Faithfulness: God’s One Requirement
June 12th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 4:1-3
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 4:1-3
6-12-55 7:30 p.m.
Now, we’re going to start tonight where we left off the last time I was preaching here in the third chapter of the book of 1 Corinthians. And our last message was closing that chapter and tonight we begin in the fourth chapter, and the text is the first two verses of the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians: "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And it is required in stewards – just one thing – that a man be found faithful" [1 Corinthians 4:1-2].
If I could translate it a little more – a little better: "This is how men should think of us. This is what you should think about us. We are ministers of Christ. We are stewards of the mysteries of God" [1 Corinthians 4:1]. Now that is an interesting word that he uses there: "This is what we are, and this is what you’re to think about us." You see, the trouble was some of them were saying, "Now, we like Apollos, and we’re Apollosites." Another one: "We like Paul, and we’re Paulites." Another one: "We like Cephas. We’re Cephasites." And they had all kinds of factions in the church [1 Corinthians 1:10-12].
And so as Paul writes about that, he says, "Now this is what you ought to think about us. Paul, Apollos, Cephas – all of us – this is what we are. We are hupēretes of Christ" [1 Corinthians 4:1]. And that word hupēretes, that word literally means we’re "under-rowers." Haven’t you ever seen pictures of those ancient Roman ships – "galleys" they called them? And on those lower decks down there, they used slaves to row. Haven’t you seen those pictures? And they’d have a rower and a rower – a whole deck of rowers – and those rowers were called hupēretes. Now, he says, "We are under-rowers of Christ. We’re not lords. We’re not masters. We’re not anything in ourselves. We are just slaves, rowers, obedient to the Lord Jesus."
And he says, "We are oikonomous of the mysteries of God" [1 Corinthians 4:1]. "We are stewards of the mysteries of God." Back yonder in that ancient day, the man to whom a householder would give all of his goods and care was called a "steward." Do you remember reading back there in the Book of Genesis, Eleazer was the steward of Abraham? [Genesis 15:2]. All of Abraham’s goods was in the hands of Eleazer. Do you remember in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke when the Lord tells the story of the pounds? He speaks of this nobleman who went into a far country to receive a kingdom, and he gave his goods in the hands of his servants and said: "Occupy ’til I come" [Luke 19:13]. They were stewards of the goods – the possessions, the belongings – of the master.
Now, Paul says that we are under-rowers of the Lord Jesus; that’s all. And we are stewards – not owners, not proprietors. We have nothing in ourselves. We are stewards of the mysteries of God [1 Corinthians 4:1]. Now a mystery doesn’t mean an incomprehensible thing. A mystery means something that a man’s natural intelligence could never discover – never figure it out – but it has to come to us by revelation of God. And we are stewards of the great revelations of God.
Then he adds my text: "And it is required in stewards – the man who possesses in his hand things that are given him from somebody else – it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" [1 Corinthians 4:2]. That’s the only requirement. That’s the only requirement. Stewardship implies responsibility, and responsibility implies, demands, faithfulness. And there is only one requirement, and that’s it: that a steward be found faithful – that he’s honest; that he’s true; that he’s doing his best to give a good account of what God hath placed in his hands, his stewardship.
Now, that is an unfailing presentation of the Word of God this requirement of stewardship, of faithfulness. In the parable of the pounds in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew [Matthew 25:14-30], the Lord says that there was a man given five pounds, and another one, two pounds, and another one, one pound. And when the lord came back, of course, the one – I’m talking about the talents: he gave five talents to one man and two talents to another man and one talent to another man – and when the lord came back, the one-talent man, of course, had dissipated his opportunity [Matthew 25:24-25]. But the five-talent man gained five other talents [Matthew 25:20], and the two-talent man gained two other talents [Matthew 25:22]. And when the lord commended those – the five- and the two-talent men – he commended them both alike. Do you remember what he said? He said: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee a ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord" [Matthew 25:21]. And he said the same thing to the two-talent man who had gained two other talents [Matthew 25:23].
