February 16, 2020: 6th Sunday after Epiphany

February 16, 2020

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, we second-guess ourselves all the time about almost everything.  But it is more hurtful when others second-guess us.  Most of the time they don’t have all the facts, so their comments can be caustic, even when they are not meant to be.  So today, give all of us a thicker skin.  Also, move us to bite our tongues—especially when dealing with other Christians who are trying to do their best to help those in need of Your grace and truth.  Amen


TEXT:  I Cor. 4: 1-13

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Every Pastor needs to develop a thick skin early in his ministry or he’ll soon burn out and quit the calling.  I’ve seen it happen more than once with young pastors.  I recently talked to a health care professional about stress.  They commented that Pastors and medical doctors have the most stressful jobs there are! 

          Paul fits into this category.  Here we find him stressed over all the strife within the Corinthian congregation and how to address it.  He is charged by God Almighty to speak the truth to them.  He is charged to call them to account and examine the sins in their own lives including their sins of the tongue against him.  So, Paul agonized over what to say.  Should I pull my punches and gloss over their inner nastiness, or not?  I’m entrusted with the “secret things of God”, the sacraments and the Word of truth; so would skimming over their sins be faithful to God, or not?  This inner “back and forth” troubled Paul.  But in the end, God won out!  Loyalty to the Savior demands it always does.  Hence his words: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me….He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.”

          Yes, instead of putting the worst construction on the words and actions of others, we need to put the best construction on them.  We need to speak the truth in love.  Sometimes hard, tough love, and sometimes a more gentler version.  To do that we have to know the facts of whatever it is that bothers us.  We also need to admit our inner prejudice, examine whether or not pride has gotten the best of us, and always recall the words of God: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”


          All this is easier said than done.  But by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Paul now says about himself: “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us….Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.”  In other words, do not play favorites when it comes to God’s public servants.  Honor their service and let God’s truth rule in your lives no matter who is speaking it.  Because it is still God’s truth!

          I was taught in seminary that there are three groups within any church: the shirkers, the jerkers, and the workers.   It was certainly true at Corinth!  The shirkers are those that are wont to say: “Let somebody else do it.”  (But no church has somebody named “Somebody else” that I know of.)  The jerkers are those who criticize, often behind the scenes, because they think they know all the facts, even when they don’t.  And the workers are those who kindly offer themselves as “living sacrifices to God”  and willingly labor in God’s kingdom.  Which group do you fall into?  In truth, it is all three, depending on which of our buttons is pushed.  Better yet, which group do you want to belong to?  And which group honors God the most? 


          Paul comes down squarely in the worker category.  He freely admits: “We are fools for Christ.”  And then seeks to uplift the Corinthians with words of encouragement: “but you are wise in Christ.  We are weak, but you are strong.  You are honored, we are dishonored.”  Such is the nature of the public ministry in the eyes of the world. And then he goes on to focus how true servants of God’s Word operate in reaching out to others: “When we are cursed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” 

          Being a Pastor is not a bed of roses. Likewise, since each of you is a private spokesman for Christ, being a Christian is hard work as well.  Being responsible for another’s soul is stressful!  Think of all those family members who might not be in heaven if they were to die today?  And yet, we do God’s bidding and endure regret and second-guessing from a variety of sources because, because Christ died to save us—and them!  We do so because there is  no greater calling in life.  We do so because our Lord bled and died and rose again to change our lives for the better, eternally!  And our reward is love, or grace, and a sense of purpose.  So as fellow Christians, treat each other kindly, be very cautious in ascribing negative motives to your fellow believers.  Honor each other for what you all are: God’s reborn children.  And continue to speak His truth in love.   Just remember: You’ve got the Holy Spirit on your side as you do so.  And unlike us humans, He never gives up or buckles under stress.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

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