Under-rowers of Christ

Photo by POOYAN ESHTIAGHI on Unsplash

Caring for Christ’s flock is a weighty task, much harder than flying over the pacific and eating rice for weeks on end. Being a shepherd is a calling that nothing short of Christ’s grace and His Holy Spirit are necessary to keep us faithful.

To that end, I’d like to take a look at a couple of verses in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul is specifically talking about his role as an apostle, which is an office that we don’t have anymore, but what he says here is also true of the office of pastor, which the apostles were too. They were certainly more than pastors, but they were not less.

Let’s read together the first 5 verses of chapter 4, and I’ll be focusing mainly on the first two.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 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. For 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. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

I have only two points tonight. First, a pastor must be a humble servant, and second, a pastor must be a faithful steward. A pastor must be a humble servant, and a pastor must be a faithful steward.

Let’s look at the first point: humble servant. Paul says in verse one, “So then let a man regard us as Servants of Christ,” or as older translations put it, “minsters of Christ.” Significantly, Paul does not use the normal words that you might expect here. He does not say we serve as ordinary servants/slaves of Christ, doulos in Greek. Nor does he use the standard word for that we all know for servant, diakonos, where we get the word deacon. In fact, he uses the word ὑπηρέτaς, which is derived from a term describing an under-rower, that is, a servant that would be down in the boat, below deck and out of sight, slaving away to move the vessel.

Far from the grand visions of top down leadership, it’s with glorious rhetoric being showered with the praise of men, Paul instead views his role, and our role as pastors, as a role of humble servanthood, much of which is out of the sight of the people we serve.

A pastor must be a humble servant. And what does humility look like in a servant of God? Let me list just a few ways to tell:

  1. A proud man knows it all, and thus is quick to speak. He has no need to listen to anyone else, to get anybody else’s opinion, and is quick to ignore someone else’s sound advice. The prideful man thinks he has complete discernment, near omniscience.
    • But a humble man will instead be quick to listen and slow to speak.
  1. A proud man is impatient. A proud man is impatient. He’s got his schedule, his timetable, his to-do list, and anything or anyone that slows him down is a burden that should be immediately removed or bull-dozed. He doesn’t have time for the things or people that he doesn’t find important.
    • A humble man, on the other hand, is patient. Specifically, he will be patient with the weak, patient with the slow, patient with those that the world finds unimportant, or the least of these.
  1. A proud man doesn’t need prayer. A proud man doesn’t need prayer. He’s got the knowledge of how to solve every problem in the best way, and he has the confidence that his strength and wisdom will get him through the day. Why stop and pray? It’s inefficient, it’s slow, it doesn’t produce results. Besides, if HE’S not going to be out there doing the work, it won’t get done. He has to do it, and it has to be done by him and in his way.
    • But a humble man recognizes his limitations, recognizes his need for God’s grace in every single situation, and is quick to drop to his knees in prayer to God. In life in general, and in ministry in particular, patience and prayer has one more battles than zeal and gusto ever could.
  1. A proud man is always self-defensive. A proud man is always self-defensive. A proud man has a thin skin and takes everything to heart. Every word of correction or suggestion is interpreted as a direct and personal attack.
    • A humble man, aware of his own weakness, can take criticism and thank the critic.
    • He knows that for every pound of criticism, even unloving criticism, he should weigh out the ounce of truth and be genuinely thankful for it.
  1. A proud man is always discontented, and looking for more glory. A proud man is always discontented, and looking for more glory. He’s looking for the next and the greatest. The next model, the next job, the next excitement, the next promotion. And in the church, this proud man is looking to pad his resume, hunting for a bigger church, a higher pulpit, and bigger platform, more followers, more praise, and more glory. He’s not content to be a ὑπηρέτaς, to work quietly in the underbelly of a ship and row where nobody can see him. He wants to be behind the wheel, calling the shots, making the big decisions.
    • This proud frame of heart cannot mark a man of God.
    • A humble man can be content to plod, one step in front of the other, rowing down where nobody can see you and where no one is there to praise you.
    • A prideful man always swings for the fences, always wanting to be the hero that hits the home run; but a humble man is content with a single, just move the runners around, do your job, and then head back to the dugout.
    • People of God must be faithful to the task that is in front of us. Don’t look side to side, don’t covet greater opportunities, but faithfully plod where you are placed. God will put you where he wants you, and doesn’t need our jockeying for position, or our plotting for advancement.
    • In fact, in God’s kingdom, the way to the top is the way down. The first will be last and the last will be first. The slaves, the under-rowers quietly serving in humility, will be rewarded, and the proud men clamoring for control of the ship will be humiliated.

