another's burdens. And we found it very difficult to get people to do that. No one wanted to confess they were struggling in any area even though we knew many of them were. And someone suggested to me that leadership has to lead. And since I was leading that meeting, I had to start with my failures. At that time we were going through a very hurtful struggle with one of our daughters who had gone away to a Christian college, and had run up against things that had shocked her and disappointed her and she sought out the help of what was called a Christian psychologist who promptly told her that all her problems arose from her evangelical faith -- that her parents were at fault, and her upbringing was at fault, and she came home to us hostile and angry. And we reacted wrongly, and didn't know how to handle it. Things were in distressing turmoil in our home. And I told the congregation, I asked them to pray for me. It was painful, hard to do. I even shared minor things that I had felt. I was up here at forest home staying in a cabin up there, and there was a little coffee server there, a cute little thing. And I thought, "That's a cute little thing -- I could put that in my bag and take it home with me." And then I thought, "Well, that would be stealing, I couldn't do that." But I told the congregation the momentary thought of stealing a coffee server had crossed my mind. Some of them were a bit appalled by that, they didn't think I would do that. But I found it rather profitable, because the next morning there were two boxes on my desk -- and when I opened them up there were two of those coffee servers! My people didn't trust me very far. So that Sunday night I shared how all week long I had been struggling against stealing a color television set. But I have to admit they haven't risen to that level of spiritual life yet. But you know we began to admit that we were having spiritual struggles. A lady stood up and said, " I wish you would pray for me and my husband, we haven't spoken to each other all week." And I said, "How many other couples have had that problem this week?" And a half dozen hands went up. And then she saw this, and she was encouraged by it. And then she said, "I'll tell you what the trouble is too. He won't pick up his socks. He leaves them laying all over the house, and I have to pick them up after him." I said, "How many other wives have husbands who won't pick up their socks?" A hundred hands went up. We began to pray about the couples that had lost communication like that.
Now you see Paul confessed his failures, his problems, his pressures, his struggles. And he says, "I don't know anything against myself. But I'm not acquitted thereby. I don't see deeply enough, I don't see clearly enough. There may be things I'm doing wrong right now I'm not aware of." Some of us having breakfast this morning were looking back over our ministries, and saying that, how we see so clearly now the ignorance that we had way back at the beginning, the things we didn't see then and did that were hurtful to others, that now we recognize were wrong, but we didn't know it then. And so you see no pastor is able to judge himself, either to the degree of his failures or the degree of his successes. We can't pronounce judgment in this area, and it is a mistake to try to do so. Our tendency is to cover over all the failures and only look at the successes. You remember the young preacher who after an especially blessed Sunday, when he felt the Spirit had just poured out an anointing upon him, and the whole congregation was moved by his message. He was driving home afterwards with his wife, and thinking through the service. He turned to her and said, "I wonder how many great preachers there are in the world." And her answer was very perceptive. "One less than you think." We can't, you see, judge ourselves in this.
But, says the apostle, there is a fourth level here. "It is the Lord who judges me." Now notice there is a very subtle shift here in this passage. He says, "It is the Lord who judges." It is the present, indicative, active. He is NOW judging me. And all of us know that this is an experience we've all gone through, those time that we are aware, as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to some of the things we have done, and encourages us with some of the things we think are failures. The Lord opens our eyes, and encourages us by sending someone to us with a word of blessing when we didn't expect it. Or we sense the subtle pressure of the Spirit to look again at something that we thought was a success, and we see that we hurt somebody, or that we exalted ourselves, our motive was wrong. And I'm sure if we threw this open for testimony, many could testify to those experiences. Now that's what Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, remember, calls "the judging of the Lord." If we would judge ourselves, he says, as God shows these things to us we would not be judged with the world. But if we don't judge ourselves, the Lord often sends trials, sometimes illnesses, chastenings into our life, to help us to see ourselves. So in one sense there is a judging of the Lord going on all through our present experience. And how helpful it is. Perhaps in this very Congress many of you have felt that judging touch. It's always gentle, it's always understanding, it's always affirmative. That is, it never crushes us or condemns us without a word of support and encouragement. But it's there, and we ought to listen to it.
