The Gospel Oarsman

By: Zach Collins

Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 

The Apostle Paul often employed words, in his writings of inspiration, that held far deeper and more significant meanings than their appearance on the surface. One such example is found in the aforementioned verse. The word servant, found in 1 Corinthians 4:1, comes from the Greek word huperetes (hoop-ay-ret’-ace), meaning, “under-oarsman” or “subordinate rower.” While we might struggle with understanding the meaning of such words today, this was a common Greek word used for a servant, denoting a specific servant of his time, an under-rower. Ancient ships were driven, not by wind and sail, but by slaves who rowed in the belly of a ship. These men were called “under-rowers.” These slaves would sit on wooden benches, have their feet chained to the floor of the ship, and would spend their lives rowing at the captain’s commands. It is a word for a servant of God that possesses profound application in our lives. 

Could any of the following statements be made applicable to the lives of Christians? 

An under-rower was typically a slave or servant owned by the master of the ship. From the moment the under-rower stepped foot on the ship, the will of the under-rower was in submission to the will of his master. 

An under-rower was part of a team of under-rowers that worked together. A typical oar was about thirty feet long and, often, required up to three men per oar. They had to work together as a team. These men worked behind the scenes, in the belly of the ship, out of the eyesight of other passengers on the ship they were rowing.

An under-rower’s greatest direction was his faith and trust in the captain of the ship. The captain could see the best and farthest. The under-rowers were in the galley and, therefore, could not see the obstacles that awaited them. All they could do was row, trusting and obeying that the captain of the ship knew what he was doing. 

An under-rower was committed to his task for life. There were no job transfers or retirement. They lived their life as an oarsman, and they died as an oarsman. 

An under-rower would receive no honor. They were not recipients of laud and praise! They completed a thankless task and went unrecognized in their servitude day in and day out. 

Paul said, “Let a man so consider us… servants (oarsmen)…” As a servant of King Jesus, Paul was committed to a life lived in the ministry of the gospel. He served His master, Jesus Christ because He purchased his soul (c.f., Acts 20:28). He worked together with those of the same calling, such as Barnabas, in the labor of the gospel (c.f., Acts 11:26). While his task required him to be lowly and without honor in his life, it was the highest venture of service to God. Though he could not see the obstacles that awaited him in the restless waters ahead, he put his faith and trust in his master to lead him in the right direction and bring him to the right destination (c.f., 2 Timothy 4:7-8). He was a gospel oarsman. 

 Let us row the gospel message in sync with the Captain of our salvation and submit to his instruction and direction, which will lead us to the ultimate destination. 

December 19th, 2023