God doesn’t make a distinction between men in the great rewards that are yet to be made. God doesn’t make a distinction between men – that this man is a ten-talent man or a five-talent man or a two-talent man – and being faithful in that, why he is given, in God’s sight, a greater reward than a man of a lesser talent who also is faithful in his degree. But God commends them all alike. For the great and one principle upon which God judges us is not according to our gifts, but according to our faithfulness in what God entrusts us with [2 Corinthians 8:12]. The tremendously important thing in the life of God – in the sight of God – is not what you have but how you use what you have: to be faithful, to be true, to be honest, to be dedicated, to give to God the highest best of what God has given to you.
In the Talmud, I ran across a wonderful sentence about David. That ancient Jewish book says this: that of David, God entrusted to him a few sheep out in the wilderness, and because he was faithful and brave in caring for them, the Lord took David and gave to him in his care the flock of Israel. Now, that’s that characteristic of being faithful.
A worthy steward is one of the most prized of all of the characteristics – prized by men in this world where we live, in this city, and among the people with whom we do daily business. Our bank down there – and most of us have a bank – our bank down there, we take what little we have, and we put it in the bank. And there’s just one tremendously important thing that we’d like to know about those men to whom we give the little sums that we have and that is that they’ll be honest with us, that they’ll be faithful with us, that they’ll be true to the trust that we deposit in them. That’s all we ask – faithfulness. If they’re dishonest, if they’re untrue, if they don’t take their charge in earnestness, if they don’t keep what we have, then all of the faith and confidence whereby we might look upon a bank as a friend and as a favor is shattered. It’s nothing. The ingredient – the priceless ingredient – that makes a bank possible is just that one thing. They are true stewards. They are faithful in their stewardship.
Same way with an insurance company. Year by year, most of us pay into an insurance company a premium. There’s just a little something that we put in their care; and against the day when we grow old and retire, we’ll have a little something, or if we die, the family will be cared for. We ask just one thing of that insurance company and that is that they be true to the charge that we’ve deposited in their hands – that they be faithful stewards of our confidence and what little we’re giving them year by year. That thing, I say, is prized in every department of life.
It is my hope that when we make this trip to Italy that we can go to Pompeii which is just this side of Vesuvius. It’s between Vesuvius and Naples. I have flown over Vesuvius twice. I’ve flown over the Bay of Naples. I’ve flown over Capri, but I’ve never been there personally. I want to go to Pompeii. I want to look at those ruins – when the great volcano Vesuvius exploded, the top of it blew off, and the city of Pompeii was buried under ashes – while life is there exhumed and displayed just as it was when the volcano and the lava and the ash came down upon it.
One of the things that I’ve read about in Pompeii is this: a Roman soldier was never to leave his post until he was relieved. And those Roman soldiers, in the wake of that terrible explosion and the burying of the city underneath the ash that fell – those Roman soldiers died at their posts because nobody came to relieve them. That makes possible a great army – stewardship, faithfulness. This man stays at his post unto death.
Now that prize characteristic which is out in the business world, which is out in the army, which is in all of life, that prize characteristic makes possible the exaltation of the church of Jesus Christ – the kingdom of God. Not many of us are really gifted. I certainly am not. There are not many of us that can sing, ah, just marvelously. There are not many of us that are gifted in all of these ways by which we see some people marvelously talented of the Lord. But that’s not what makes a great church and a great people. If just great singing would make a marvelous church, I’ve got enough money in the budget here to go to New York City and to hire the finest singers in the land and bring them here and let them sing. But great singing doesn’t make a church.
I know some marvelously gifted preachers, and they’re eloquent and some of them could be brought here. And I’m thinking of some now, and they’re gloriously gifted. But just preaching doesn’t make a church. Eloquence, peroration, oratory – that doesn’t make a church. Marvelous gifts of dramatic power, of presentation, of oratory – that doesn’t make a church.
