1 Corinthians 4:1-7
I. Servants and Stewards (vv.1-2)
In short, here are my basic definitions of service and stewardship…
Service: obedience in doing what God says.
Stewardship: faithfulness in managing God’s things.
Servants of Christ – The Greek word used here is not the standard doulos (slave) or even diakonos (deacon, servant), but instead huperetes (assistant, helper, officer, underling, subordinant, servant), which fits together quite neatly with oikonomos (steward, manager). Functionally, God’s business is our business. As He is in authority over us, we carry out His commands (service). As He has entrusted to us a specific charge, we strive to be faithful in its administration (stewardship).
Stewards of the Mysteries of God – Stewardship presupposes entrustment. Something has been given for safe keeping or responsible discharge. What remains in question here is what has been entrusted to our care: the mysteries (musterion) of God. What are the mysteries of God? Compiling BDAG’s two primary definitions of musterion for one unified understanding, it basically means this: the private counsel of God which exceeds natural human capacities for understanding. In other words, these mysteries must be revealed, or they will never be perceived. In Matthew 13:11 Jesus says, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” The implication here is that the truth of the kingdom cannot be comprehended apart from divine revelation. Here is a quick rundown of “mysteries” referenced in the New Testament:
- The nature of the kingdom as Jesus describes it in parables (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10)
- The partial hardening of Israel for the salvation of the Gentiles, culminating eventually in the salvation of Israel (Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:4-6)
- The Gospel, plain and simple (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 6:19; 1 Timothy 3:16)
- The blessings God has in store for believers (1 Corinthians 2:6-10)
- Our future resurrection and glorification (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
- The eventual summing up of all things in Christ, which has a strong bearing on our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:9-14)
- The parallel of earthly marriage with the coming union of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32)
- Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27; 2:2-3)
- The work of the man of lawlessness, the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12)
- Various eschatological events in Revelation
These are the explicit mysteries of God, which largely revolve around the reconciliation of Creator/creature by the cross, the future glory of Jesus, and the riches that lie in store for us as we are united with Him. Paul describes himself in 1 Cor. 4:1, Eph. 3:2-3, Col. 1:25-26 as a steward of the mysteries of Christ. He calls elders and deacons to similar charges in Titus 1:7-9 and 1 Tim. 3:9.
In short, the basic mark of any Christian who would assume any form of leadership in the church is that he takes stewardship of the mysteries of God very seriously. The basic question here is this: You have the heard the Gospel and taken hold of it; now what are you doing with it? “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48).”
II. Not Judges (vv.3-5)
It is en vogue these days for people to quote, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” They use this as a way of saying, “You have no right to judge me.” That is not at all what Paul is saying in this little passage. Instead he says, “Judge away. Ultimately, God is my judge. And His opinion carries infinitely greater weight.” I agree with his sentiment, but how in the world can a guy take his own worldly reputation so lightly? I care very, very deeply about the opinions of other people regarding myself. Too deeply. Far too deeply. I think Paul was a lot farther down the road of following Jesus in emptying himself, making himself nothing (Philippians 2:7) than I am.
The way that God evaluates me as a servant and a steward is far more important than whatever standard people might use to judge me. Ultimately, I belong to Jesus (1 Cor. 3:23), and everything and everyone in existence belongs to Him. He is Creator, King, and Judge. All gratitude, allegiance, and honor belong to Him.
Make myself nothing, and pride will no longer have the solid footing to subdue me to earthly judgment.
III. Recipients (vv.6-7)
Everything I have has been given to me, beginning with life itself. I did not bring myself to life, I did not gift myself with talents or abilities, I did not wire myself with personality or temperament, and I did not make for myself a place in this world. Everything I have and everything I am has been given to me. So why in the world is the desire in me so strong to carry myself as a self-made man, an original, someone worth knowing?
The tendency toward judgmentalism of man is rooted in our collective misunderstanding, ignorance, and forgetfulness that we are derivative beings. Our lives originate in God, are sustained by God, and belong to God. As recipients, we live as stewards, not owners. We are servants, not lords. And we are subjects, not judges or kings. There is one Owner, one Lord, one Judge, and one King. My attempt to install myself in place of Him in any one of these areas is blasphemy. I do not own anything, but by His grace I have become a co-heir with Christ of all things (1 Cor. 3:21; Gal. 4:1-7). I possess no authority over anyone or anything in this life, but by grace I am told that I will reign one day with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12). I do not have the wisdom or the place to make right judgments in this life, but by grace I will judge both angels and the world itself (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
In and of myself, I am nothing. In Him, I have everything. The danger lies in what Paul describes in v.8, being already filled, already rich, already a king. If I seek to fill myself (rather than empty myself), earn great earthly gain for myself, and make myself king, my life will stand by my power, which is something of the order of shifting sand. But if He is everything and I am nothing, then God offers the far greater place of standing in His grace (Rom. 5:2), sustained by His strength, fueled with His power.