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Third . Sunday of Advent

Stewards of The Mysteries of God

 

Text: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Paul urges the Corinthians not to think of Apollos and Cephas and himself as leaders of certain Christian parties, but to think of them all as servants of Christ. Right away some may wonder who was Apollos? He was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” “fervent in the spirit” and “instructed in the way of the Lord”. You might also wonder who then was Cephas? Cephas was none other than Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter. According to the New Testament, he was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, and a leader of the early Christian Church. The Biblical name Cephas is Aramaic in origin and its meaning is rock. The Roman Catholic Church considers him to be the first pope, ordained by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But Paul is suggesting that they all equally are servants of Christ. In those days a servant was a slave and the Greek word Paul uses, ‘huperetes’ (hew-pre-tease) meant a rower on the lower level of a large ship called a trireme (tri-reem). Some New Testament commentators have presented this as a picture of Christ as the pilot who directs the course of the ship and Paul as the servant who accepts the pilot’s orders and labors only as his Master directs.

Paul presents yet another picture. He thinks of himself and his fellow preachers as stewards of the secrets which God desires to reveal to his people. He tells the Corinthians that Apollos, Cephas and himself are nothing more than “stewards of the mysteries of God.” In those days the steward was the chief servant in a household. The steward was in charge of the whole administration of the house or estate; he controlled the staff; he issued the supplies; but, however much he controlled the household staff, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned.

If we accept Paul’s premise that a presbyter’s role is to reveal the secrets which God wants his people to understand then we must ask ‘how does a presbyter fulfill this obligation?’. ‘The role of the presbyter is to exhort people to obedience to God’s Word by the authority bestowed to them by God. The command of Christ was to make disciples and teach them to obey “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19,20). By exhorting the people to obey, presbyter’s teach them according to the command of Christ. Paul also instructed Timothy, “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2) This was the practice of the early church. Justin Martyr, who lived from 103–165 A.D., said that at Sunday morning gatherings “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the presbyter verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things” (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, 186).

Blake Kidney wrote “The role of a presbyter involves teaching whereby the audience hears the Word of God and is provoked to obey it. In this hearing, the presbyter explains what God desires of His people in such a way that they are able to understand and put it into practice. At times, this may involve precise application, however, this may not always be the case. If the presbyter has explained the Word of God successfully, the people will understand it to such a degree that they will be able to apply it to their life when it becomes applicable. Thus, the presbyter explains and then gives a call, or invitation, to a response–a call to obedience.”

I have a learned collogue who believes that the presbyter should deliver a sermon “as long as time permits”. For him a one hour sermon is barely enough time to get the message across. Studies show that in most cases the normal attention span for adults is approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Attention spans tend to be longer in the mornings and shorter in the evenings, and people often have better attentiveness when it comes to things that interest them. An alternative approach to delivering a sermon “as long as time permits” is to keep the length around 15 minutes and address 2 or 3 key points thoroughly. In this approach it is thought that people are more likely to remember the message.

When Paul says “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” he is making reference to the content of their preaching. It must be based on a proper understanding of scripture. In the collect for today the 3rd Sunday in Advent we prayed “that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way,”. When I was in seminary it was impressed upon me that one must take great care in choosing sources for interpretation of the Bible and Jesus teachings. The early church Fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athanasius, John Chrysostom and Augustine are but a few of these highly regarded early leaders of the Church. The Fathers of the Church are so called because of their leadership in the early Church, especially in defending, expounding, and developing New Testament doctrines. For the first two centuries, most of these men were bishops, although in later years certain priests and deacons were also recognized as Fathers.

On the surface this may seem to suggest that all one need do is read the writings of these men and you would have a solid theological and doctrinal understanding. The problem is that their writings are in Greek not English. So now one must find scholars who have properly translated their works. Unfortunately, over time scholars have abandoned critical thinking and adopted practices like idea laundering and circular reporting in an effort to meet the requirements for tenure or to get published. Patrick Goodenough, writing for CrossWalk.com said: “In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’.” One might argue that Jesus loved all of his followers in a non-sexual way. Thus to identify Jesus’ love for John in a special way might indicate a sexual relationship. The disciple was “the” beloved. He was in a class by himself. During the Last Supper before Jesus’ execution, the author(s) of the Gospel of John describes how the “beloved” disciple laid himself on Jesus’ inner tunic — his undergarment. (John 13:25 and 21:20)”. However, Jenny Stokes, research director for Saltshakers, a conservative Christian group in Australia, said that there are five words for love in Greek (the language in which the Gospels were written). The Gospel references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” use the word “agape.” and Agape means spiritual, unconditional love not sexual love. This is just one example of poor translation and lack of discipline to proper doctrine.

As a minister of Christ my promise to you is that I will always be the best steward of the mysteries of God that I can be.