A child of God must not be prideful, and a pastor especially, should be marked by humility, not pride.

What else does God’s word say about pride? The bible tells us that pride is no mere personality defect. It’s not a slight error that must be gradually worked on. Pride is clear and heinously sinful. It is an offense to a holy God, and clear violation of his holy law.

In fact, the bible says that God HATES pride. Proverbs 8:13 says “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil… I hate,” and Proverbs 16:5 warns us, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” God hates pride.

Not only that, but the bible teaches us that our pride separates us from God. Psalm 138:6 says “Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly [or the humble]; but the proud he knows from afar.” A prideful person won’t know genuine intimacy with God. How could a man lead God’s people in godliness, if that man has pride preventing his own intimacy with God? A proud man separates himself from God.

Finally, the bible also teaches that pride brings God’s judgment. Pride brings God’s judgment. Psalm 18:27 says that God“…rescues the humble, but [he will] humiliate the proud.” Similarly, Proverbs 16:18 reads “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” A proud man thinks he is the king of his own castle, but in reality his pride is just making his coming fall all the more humiliating.

Have you felt this kind of pride in your life? Have you seen these kinds of prideful tendencies in your own soul? I know I have. What do we do when we recognize these prideful behaviors, and see that we’ve separated ourselves from a holy God because of our arrogance?

We have to remember the gospel of Jesus Christ, that’s what we have to do.

Remember God’s promises, how he has said in his word that He will accept a humble and broken heart: Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise.” He will not despise you if you come to him humbled by your own sin.

Remember how God has saved you by grace, not your own goodness. In fact, our humiliation, the removal of our pride and boasting is one of the reasons why God saves us BY HIS GRACE. God has saved you entirely, from start to finish, by His own grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, [WHY?] so that no one may boast.”

And when your pride flares up again, and you feel the guilt and sting of condemnation creeping in, remember that the penalty that your pride earned has been taken.

Galatians 3:13 reminds us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”

Or Remember from Colossians 2 that God [has] made [you] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Your pride had earned you a debt, and curse, a punishment, and all of it has been transferred to Christ on the cross.

But that’s not all. The perfect righteousness and humility that God’s law demands and that YOU need has been provided. The law demands that we be humble, perfectly humble, and Christ was that, and his perfect humility has been credited to our account.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

It doesn’t say, “so that we might be a little better, or we might be closer to righteous, or we might be a little more humble.” It says so that we might become the very righteousness of God himself. Christ’s righteousness is robed around us. When the father sees us, he sees us wrapped in the very garments of humility, and he declares us to be righteous before him.

That’s the good news of the gospel. That prideful people like me and you can be forgiven of our sins and accepted by God simply by believing in the Son of God who came as the humble lamb of God to take away the sins of the proud people of God so that they might be brought back to God, and grow in humility in the church of God, to the Glory of God.

If you’ve never believed in that God, do so tonight, before your pride sets you up for an eternal fall. And if you have believed, then think often about the humility of Christ in your place, and the love that drove him to death, even death on a cross, for you.

In light of such a love, who wouldn’t be willing to become an under-rower for the kingdom of God, serving in humble anonymity, pushing the vessel of the church toward the destination, without any glory or fuss for ourselves. That’s our calling, and especially the calling of a pastor, a humble servant.

