“Success Equals Faithfulness” – February 3, 2019

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Today is the first Sunday after we had the church conference last week.  At the conference all the lay leaders who will serve various areas of our church have been officially elected.  This morning, I want to think about how we know if we are successful in serving our church.  What standard do we use to measure success or failure in doing ministry?  Actually, I am asking the wrong question here.  What I should be asking is: “How does God measure success?  When does God say we are a success?”

We know, of course, that God does not measure success by profit, by prosperity, or by prestige.  God does not measure success by the size of church building nor budget nor attendance.  God measures success by faithfulness.  To God, Success Equals Faithfulness.

I hope none of you who are called to serve God’s church ever has the experience that Paul had experienced with the Corinthian congregation.  Although some thought highly of him, by others he was criticized, misjudged, and ignored.  Judged by the standards of popularity and persuasive power, Paul’s ministry at Corinth was a failure.

But listen to what Paul says about the judgment passed on him: “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.”

In verse 1, Paul says “Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.”  Paul uses two words here.  The first word is “servant.” Another translation for this word is “slave.”  The second word is “those entrusted.”  Another translation is “steward.”

Paul was a slave and steward of God.  Entrusted to him was “the secret things of God.”  “God’s mysteries,” say other translations.  What are these secret things of God, these mysteries of God, that have been entrusted to Paul?  It is the Gospel, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Every one of us, especially those who were elected last week and all those who are currently serving as leaders, officers, committee members and program coordinators are like Paul.  We are slaves and stewards of God.  We have been called by God.  We work for God and God’s people.  We have been entrusted with the Gospel by God. 

If you were a master, what one quality would you look for in a slave or steward?  Words that spring to my mind are reliable, trustworthy, integrity, loyalty.  That is what we would want our stewards to be.  Verse 2 reads: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  The one quality that God looks for in all the lay leaders and pastors is faithfulness.  My brothers and sisters in Christ, the one quality that God, our Master, looks for in us is faithfulness.

The Scripture says, “it is required.”  Faithfulness “is required” of those who are called to serve the Church of Jesus Christ.  And God measures our success or failure in terms of faithfulness.  This should be nothing new for anyone here.  Faithfulness is the key word in the covenant relationship between God and us.  God wants to find us faithful in each day, each relationship, each word spoken and heard, each meeting attended, each visit made, and each dollar counted.  God wants to find us faithful to Him and to His Word and to His Work.  Faithfulness.  That is how the Scripture spells success. 

This definition of success would surprise many people.  In business perspective, the disciples were losers because they were mistreated, persecuted and it seemed they were even put to death for nothing.  According to the world’s standards, all of them were absolute failures!  Yet, Hebrews 11:38 declares, “the world was not worthy of them.”

The world ridiculed them as losers, failures, yet they were called winners, successes, and conquerors BY GOD.  Why?  Because they lived by faith. They were successful not because of prosperity and power, not because of prestige or popularity, but only because of this: they were found faithful to the Lord.  They were faithful in doing God’s work.

I believe this point is clearly stated in the parable of the talents.  In pronouncing his blessing upon his servants, what did the master say?  Did he say, “Well done, good and successful servants?”  Of course not!  Rather, he said, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are called to be faithful servants.  Discipleship demands our commitment to be faithful and it demands our best.  I know that’s a lot.  I am grateful for all of our church leaders and members who are serving so faithfully to vitalize our church and our ministry.  Sometimes, we are overwhelmed, disappointed and frustrated.  Yet, we know how satisfying and how meaningful it is to be in ministry of Jesus Christ.  How exciting it is to be in ministry with our brothers and sisters!  Let us not lose heart in doing good ministry, because 1) in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary (this is what the Scripture says about doing ministry) and 2) the success in ministry is not about the numbers; it’s about the amount of love that has been shared with one another and our neighbors. 

Speaking of love, if we truly believe what is written in chapter 13 is true, I think we can make the same point here.  No matter what we believe, no matter what we do in the name of Jesus, it is nothing without love.  As I mentioned in my previous sermon, in just 20 days, a special session of general conference will be held and our denomination will make the final decision about what UMC officially believes in terms of human sexuality.  Upon the decision, of course, all local churches and how we do ministry will be greatly affected.  This is such a critical matter for us as United Methodists.  So, please, bear with me for a few moments.  I will try to be as brief as I can.  So far, many plans have been proposed, but most likely one of the following three plans will be adopted. 

If the Traditional Plan is adopted, my LGBTQI colleges in ministry will be excommunicated, because this plan affirms current disciplinary language and provides for strict enforcement of bans and the gracious exit of those unwilling to abide by them.  Besides, all UM local churches cannot welcome our LGBTQI friends any more.

Another proposed plan is Connectional Conference Plan which is a creation of three “value-based” (rather than geography-based) conferences – traditionalist, centralist, and progressive – and each local church and each pastor should choose one conference to belong to.   In my humble opinion, this is not even realistic.

The last plan is recommended by the Council of Bishops.  Majority of bishops, including our bishop, Thomas Bickerton, support this plan which pledges the least disruption to United Methodist ministries, creating space for both traditionalists and progressives by providing space, freedom, flexibility and missional vitality through contextualized ministry.  This plan redefines marriage, removes restrictive language related to same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQI people and adds language protecting the religious freedom of pastors, bishops and conferences.”

And our bishop urges all the members of NYAC to pray for the special session of the general conference and the future of our denomination.  We are invited to join our bishop, praying every day just for 3 minutes from 2:23 PM to 2:26 PM.  2:23 and 2:26 symbolize the dates when the conference begins and ends.  It begins on Feb. 23rd and ends on Feb 26th.

As some of you know, I set the alarm at 2:23 to remind myself.  With our bishop, I also encourage you to do so and join all our NYAC members, praying for our church, the body of Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us continue to be faithful to our call to love one another and serve one another.  So God can say to all of us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Let the church say…  Amen.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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