1 Cor. iv. 2
by John Dickie
"It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful."—I Cor. iv. 2.
NEXT to the solemn question of a man's personal salvation, the gravest matter to which any one can turn his attention is that which concerns his individual responsibility to God. Wonder is often expressed that the careless sinner can continue to overlook the first question; is it not just as wonderful that the average Christian overlooks the second? Chrysostom, quoting the inspired words of Heb. xiii. 17—"They watch for your souls, as they that must give account"—says, "The awe of this warning agitates my soul continually." And the apostle Paul, in giving his dying charge to his son Timothy, to "preach the Word," places him under a similar and most solemn responsibility—"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom " (2 Tim. iv. I, 2).
Stewardship resembles ownership in some respects; but they differ in this, that while the owner is responsible to no one for his manner of using the goods under his hand, seeing that they are his own, the steward is a mere trusted servant, appointed to administer certain goods belonging to another and committed to him for this end. He is therefore responsible for the faithful execution of his trust. If he forgets his responsibility, and presume to act as if he were the owner, instead of being merely the steward, then he embezzles his employer's goods—the gravest offence possible for one in his position.
It is plain that in 1 Cor. iv. 1, 2, Paul's reference is to gospel ministry, but for the sake of general profit, we may well extend the principle so as to comprehend EVERYTHING that can be included within the sphere of a Christian's life. Every Christian is a steward of the "manifold grace of God " (1 Pet. iv. 10).
It may be asked, In what respect are we to give account of our stewardship to God? The answer is a very startling one. Our stewardship includes ourselves, all that we are and all that we have. There is nothing in our hands of which God is not the exclusive Owner. Our very persons are not our own, for we have been "bought with a price" and are to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits, which are God's (1 Cor. vi. 19, 20). Every bodily power, every mental faculty, every capacity of affection should always be exercised to the full for Him (Matt. xxii. 37). All a Christian's time—every single moment of it; all his money—every single farthing of it; all his influence—every possible shred of it; these belong to God, and the man, as a steward, is to expend them faithfully for his Lord. So far as we fail to do so we embezzle, as we have said, that which is His. Oh, if this were recognized worthily (and why should it not be?) the meanest place in all the Church would be seen to afford ample scope for the faithfulness of an angel.
Note well, then, these two facts; Every Christian is a steward; and his stewardship includes everything he has.
The passage we are considering teaches us that the first thing indispensable to a "good steward" (1 Pet. iv. 10), is that he be faithful. We forget this; and in our heedlessness we admire in others, or we covet for ourselves, the mere amount entrusted. We think it well to be rich in money, gifted in mind, vigorous in health, and wide in influence, forgetting that unless with all these, be joined a proportionate faithfulness, they only go towards making the final reckoning the more dreadful.
Yes, faithfulness is the first thing to be aimed at—perfect faithfulness. Not success, but faithfulness. Many a faithful saint has but a small measure of apparent success, while sometimes an unfaithful servant seems to carry all before him. This is not our matter; the Lord will assign to every man his reward—not according to tangible results, but according to his own labour (1 Cor. iii. 8).
Faithfulness is more important than wisdom in the choice of means. Nay, in a steward, faithfulness and wisdom are the same; to be perfectly faithful is to be perfectly wise (see Luke xii. 42). The Lord crowns the faithful servant as the "good servant " (Matt. xxv. 21-23).
There is much more involved in being a faithful steward than occurs to one at a first glance. We are to use every thing that we have, always and only, for the highest glory of God, and for the best good of every one of our fellowmen. Even in our eating and our drinking, as well as in every other act, all that we do should be done to God's glory and for man's edification (1 Cor. x. 31; 2 Cor. xii. 19). Such a style of living will leave us no surplus whatever to expend on self-indulgence or self-pleasing; and therefore whatever is so expended is simply embezzled (Rom. xv. 1-3). In fact, if we set ourselves to follow Christ, and His apostles, and the devotedly faithful in all ages, we shall aim at having our lives pitched in a key which will look like madness in the eyes of average professors.
We must not allow ourselves to overlook the need of perfect faithfulness in the discharge of our heavenly trust by the fact that our service may lie very much among small and apparently trifling matters—so small that our pride is tempted to judge them beneath our care. No mistake could be more fatal! It is in these very trifles (so deemed), that God appoints our special service to Him, and it is by means of our faithful attention to these trifles that our love to Himself will be estimated. It is by means of these trifles that the crown of glory is to be won. And be it remembered that the smaller the sphere of service, the more beautifully shines the faithfulness which devotes itself heartily to it. Two mites, which make but one farthing, seemed a small gift in the eyes of her who gave them; but because her faithfulness was so great, though her gift was small, see how gloriously she was commended.