Second, Paul tells us that a pastor must be a faithful steward. A pastor must be a faithful steward. Our text says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” A steward is a servant whom the master has entrusted with responsibility, with oversight, usually over a particular portion of the master’s household or possessions. The steward is held responsible for the maintenance, for ensuring the proper attention and care being given to whatever has been assigned to him. Paul is saying that he and his fellow workers are, “underlings for Christ and overseers for God” himself, as one commentator put it.[1]

Significantly for us tonight, a steward does not possess. He is not the owner. He doesn’t have full rights over it. He merely guards something precious and valuable, and stands in place of the master, looking out for his best interests.

Of what has Paul been made a steward? The Mysteries of God himself. Mystery doesn’t here mean something vague, and undiscernible, or magical. When Paul speaks of a mystery he means something that was previously hidden or unclear that has now been revealed. He’s talking about the Gospel, specifically the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ on behalf of the church.

Paul is, and all pastors are, stewards of a message, a particular message, and are thus called to steward that message with faithfulness. In one sense all Christians are called to speak the gospel with faithfulness and clarity, but pastors in particular must be faithful stewards of this mystery.

We must be found faithful. It is not our message; we don’t own it. It’s not ours to tamper with or adjust. We’re stewards, not the master. We can’t shy away from preaching the hard texts or doctrines; it’s not our message to adjust.

Paul warns elsewhere that pastors must take special care to watch over their life and doctrine. To guard the deposit of faith that has been passed down to you. That’s part of your calling, Jordan, to be to tethered to the word of God that your doctrine can’t be tossed back and forth. To be so steadfast in faith that the message you proclaim is nothing less than the mysteries of God himself.

Faithful stewards always remember that the master is coming back. Paul even says in verse 3 that he will be judged by God himself, and not by men. Jordan, your efforts to be faithful must not be driven by a desire to please me, or your other pastors, or even your church. Your faithfulness as a steward of the mysteries of God must be driven principally by a desire to please God himself, for he will be your judge if you prove unfaithful, but he will also be the one to give you eternal rewards for your faithfulness as a steward. That’s how Paul ends verse 5: “each one will receive his commendation from God.”

Pastors are judged faithful or unfaithful stewards by the Lord God himself.

And Jordan, this is especially your calling: to be a humble servant, and a faithful steward. In your own strength you’ll never be able to achieve this. But in the strength of the Holy Spirit and through fervent faith in Jesus Christ, you can have these things. Hold close to him, think often of his humility, and you’ll begin to see that through His strength, you’ll grow to love the position of under-rower, of ὑπηρέτaς for Christ’s glory and not your own.


Now, before we move to the laying on of hands, I will issue a charge to Jordan, and then to the church.

Jordan, please come up and face the congregation.

If you can affirm the following ordination vows, signify by saying “I do.”

  • Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  • Do you sincerely affirm our church’s Confessions of Faith as summarizing the doctrine taught by the Holy Scriptures?
  • Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with our Confessions of Faith, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your pastors the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  • Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of Morningview Baptist Church as conforming to the principles of biblical polity?
  • Do you accept the office of pastor in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all its duties?
  • Do you promise subjection to your brothers in the Lord?
  • As far as you know your own heart, do you seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
  • Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?
  • Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you an overseer?

Now, it remains for the congregation to make a reciprocal vow.  Congregation, if you can affirm the following question, please signify by saying “We do.”

  • Do you, the members of Morningview Baptist Church, acknowledge and receive this brother as pastor, and do you promise to yield to him all the honor, encouragement, and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the By-Laws of this church, entitles him?

It is now time for us to publicly and formally ordain Jordan Nelson to the office of pastor. As is keeping with what we see in the New Testament and what has been the tradition of the church, the man to be ordained has hands laid upon him and prayer is prayed over him. This is a public symbol of the special setting apart, the special calling that this man is receiving. He is being called out from among the flock and anointed in prayer for the special task of shepherding the flock.

[1] See Kistmaker, 1 Corinthians, (Baker New Testament Commentary, 1993), 128n3.


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