“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and of stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” – 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
A steward is one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns. In scripture, think of Eliezer of Damascus in Abraham’s house, or Joseph in Potiphar’s house.
To be faithful means to be steadfast in affection or allegiance, to be loyal, to adhere firmly to promises made or in observance of duty.
The Church in Corinth had divisions among them. The divisions revolved around two of God’s servants who had labored among them: Paul and Apollos. Some members of the congregation claimed to follow Paul while others claimed to follow Apollos. The third chapter of 1 Corinthians contains Paul’s rebuke to the church concerning such infantile sectionalism. When he got to chapter 4, the apostle begins, in the verses at the top of this page, to lay out what should instead be the perception of him and Apollos among the Corinthian believers. He said in essence: Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and not of ourselves. The estimate formed of us by each of you, the way you think of us, should be as ministers (servants) of Christ. Don’t think of either of us as the head of a faction or a party but unitedly as servants of Christ.
What was this servanthood about? The apostle urged that they be thought of as stewards of the mysteries of God, those entrusted with the secret things of God, dispensers of the mysterious truths of the gospel. They as ministers were men to whom God had committed his word and sacraments to dispense to his Church.
The Mystery of God
A mystery is a divine secret, not obvious to every capacity or understanding. Paul was saying the secrets of the all-wise God, that not everyone understands nor has the capacity to, God had graciously chosen them and entrusted the secrets to them to dispense to the Church. The large estate of the secrets of God in Jesus, hidden in his word, he gave these brothers the responsibility of receiving, writing down, caring for, and dispensing to the Church. God’s mystery, of course, is Jesus Christ:
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2). The message about his revelation has been packaged in the word of God. It is a travesty to read the word and not see Jesus. Jesus once called out the Jews on their blindness to the central theme of Scripture: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39). This mystery of God that was given to the apostles has been passed down to us. Today, every believer, in some measure, is a servant of the mysteries of God. It is required that each of us be a faithful steward of these mysteries.
It is a Big Deal
“He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.’” – Matthew 13:11
Dear believer in Jesus, it is a big deal, a high privilege, that out of the billions of people on earth, God has chosen you to be among those whom he has given the knowledge of the secrets of his kingdom. Sometimes our ease of access today and familiarity with the word cause us to lose the wonder of it all. If a president or monarch in today’s world entrusted you with their secrets, you would count yourself fortunate. How much more infinitely so should you consider yourself to have the word of the Almighty God revealed to you. It is with this same word that he created the universe and all that is in them. It is with this same word that the present world is sustained. It is by this same word that the world as we know it would one day be destroyed. In fact, the book of Hebrews says God sustains all things by his powerful word.
Those who have gone ahead of us certainly considered themselves favoured to have been entrusted with the word. Paul said, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2). Paul is saying, what difference does it make who’s a Jew and who isn’t? What advantage do they have that others don’t have? Do they get any benefit from being circumcised? He answers his own question by saying that being a Jew does actually make a lot of difference: they (Jews) have been “put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures” (Romans 3:2, MSG). Friend, it is an advantage to be entrusted with the mysteries of God. Jesus himself spoke of being given the word that he passed on to his disciples, who accepted them: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them” (John 17:8a). The word is so vital that the father saw it as what his son must have as he came to earth. Jesus valued it so highly as to be part of the inheritance he bequeathed to his disciples. Opting to remain faithful to the word, some persons have had to pay the supreme price in the most barbaric and gruesome of ways ever known to man. These ancient words came to us through sacrifice. It is that big a deal.
How to be Faithful
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
This letter was written to Timothy, a minister of the gospel, so there is a way in which the rendering “rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV) is used to address pastors and other ministers of the word only. But not only them have been given the word; all believers have. Therefore, there has to be a way that each believer “correctly handles the word of truth”. Think of an electrical appliance. It comes with instructions as to what to, and what not to, do with it, how to correctly handle it. The word of God must similarly be correctly handled by those whom God has made stewards of it, and that includes not just the clergy but all Christians. Paul said some of these Jews, entrusted with the mysteries of God, were unfaithful (Romans 3:3). Your own report should read differently. Here are a few ways you can correctly handle the word.
1. Study and Listen to It: The Bible says “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). If the Bible is the word of God, give time to hearing what it has got to say. You can’t claim to have the word, not listen to it, yet claim to be faithful to it. That is not correct handling. Let it dwell in you richly. This hearing is beyond your private study. It includes group study with others and listening to its preaching.
2. Believe It: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2). If you will not believe the word, there is no point in listening to it. That is a wrong way to act as a steward of its mysteries. How can you faithfully dispense what you do not believe in yourself? Unbelief is an incorrect way to handle the word. If those who were originally given the word failed to profit from it because of unbelief, you can’t disbelieve it and get a different result.
3. Obey It: “He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’” (Luke 11:28). The blessing is in the doing. You have not correctly handled the word when you have not obeyed its instructions. Obey it unreservedly. Mary said to the servants at the marriage feast, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5). That applies to you too.
4. Dispense It Faithfully: Jesus, speaking of the faithful and wise steward, said is he “whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42). He has been made a ruler over the household, but he doesn’t lord it over the members of the household. Instead, he serves them by giving them their portion of meat in due season. Every believer, in some measure, is a minister of the word. God expects that you will faithfully dispense of its truths in due season. Let no man’s season come to have heard its sacred truths from you but you failed to do so. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul lays out the way he brought the message to the people: (a) “Not with eloquence or superior wisdom”, “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words”, “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” The minister has been unfaithful to the message and the sender when the hearer’s faith rests on his (the messenger’s) wisdom or anything about him rather than the sender, God. (b) He “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Like was said earlier, the Scriptures testify about Jesus (John 5:39). On the road to Emmaus, Jesus began with Moses and all the Prophets and explained to the two traveling brothers what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Jesus is the message of all Scripture. The minister has not handled the word correctly if Jesus is not their message; such a steward has been unfaithful to the mysteries entrusted to them. The faithful minister who correctly handles the word would also not allow his ministry to create the kind of partisanship that Paul rebuked the Corinthian Church for: “I follow Paul”, or “I follow Apollos” or whatever names they bear today. One other area that the word is not handled correctly by some of its stewards is the taking of profits from it, chiefly monetary. Paul said, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). It is unfortunate that this crop are “so many”. Don’t swell their numbers. It is unfaithfulness to the word to peddle it like a common commodity so as to make money. Be faithful to the word.