Theme(s): Motherly nature of God, provision, anxiety, idolatry.
Sentence: Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).
strong, loving and wise,
help us to depend upon your goodness
and to place our trust in your Son. Amen.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Looking ahead to the gospel, what kind of God cares for us and provides for our needs? This passage in Isaiah presents Israel with a vision of God as carer and provider (8-13). Israel (having experienced the devastating pain of Babylonian exile) rightly and plaintively cries, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me" (14). Through the prophet, the Lord responds in strongly emotional terms. What mother could forget the child she has fed at her breasts? Could any mother lack compassion for a child she has borne in her womb? (15a). God is mother to Israel: "even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (15b).
This is a lovely psalm with the central image of a weaned (and contented) child. Worth pondering is the implied female imagery for God here. That is, God is the mother who has weaned the child after daily nurture through breast-feeding.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
This is the concluding chapter in Paul's defensive and offensive explanation and justification of his ministry to the critical Corinthians. In these five verses Paul makes three simple points. The first two of these are applicable to all who minister in Christ's name in any situation. The third makes a specific point to the Corinthians while including a general point of application.
(1) What is a minister? (a) a 'servant of Christ' (b) a 'steward of God's mysteries' (verse 1). In other words, the tasks of those of us who are 'ministers' or 'in ministry' are concerned with the literal meaning of the word 'minister' which is 'service'. We serve Christ and in that service we make available the mysteries of God (i.e. the gospel which announces that God's hidden plan of salvation is now revealed through the coming, death and resurrection of Christ).
(2) A 'steward' or servant assigned to be manager of a household or business must be 'trustworthy' (verse 2). So too a servant of Christ who is a steward of God's mysteries. The mysteries must be faithfully made available to the world; the steward so assigned is asked to be trustworthy - at all times relied on to do this work.
So Paul (with an implied assertion that he is just such as servant and steward) makes a point specific to the Corinthians critical approach to his work:
(3) Humans judge ministers of the church but what counts is the judgment of the Lord (verses 3-5). So Paul is untroubled by the critical, judgmental view of the Corinthians. His concern is that the Lord approves of what he has been doing.
Loads of sermons here! That is because quite a few interrelated themes are woven into this part of the Sermon. Wealth, both as a potential idolatrous rival to God (24) and as a cause of anxiety (i.e. do we have enough material wealth to pay for our daily needs, 25-34). Anxiety (25, 34) which is a fear that God is insufficient for and/or inattentive to our needs (see also 'you of little faith', 30). Life and what it consists of (25). God's provision of our needs (26-31). Our worth to God (26, 30).
Note that through this talk of Jesus bits of wisdom are also woven (which may connect with the invocation of Solomon, 29). So we find, "And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" (27) and "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today (34).
But the greatest theme through these verses is the character of God. Our Isaiah and Psalm readings have prepared us for what we find in the gospel reading. God is carer and provider to Israel, including the expanded 'Israel' of Christ's kingdom, whose citizens are the disciples addressed in his sermon. Whether we wonder where our next meal or drink or cloak is coming from, God will provide. Disciples of Jesus are not to worry about such things. Confidence in God as provider comes from consideration of creation itself. Birds without storage barns are fed by God via the way the world has been created. Flowers are beautifully adorned without ever weaving a thread. Yet birds and flowers are (relatively speaking) nothing compared to people, in God's sight.
Surely, though, one does not live as one wishes and expects bread on the table and clothes in the wardrobe? True, there is a condition imposed on the disciples: "strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well" (33).
But here 'condition' is not quite the right word, as though God won't help us until we fulfil this condition. Rather the point Jesus is making is that God will help his disciples as they go about the business of the kingdom. Preachers of the gospel of the kingdom need not worry about their material needs being provided for. God will look after them. Missioners active in spreading the kingdom through healing and deliverance ministry can focus on that work. Disciples following Jesus who have left trades and professions behind will be looked after.
Just as many of us have experienced our mothers as knowing what we need before we know it ourselves, so (putting Isaiah, Psalm and Matthew together), God our mother knows our needs and provides for them.