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one year series

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Advent 3
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Dec 13, 2020 

I have often enough preached on the pastoral office because it is a topic about which the Scriptures frequently speak.  In this passage of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, which clearly speaks also of pastors, I wish to focus less on the office and more on the content of the stewardship.  In other words, less about pastors and more about what is delivered to men through them.

The responsibility of the minister is to be a faithful steward of the mysteries of God.  Now what are these mysteries?  They are things that are beyond human understanding.  This means that the preacher is not telling you things that he has acquired by his brilliance.  He has not studied and made profound discoveries.  He is not a deep thinker, or at least, that is not what he should be giving you.

You receive a message which is above and beyond human wisdom.  God the All-Wise and Omniscient One reveals these things.  The minister is merely a steward, a slave who passes on the gifts of the Master to the fellow slaves.  A stupid steward is one who would throw away the most exceptionally fine gifts of the Master and replace them with cheap trinkets that are worth nothing or next to nothing.

The mystery that is handed to you is the hidden knowledge of the Gospel.  Namely, Christ is the Son of God who came in human flesh to redeem us.  The mystery includes the Virgin Birth, the dual nature of Christ as both Man and God, the fulfillment of the whole Law in the person of Christ, the Passion of Christ, the Blood and death of God who laid down His life on the Cross, and His Resurrection from the dead.  These and many more things are given to you, not as bare facts of data that make you more knowledgeable.  Far more than that, the mystery of God handed to you is a living and active knowledge that creates, strengthens, and sustains a spiritual life in you that will last to eternity.  The mysteries of God are implanted in you forever by the divine action of the Holy Spirit who does not depart from you.

If this mystery is transmitted to you faithfully, then it is far more valuable than mountains of gold.  If this mystery is preached to you without the mixture of human doctrines, then there is nothing you could ever do to repay God enough for what you have received.  Forget for now about the steward who passes on the gifts – they are not his gifts anyway.  Think of the value that God gives to you freely, and it has to be freely because you could never repay the tiniest sliver of a fraction of the living, regenerating, resurrecting Word that He implants in you.

Unworthy as we all are, He pours out a wonderful stream of grace upon our heads.  Although we will also surely work hard in response as His Spirit renews us in the new life, our life offered sacrificially back to Him does not repay or balance the books in any way.  No, the mercy of God lifts up sinners who could never pay Him back, and He overflows our souls with His divine favor without limit.

The mysteries of God include the blessed holy Sacraments.  The washing of regeneration of water with the Word is far beyond our comprehension.  The salvation that creates new life in such a foolish-looking way is hidden from sinful minds.  Yet God gives this mystery in spite of the limitation of our minds to understand.

The mystery of the Lord’s Supper also hides divine grace in plain sight.  Under bread and wine, the most holy Body and Blood of the Savior are given to unworthy sinners.  How can such a thing be?  How can forgiveness and life be given in a way that is so strange to our reason?  God knows.  We do not know, except what He has given us to confess.

We could also list here the mystery of divine absolution.  The Word of a pathetic man in our ears is the erasing of iniquity for the sake of Christ.  For the man does not speak his own Word, but the Word of Christ.  The very Gospel of life come in such a humble way that this also is rightfully named a mystery.

When such awesome mysteries come to us, the natural human thing to do is to find a way to devalue them.  Paul speaks of one such way, which is to devalue the one who passes on the gifts.  If he falls short in some way, then surely the gifts are better received from a better man.  And trust me, there are plenty of better men.  In many qualities, other men exceed me: charisma, success, eloquence, knowledge, etc.  Pick a virtue.  There is a better man.

But Paul says something so beautiful to us: “This is how a person must regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The small word, “us”, is astounding.  Paul does not list out the very best of the apostles and say, “This guy, and this guy, oh, and Peter and me, we are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries.” No, he simply says, “us”.  Ministers are stewards of the mysteries, put in place by Christ.

Of course, not all stewards are equally faithful.  Some pass on the gifts less faithfully by mixing human error with divine truth.  Faithfulness is the measurement we are to use when looking at a pastor.  But so often, we are simply critical of whatever quality we value most.  We, even we pastors, can be terribly nit picky over the most ridiculous things.

But all this is to ignore the wonderful gifts of God.  Focus on them!  What is God giving through the steward?  Those are things of infinite value!  The mysteries of God should flabbergast us, dazzling us with the generosity of a Lord who stoops down to unworthy sinners.  If we can set aside our self-centered fleshly egos for a while, then we can look with eyes of faith and see and receive the wondrous things of God.

These things of God, these mysteries, are such exceedingly fantastic gifts because they deliver Christ.  The knowledge of Him gives Him.  The Words of Him cannot come to us without Him coming to us.  The gifts He has earned are freely bestowed on us slaves by the same Lord that purchased them for us.  How amazing!  Who can fully ponder how astounding it is that Christ gives us Himself?  We can see this in the Lord’s Supper, although it is always true whenever He gives us His mysteries.  He is the gift.

Therefore faith must be here to receive Him.  The coming of Christ to us is the theme of the season.  But we must be ready to receive Him with faith.  The means of grace do not work upon us all that Christ desires them to do unless we receive with faith.  This is not hard, since the Lord freely accompanies His mysteries with His Spirit, who gives faith freely.

But do not think that just sitting in the pew and letting the words bounce off your eardrums is enough.  Your trust needs to be in Christ.  You must value His works for you, instead of thinking that you are offering something wonderful to Him.  He must be the Giver of mysteries.  You must be the receiver.  This is how it works at Christmas.  You open a present and receive it with gratitude to the giver.  You do not say, “You are honored because I am receiving your gift.” That would be ridiculous.  “How lucky you are that I am opening your present!” That is pridefulness.  But that is how our sinful flesh wants to receive the mysteries of God, as if God should be honored that we are doing Him the great service of coming to His house and letting Him give us gifts.  No, we are the unworthy ones to whom He wishes to elevate with His gracious gifts.

To the wise of this world, these mysteries are hidden.  They will not see.  They will mock and reject the most precious gifts in the universe.  But to you, the humble and downtrodden, the Lord delights in making you His sons to whom He shares the treasures of His house.  Nothing could be better than that.

In the same way, the Lord who is God walked in human flesh among mankind.  He was plainly visible, yet few understood what they were seeing.  He looked like a regular man, nothing special.  The wise of the world rejected Him, thinking certainly THIS was not the Messiah.  But to those with faith, this Mystery in human flesh is everything: life and salvation, joy and blessing, forgiveness and redemption.

Of ourselves, all we could create is death, error, foolishness, weakness, shame and condemnation.  But because of the mystery of God in Christ Jesus, we are the righteousness of God, covered with His glory and holiness.

Even if we can see that the gifts of God accomplish some good in our lives, we should say with Paul, “I am not hereby justified.” We should say this even if we lived with such care and diligence that there was nothing that anyone could say against us.  We are not justified by us, but by Christ.  That is why we need Him so much.  We need His mysteries, or we cannot live.  By faith in Christ, we are justified for eternity, declared innocent of all sin and proclaimed to be His holy ones.  “He that judges me is the Lord,” says Paul.  And we say, “Amen!  Let the Lord judge me by His death and resurrection, and that is the best judgment for which any man could possibly hope.”

Here we listen to the judgment of God, in His house of judgment.  His judgment is salvation for sinners who believe in Him.  That is how we receive Him when He comes.  And He will reveal the secret righteousness of faith that was hidden in us on the Last Day, when He comes in glory.  Then the Word that He sowed in us when He came to us in this life will create a harvest of glory for us, to our never ending joy.


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