We could think of all of the marvelous things that we have here in this administration. We could hire teachers who are marvelously gifted in teaching, players who are marvelously gifted in these most unusual instruments. But those things in the talent themselves, that doesn’t make the kingdom of God! There’s a quality in the song, in the sermon, in the message, in the player, in the teacher, among the people – there’s a quality in it that if it isn’t there, it’s dust and ashes in our hands, and it’s almost an affront to God. The thing that makes a marvelous spirit and a glorious church is this thing of a great dedication, a marvelous commitment, a profound faithfulness in the thing that God has committed to us.
Courts Redford is the head of our Home Mission Board, and he has a favorite story, and he calls it that – a thing that happened to him up there in Missouri where he came from. Up there in a little place, he was visiting upon a time in his native state, and it was way out in a little village and a little church. It was in the day of the week – not Sunday and not Wednesday night – and he was leaving having to go. And they persuaded Dr. Redford to stay there and to preach to the people. So he did, and that night, they had a houseful of people. Oh it was on a Tuesday night or a Thursday night, something like that. But when he went into the church and got up in the pulpit and looked out in the congregation, there was a boy – a young fellow – and he had a long ribbon on him pinned up here, and a long ribbon, and on it were two big initials: "B. R." – "B. R." on that long ribbon attached there to his coat. Well, it was unusual, so he whispered over to the pastor and said, "Do you see that young fellow out there with that long ribbon with ‘B. R.’ on it? What does ‘B. R.’ stand for?"
And the pastor whispered to him and said, "Well, Dr. Redford, that stands for ‘bell ringer.’ That boy is the bell ringer of the church, and he’s not bright, and he wears that sign. He’s very proud of the fact that he’s the bell ringer of the church, and so he wears that ribbon with ‘B. R.’ on it."
Well, that’d be interesting to anybody, I submit to you. So it was to Dr. Redford. So after the service was over, why, he got a hold of that boy and visited with him. And he said, he said, "Son, you’re the bell ringer? That ‘B. R.’ stands for bell ringer."
"Oh, yes," said that half-witted boy, "Yes, sir, I’m the bell ringer of the church."
"Well," he said, "That’s just fine. That’s just fine."
And the half-witted boy says, "I rang the bell for you tonight so our people’d come to church."
And Dr. Redford said, "That’s just wonderful, son. That’s just fine."
And the boy said, "But that’s not all I did; that’s not all I did," he said. "Not only did I ring the bell, but," he said, "I came down here to the church," and he said, "I swept it out so it’d be clean for the people."
And Dr. Redford said, "That’s wonderful, son. That’s just wonderful."
"But that’s not all I did," said the bell ringer. He said, "That’s not all I did." He said, "I came down here to the church and I built a fire in the stove, that it’d be warm for the people when they came."
And Dr. Redford said to that half-witted boy, he said, "That’s wonderful, son. That’s wonderful."
And the half-witted boy said, "But that’s not all I did. That’s not all I did." He said, "You know, I went out up and down the streets of our little town and out into all our neighborhood, and I knocked at the doors of all of the people, and I told them that you were gonna be here tonight to preach, and for all of the people to come to church."
And Dr. Redford said when he left, why, he just decided in his mind and his heart that if he were pastor of a church, he’d like to have a church full of boys just like that half-witted boy whose got "B. R." on his lapel – the bell ringer.
And I’m the same way! Ah, I’d like to have a church that didn’t have any more sense than just to be faithful to the Lord and do what they could for Christ! Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be great? Whether they shined or not, I wouldn’t give the turn of my hat. Whether they all were ten talents or not, I wouldn’t give the lifting of my little finger. But if they all were faithful, wouldn’t that be great? And each one in his place doing what he could for God – what a blessing. It is required in stewards just one thing: that a man be found faithful [1 Corinthians 4:2]. That’s all – just where you are doing what you can.