On the other hand, the slothful servant in Matt. xxv. 18, feeling his one talent to be but a trifle, did nothing with it, and was condemned—not for the smallness of his gift, but for his unfaithfulness in the use of it.
Though in this period of God's dealings with sinful men, grace deals with the sinner in the matter of salvation without looking for righteousness on his part, yet at the close of this dispensation, the final judgment in the matter of service will be in pure and perfect righteousness (1 Cor. iv. 5). And the crown of glory assigned to faithful stewards will be a crown of righteousness, which will be assigned by One who acts as the "Righteous Judge" (2 Tim. iv. 8). It may be but a sixpence that is in question, and yet it is quite certain that my expenditure of this sixpence will influence favourably or unfavourably my whole eternity; and it may also prove to be the turning point from death to eternal life for some fellowman.
In view of the judgment seat of Christ, let us consider a few practical lessons:—
1. Since so much turns on my faithfulness with God's entrusted gift, and since I find my heart naturally so unbelieving, so self-seeking and so unfaithful, how needful that I pray more than hitherto for this indispensable grace of true faithfulness. And let me do so with that importunity to which God never refuses the graces of His Holy Spirit (Luke xi. 8-13).
2. Discontent with my lot is out of the question. If I am not faithful in my present circumstances, and my lot were to be made more favourable, as men say, I should then only be acting the unfaithful steward on a bigger scale, and turning the good gifts of God, which He meant for my blessing, into a curse.
3. Anything like pride is still more out of the question. The gift—whatever it may be—is not mine, but God's. He has entrusted it to me, moreover, not for my own sake, but on behalf of other weak ones, who need the help of it, to whom therefore it belongs more really than it does to me. In the exercise of my gift, I am, not their superior, but their servant for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. iv. 5). God, in His grace to them meant its final benefits to reach them through my faithful use of it; therefore He entrusted the expenditure of it to me. And if I fail to be faithful—faithful to God and faithful to them—I am a thief and a robber, robbing not only GOD, but my fellow-men. And if my possession of any gift be puffing me up, this fact is proof that I am not faithful. I am forgetting both the purpose for which I have been entrusted with it, and the strict, most strict account which I shall yet have to make of my stewardship in the use of it.
4. Let us on no account, permit ourselves to be easily satisfied with low and commonplace measures of faith or faithfulness. God expects us to grow in both; and He will be displeased with us if we do not. We are not living spiritually, if we are not growing. It is solemn to see how God severely chastens for unbelief acts which had in them a good deal of faith. This faith, however, was not according to the measure that might be looked for from the person; and so he is not commended for his faith, but censured for his unbelief. Take Moses, for instance, in Num. xx. See him visited with no less a consequence than death for his disobedience, while yet his unbelieving act exhibits a faith that is to us wonderful. Let us remember that it is not enough that we be believing and faithful so far; but our faith and faithfulness should be proportioned to our experience and responsibilities. And it certainly is not so if the habitual sense of our responsibility be not always felt as most deeply solemn.
5. Let us often advert to this question of responsibility in a spirit of deepest earnestness, and with hearty prayer for Divine help. It is heedlessness that more than anything else keeps Christian souls in a low degree of faith and faithfulness. Every passing hour is telling gravely on our present character and our eternal destiny. Let us ask ourselves often, "How did the last hour tell on me?" Did I make use of it to get nearer to God in true communion, to procure at His throne of grace the maximum attainable by me of spiritual power? And what have I done for others? Is there likely to be another jewel in my crown because of this last hour? Or have I spent it so that its final issues are likely to be altogether different? Let us often examine ourselves on this point, that we may give daily account to Christ our Lord, to whom ere long we shall have to give a strict final account when the lifelong day of service here is over.
6. And whatever the past may have been—whether the review be one of wasted time and marred blessing, or of hearty improvement of them both—let nothing hinder us from setting our faces like a flint to aim at the most perfect faithfulness possible to us now. There is nothing so certain as that God will help us, if in obedient faith and self-denial we purpose to be faithful to Him. He cannot fail the trusting, faithful soul. But if a man continue to loiter because he feels weak and impotent, expecting the influx of a strength which shall lift him out of the place of humble trust, he expects what God never promised, while yet he continues to be unfaithful to what God has already given. Begin at once, and let the language of our hearts be in these well expressed words:—
"Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages for Thee.
Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store,
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, ALL for Thee."
Note.—The above is part of a letter sent by the late John Dickie from his sick bed to his friend James Todd, recently departed, by whom it was circulated, and also inserted in the second volume of Mr. Dickie's papers. From: "Echoes of Service" 1903