But there's still another level. That is the final judgment. And Paul goes on to speak of it. "Therefore do not pronounce judgment -- any of these levels of judgment, don't take it seriously and ultimately except the Lord's -- before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart." And then he adds an encouraging word: "Then everyone will receive commendation from God." You see the judgment seat of Christ of which he speaks in other passages is for believers. But it's not just a time of condemnation; it's also a time of commendation. And in that day he's going to settle all the problems, and all the issues, and as it were take us back and walk back through all the experiences of our life, and just comment on everything that he wants to bring to our attention, and tell us what he thought of it. I'm sure there are experiences -- I know in my own life there are experiences which I'll be eager for him to see: Oh Lord, remember when I took that couple into my home who were destitute and depressed and gave them a good meal and fed them and clothed them and sent them out? Lord, let's take a look at that! And he'll take a look at it and say, Hmm. Why did you do that? And I won't be able to kid me or him at that point. I'll have to say, Well, it was to make myself feel good, Lord. And I remember how I was sure the rest of the people on the staff knew about it, so that I'd get approval. And he'd say, Right. And you've had your reward. Now let's go on to something else.
And there may be those times when I just hope he won't look at something. "Oh, what a failure that was, what a mess I made of that! Lord, could we walk on by that one?" No, he'll say, that's the one I want to look at. You know you thought you were a failure. But that was the very moment --- I can introduce to you 10 people whose lives were changed by that moment that you've never known about until now. That's the judgment seat of Christ: the evaluation of our Lord of what's been going on.
Now I want to conclude by bringing this to bear on the general thrust of the apostle's message here. You see, he's talking about our preaching ministry, our faithfulness as stewards of the mysteries of God; how well we did in the area of proclaiming the truth. And in this connection I always think of an incident told to me by my dear patron saint, Dr H.A. Ironside, long time pastor of the great Moody Church in Chicago. I had the privilege as a young man of knowing Dr Ironside very well, and in fact being invited by him to travel with him as his chauffeur, secretary, and companion, during what proved to be the last summer of his life, the summer of 1950, just before I went to Palo Alto to begin my ministry there. And we drove all over the east coast, and into the west, and I had opportunity for long talks with Dr Ironside. And he'd tell me a lot of very helpful things. He was a delightful raconteur of stories. And I think without a doubt he was probably the world's fastest eater. I haven't checked it in the Guinness book of records, but I think he probably could have held the record. When we'd go into a restaurant and order a meal, and they'd serve us at the same time, while I was getting my knife and fork arranged, and my napkin unfolded and on my lap, he'd be through. And then he'd sit there and he'd tell me stories that would break me up so I could hardly eat at times, or melt me in tears.
And one of them I remember very vividly. He told me when he was a boy here in Los Angeles, 14 years of age, he began to preach on the streets. But he got a job as a helper to a shoemaker -- cobblers, they called them then. And all shoes were made in little shops. Each man made his own pair. And he got a job with a believer, a wonderful, godly man, whose name was Dan. And it was young Harry Ironside's task to take leather which had been soaked all night in a tub of water to toughen it, and then take it on an iron anvil and with a wooden mallet beat the water out of the leather. And by that process so toughen it and yet soften it so that it was both pliable and enduring. And then the shoes would be made from it. But it was a tedious task -- just endlessly beating at leather until all the water was gone. And what made it even more difficult was that just a few doors down the street was another cobbler's shop run by a very godless man, a blasphemous, profane man. And one day Harry Ironside walking by noticed that this man didn't bother to beat the water out of the leather. He'd pick the leather up out of the tub and cut out a piece, and nail it on the shoe with the water splashing in every direction. And one day Harry ventured to stop, and said to him, "Sir, you know I work down the street at Dan's shop, and I noticed that you don't bother to beat the water out of your leather. Why is that?" And he said the man gave him a rather evil wink, and said to him, "Ah, they come back all the quicker this way." So Harry Ironside went back to his shop and he said to his employer, "Sir, why do we do this? It's such a hard job to beat all this water out, it takes so long! And the man down the street says if you just take it out you can put it on the shoe and the customers will all come back quicker this way." Well, he said the old man looked at him. And he didn't say a word. He just took off his apron, and he took him by the hand, led him over to a bench and sat him down. And he said, "Harry, I apologize to you for not having told you more fully what is involved. But you know, son, I expect to see every pair of shoes I've ever made in a big pile at the judgment seat of Christ. And I expect the Lord to take those shoes and go through every one, and examine the work I did. And then I expect, I imagine oftentimes, he'll take one and he'll look at me and say, "Dan, that's not up to par. You didn't do a very good job there." But others, he'll encourage me by saying, "Dan, that was a splendid job." You know, when I make shoes, I keep remembering that. And I want to so make shoes that every shoe I make will pass the judgment of the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ."