Now, in just a moment, may I speak of some things of this ministry? It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. I think, I think that God’s Word says that we’re not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together [Hebrews 10:25]. When the Lord’s Day comes, we ought to be here in God’s house; and when the evening hour comes at 7:30, we ought again to be here in God’s house. There’s not anything that makes such an impression upon people who visit our congregation like the congregation we have here on a Sunday night. For most churches, the people don’t bother to attend. They’re looking at the television. They’re entertaining in their homes. They’re in the picture show, at the ballpark, or they’re riding up and down the countryside in the automobile. They’re doing other things, but they’re not at church, and the church is weak and anemic. One of the churches in our city has discontinued its services on Sunday night. They have a little vesper service at 5:00. The people are not faithful to support the ministry of the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.
Ah, that’s par to making a great church. "On the Lord’s Day when the door is open, I’ll be there, Preacher. I may not be able to do a whole lot, but as long as I can walk and as long as I can come, I’ll be right there in that pew praying with you, listening to the preaching of the Word, and asking God to save the lost." Oh what a faithful congregation will do toward the building up of a great lighthouse for Jesus; and any of us, most of us, can do that. And we’re to be faithful stewards in all of these ministries whereby we seek to care for our children and for our young people.
Our children are a heritage of the Lord [Psalm 127:3-5]. If we have any church tomorrow, it is they today; and in every way that we can and in every way possible, we ought to do our utmost to minister to our children and to our young people. However it may cost and whatever program it may involve and whatever it may take, we ought to sit down and purposely, volitionally, prayerfully, in the wisdom of God do our best to care wonderfully for our children. If we have any preachers of tomorrow, any deacons for tomorrow, any church members for tomorrow, any missionaries for tomorrow, it lies in their little hands and in their precious souls: faithful in the care and in the training of our children.
And we are to be faithful under God in our responsibility to the lost of our city. And in that may I say something of which I am wonderfully proud and something in which I think we can do much better? I am so grateful to God for the mission program of this church. It won’t be long until our sixth mission will start rising out of the ground and taking shape and form on Singleton Boulevard in that large housing project just this side of the Edison School.
I have never shared in any service that ever moved my heart more than about Friday a week ago when we had the leadership of our missions here at a banquet in our church, and Brother O. C. Robinson who heads our mission program did a thing that I hadn’t seen before. He had two people from each one of those missions to stand up and to say what God had done for them. Here would be a man who was a drunkard and beat his wife and beat his children, and he’d stand up and say, "But six months ago, I found the Lord in the little mission out there at the Truett Chapel, and we’ve had a new life and a new day and a new home and a new hope ever since six months ago."
And when they asked me to stand up to speak, why, you know how I’d stand up to speak. After listening to those people testify what God had done for them in the mission program of our church, I got about six or seven sentences out of my mouth and then I just broke down and cried. I just was so full. My cup was running over. Oh, I thank God for the great missionary heart and encouragement of this church.
No matter what I have brought to the people or no matter how much it has cost, and these missions are highly expensive – it cost $50,000 to build the Truett Chapel; it is costing $80,000 to build the Shiloh Terrace Mission; this mission over there on Singleton Boulevard in the housing project is costing $50,000. These missions are expensive, and their continuing support is very, very costly. But when you weigh our gifts by the side of the people we win, it is as nothing. It is nothing at all. And it’s done something for my soul, and it’s done something for this church that nothing else could ever have done: faithful unto God in seeking to reach these people for Christ.
Now I say, I am proud of that. There’s something in which we can do better and that is this: All of us insofar as we can, all of us ought to share in our visitation program. To see people come here to church is wonderfully well, but not all of them will come. Out of the great city of Dallas in all of our churches put together, there is a small minority of our people who are ever in church. Not even half of them belong to any church. And if we will share in that ministry – I cannot do it all, I would if I could. If I could do all of the praying and all of the soul winning, I’d be willing to do it. I can’t begin. Not and pastor this flock, prepare my sermons, study this Word, preach the Gospel and do that other. Ah, so much laid upon any man who would pastor this congregation – but I can do a little and some, and you can do a little and some, and you can do a little and some. And it’s a trite thing to say, but it’s one of the truisms of life: it’s the little drops of water and the little grains of sand that make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land. It’s you doing what you can, and you what you can, and you what you can. All of us together make this ministry great and blessed of God.
