In this chapter, Paul continues the quest to reestablish his authority with the Corinthians as their apostle, and in doing so he opens up a bit about the things he has to suffer in order to serve Christ. It is an inspiring chapter -- and humbling.
If you're a pastor or Christian leader, the chances are that you've complained about your hardships. You may have complained a lot! In 1 Corinthians 4 we find insights about what apostles and other Christian workers have to suffer. Perhaps it will help you to understand that as you follow Christ, you too can expect to suffer hardship. Indeed, as Paul exhorts Timothy:
"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3)
But perhaps you're on the other end -- criticizing pastors and Christian leaders for their often very real weaknesses. This chapter has something to say to you, too.
Servants Entrusted with God's Message (4:1-2)Paul begins by explaining just how his sometimes critical readers ought to evaluate him.
"1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." (4:1-2)
"Regard" (NIV, ESV), "think of" (NRSV), "account of" (KJV) is logizomai, primarily a mathematical and accounting term, then of cognitive processes. The basic idea is to "calculate." Here it means, "as a result of a calculation, evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider."90 The Corinthians may have called Paul a lot of things, but here Paul says, the category in which you should place me in your mind is that of a trusted servant of God who is the bearer of special words from God to you. He uses two titles to describe his role:
"Servant" (NIV, NRSV), "minister" (KJV) is hypēretēs, frequently used as technical term for a governmental or other official, "one who functions as a helper, frequently in a subordinate capacity, helper, assistant."91 This is different from the words usually translated "servant," that is, doulos, "slave," anddiakanos, "minister, servant." Hypēretēs suggests administering the affairs of another.92
"Steward" (NRSV, KJV), "one entrusted" (NIV) is oikonomos, "manager of a household or estate, (house) steward, manager." This isn't the homeowner, but one of his servants who is entrusted with the task of managing. Robertson explains, "The steward or house manager (oikos, house, nemō, to manage, old word) was a slave under his lord, but a master over the other slaves in the house, an overseer over the rest."93 Figuratively, this word refers to "one who is entrusted with management in connection with transcendent matters, administrator."94 It is used in this sense in Titus 1:7 ("A bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless....") and in 1 Peter 4:10 ("faithfully administering God's grace...").
A third word is important for us to understand also -- mystērion, "mystery," which we also see at 2:1, 7; 13:2; and 14:2. Here it is translated "secret things" (NIV), "mysteries" (NRSV, KJV). The Message paraphrase catches a bit of the sense, "God's most sublime secrets." What Paul means is that the wonderful truths about the cross, the resurrection, and the salvation of the Gentiles have been hidden for ages, only hinted at in the Old Testament. Apostles -- and Christian pastors and teachers -- have both the immense privilege and huge responsibility of unwrapping these truths to people. They don't own the Gospel, but are Christ's assistants in the Kingdom, as well as managers of households owned by the King, charged with providing spiritual food for those in their household.
But verse 2 reminds us that faithfulness is required of apostles, pastors, and teachers.
"It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." (NIV)
"It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (NRSV)
The word is pistos, "pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."95 Faithful means that people can count on you. That you keep your word. That you are always present for duty when you're expected. In the vernacular, a faithful person isn't "flaky." If you want to be a pastor or elder, a teacher, you must "get your act together" and acquire a reputation of being faithful if you want to be taken seriously. After all, your faithfulness doesn't reflect merely on yourself, but on Christ whom you assist, and on God, in whose house you are providing food.
Q1. (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) In what sense is a Christian worker a "steward"? Have you ever met a Christian worker who wasn't faithful? What effect did this have on the church? On this person's witness. What are the reasons we are sometimes unfaithful in our area of ministry? What can we do to remedy that?