Harry Ironside said, "I've never forgotten that. And I resolved in my own heart that every sermon I preach will be able to pass the judgment of my Lord." I've never forgotten that story either. I think all my sermon notes and perhaps videotapes of how I've delivered them are going to be stacked up beside the judgment seat of Christ. And there the Lord is going to go through them and say to me, "Ray, you didn't do so well on this. You shirked your preparation time. You didn't really grasp this passage, did you?" And I'll have to say, Yes, Lord, you know all things. But what I really pray for, and what I really want, and what motivates my heart deeply, is that every message I preach in fear and trembling, with the realization of the poor human vessel the Lord has to work with will nevertheless pass the judgment of the Lord because I depend both in the preparation and the delivery on the Spirit of the living God and am willing to work at it until I understand what he has to say.
Now I think that's what the apostle Paul is talking about. That's the accountability of a preacher. As under-rowers of Christ, obedient to what the captain says, we do our work in view of the judgment seat of Christ.
Well, may God bless you as you go back to your work and to your ministry. And I hope this has proved of some help to you in getting ready to preach. Anybody have any questions you'd like to ask before we dismiss?
Does the Scripture 1 Corinthians 12:28 indicate that the gift of a pastor/teacher is a higher or more important gift than those listed later on in the verse. 1 Corinthians 12:28: And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various types of tongues. My answer would be that I do not think these are listed in order of importance, but rather in order of appearance in history. The historical occurrence of these. First were sent the apostles, they had to initiate the founding of the church. Then came the prophets such as you find at the church in Antioch, who came along and spoke the word of God interpreting it to them. And this was followed by teachers, because it is the work of the teacher to explain the word of the prophet. And then in turn there come the workers of miracles and so on. So that these are not listed in order of importance. And judging on what else is said in 1 Corinthians 12, we are not to rank gifts in order of importance, other than the ranking which the apostle gives which seems to put the gift of prophesying as that must useful within the church. But remember he said the eye cannot say to the foot I have no need of you. We cannot disregard the weaker members, but as he puts it himself, these weaker members are often treated with a greater sense of honor.
How should we respond to those who are right in their judgment; that is, those who are preaching outside (well, I guess he means those preaching outside the hall here) though it may or may not be done properly without encouragement? Footnote, they are basically saying the church is not doing enough. I haven't been able to stop and even listen to these young people who are preaching outside the hall but I would say that in general I wouldn't try to stop them. I think there is often a kind of zeal without knowledge that is manifested frequently by younger Christians. But I am hesitant even to resist that because our Lord didn't. Remember he sent out the apostles to preach in the cities and villages of Galilee even before they were filled with the Spirit. He sent them out with the knowledge that their attitudes were carnal, their zeal was fleshly, and yet he sent them. Like D.L. Moody said, I'd rather have somebody who's using the gifts he's got even though he doesn't use them rightly than have people who have a great deal of knowledge and doing nothing at all. I wouldn't particularly try to encourage them, I'd seek if I could and had the time an opportunity to become their friends and help them. You never help somebody by just condemnation alone. That's forbidden to us actually in the word of God. But if a brother be overtaken in a fault then let those who are spiritual among you restore him in a spirit of meekness, of gentleness, remembering yourselves along this line.
Could you share some of the errors that you made in your early preaching ministry so we could benefit from your mistakes. Well, that may take a little while. I think one thing, like most young men I came on too severely. My tendency, and I've been taught, I'm afraid, to sort of blast people, and to lay heavy trips on them, and challenge them if they didn't act I was going to resign, and this sort of thing. And I quickly learned that that is not God's way of doing things. That a preacher must lead people. Sheep can be led, but it's hard to drive them. But if we lead them gently they'll respond. But nobody likes to be blasted at. I remember the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples, I have yet many things to say unto you but you cannot bear them yet. You see there's a self restraint on his part in which he knew they were lacking, he knew there were things they needed to learn, but he knew they weren't ready for them yet. And many a pastor has to learn that his people are resisting not because they are trying deliberately to oppose and wreck the work of God but because they need a level of understanding of truth and life before they are ready to act on these things. And this is his business, to make them ready for that.
Our time is gone. Thank you very much for your attention.
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