Now, one last: And we’re to be faithful in the great missionary call of the world. Our church is in the very heart and center of that missionary program, and it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful [1 Corinthians 4:2]. To some extent, our part at least, all of the lost of the world are our charge and our responsibility. We’re not to forget them across the way and across the sea and our missionaries who, as the sun goes down upon us rises upon them, and their ministries abroad in other places among strange people, in strange tongues, and in strange languages, and in strange dress, and in strange customs preaching the gospel to them that they might know the Lord Jesus Christ whom to know is life now [John 10:10] and in the world to come [Luke 18:29-30]. We have a great stewardship under God in the vast missionary program of our church and of our denomination.
I think one of the sweetest things that I’ve heard of was recounted by the secretary of our Foreign Mission Board in an address he made a few days ago at Ridgecrest [Ridgecrest, North Carolina]. He closed his address with the recounting of a friend that he had in East Texas. The secretary of our Foreign Mission Board was born at Lufkin and reared there and is a Texas boy; and his heart is in this ministry, and our hearts are with him. He’s one of my dear and blessed friends. And over there in East Texas when he was ordained, there was an older man, red-headed man, who was ordained with him, and this man gave himself to be a foreign missionary when he was older. And when you reach a certain age, the Foreign Mission Board is not able to send you.
So as the days passed, the girl in his home gave her life to be a foreign missionary, and she went out and was sent to Brazil. And as most of you know, not long ago, just a few weeks ago, this girl was in a plane in the interior of Brazil going to a tribe to which you could not go by foot or by horseback, but they could get a little plane and go over there. And this girl was in that plane going over there to that interior tribe to tell them about the Lord Jesus, and something happened – nobody knows – and the little plane fell. And there was sent to Richmond [Richmond, Virginia] a little piece of a dress and maybe a little ring or something like that, and that was all that was found in that tragedy there in the heart of Brazil.
So they had a little service in the town in East Texas where her father was pastor. They had a memorial service and the father said, "We don’t want anyone to send flowers. Don’t anybody send flowers. Just come to the service." So when they came to the service they did this. They took up a collection. Can you imagine that at a memorial service? They took up a collection, and the father said, "We want to see if we cannot support a native worker down there in Brazil who will take the place of my daughter and who will carry on the work down there among those people in that interior tribe who don’t know the name of Jesus." So at the memorial service they took up a collection in order to support this native worker down there in the heart of Brazil.
Oh that’s the fabric that makes the cloth of the kingdom of God. That’s the fiber that gives it substance. It isn’t the scintillating personality. We say, "Is he able? Is he gifted?" God says, "Is he faithful?" That’s all. That’s all. I repeat. I had rather have a church of half-witted people who would be faithful unto death than to have a church of the most scintillated and gifted personalities in the land and they dissipate them beyond the walls of the church and outside the kingdom of God in other places and in other ways ministering in other causes and in other names.
Oh, what makes a church great, what makes a congregation great, what makes a people great is devotion to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14], and all of us can qualify for that. I may not have many gifts, but what I have, I can dedicate to God. "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have give I thee" [Acts 3:6]. Such as I am and such as God has bestowed upon me, I can be faithful in its administration unto death. That makes a people great, and it makes a church shine for Christ.
Now, while we sing our song, while we sing our song, somebody you, somebody you, into that aisle and down here to the front: "Here I come, Pastor, and here I am. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. I may not be much, but what I am I gladly yield to Christ, and here I come." Somebody you, put your life in the church. Somebody you, however God shall say the word and make the appeal, you come and stand by me. To a whole family of you: "Pastor, this is my family, and we’re all coming tonight, and here we are. Here we are." In the balcony around, anywhere, while our people prayerfully sing this song and make this appeal, anywhere, you, would you come tonight? "I make it now, and here I am, pastor, and here I come" – while we stand and while we sing.