1 Corinthians 4:1
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
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(1-5) The first five verses of this chapter contain a further argument against party-spirit as it existed in the Corinthian Church—viz., that God alone can judge of any man’s work whether it be worthy, and that God, unlike man, who selects only some one for praise, will give to every worker his own proper share of approval.

(1) Man.—In a generic sense means “every one” (as in 1Corinthians 11:28, and Galatians 6:1).

Usi.e., Paul himself and Apollos.

As of the ministers of Christ.—Better, as ministers of Christ. The word used for “ministers” here expresses more strongly the idea of subordination than the word which occurs in 1Corinthians 3:5. It implies not only those who are under one superior, but those who are in a still inferior position—the officer who has to obey orders, as in Matthew 5:25—a “servant” (Matthew 26:58). Though servants, their office is one of great trust; they are “stewards” to whom the owner of the house has entrusted the care of those sacred things—“mysteries”—which heretofore have been hidden, but are now made known to them, his faithful subordinates. It is to be remembered that even the steward in a Greek household was generally a slave.

1 Corinthians 4:1. Let a man, &c. — Having warned the believers at Corinth against entertaining an undue esteem for their own ministers, he now proceeds to show them in what light they ought to view all true ministers of Christ: and lest, from what was advanced in the preceding chapters concerning the inspiration of the apostles by the Holy Spirit, these Corinthians should imagine that Paul claimed to himself and his brethren an authority not derived from Christ, he here tells them that even the apostles were only Christ’s servants; obliged in all things to act in entire subjection to him, and obedience to his will. So account of us as of the ministers of Christ — The original word, υπηρετας, properly signifies such servants as laboured at the oar in rowing vessels, and accordingly intimates the pains which every faithful minister of Christ takes in his Lord’s work. O God! where are these ministers to be found? Lord, thou knowest! and stewards of the mysteries of God — Dispensers of the mysterious truths of the gospel. “The apostle gives to those doctrines, which in former ages had been kept secret, but which were now discovered to all through the preaching of the gospel, the appellation of the mysteries of God, to recommend them to the Corinthians. And he calls himself the steward of these mysteries, to intimate, that the deepest doctrines, as well as the first principles of the gospel, were intrusted to him to be dispensed or made known.” — Macknight.4:1-6 Apostles were no more than servants of Christ, but they were not to be undervalued. They had a great trust, and for that reason, had an honourable office. Paul had a just concern for his own reputation, but he knew that he who chiefly aimed to please men, would not prove himself a faithful servant of Christ. It is a comfort that men are not to be our final judges. And it is not judging well of ourselves, or justifying ourselves, that will prove us safe and happy. Our own judgment is not to be depended upon as to our faithfulness, any more than our own works for our justification. There is a day coming, that will bring men's secret sins into open day, and discover the secrets of their hearts. Then every slandered believer will be justified, and every faithful servant approved and rewarded. The word of God is the best rule by which to judge as to men. Pride commonly is at the bottom of quarrels. Self-conceit contributes to produce undue esteem of our teachers, as well as of ourselves. We shall not be puffed up for one against another, if we remember that all are instruments, employed by God, and endowed by him with various talents.Let a man - Let all; let this be the estimate formed of us by each one of you.

So account of us - So think of us, the apostles.

As the ministers of Christ - As the servants of Christ. Let them form a true estimate of us and our office - not as the head of a faction; not as designing to form parties, but as unitedly and entirely the servants of Christ; see 1 Corinthians 3:5.

And stewards - Stewards were those who presided over the affairs of a family, and made provision for it, etc.; see the note at Luke 16:1. It was an office of much responsibility; and the apostle by using the term here seems to have designed to elevate those whom he seemed to have depreciated in 1 Corinthians 3:5.

Of the mysteries of God - Of the gospel; see the note at 1 Corinthians 2:7. The office of steward was to provide those things which were necessary for the use of a family. And so the office of a minister of the gospel, and a steward of its mysteries, is to dispense such instructions, guidance, counsel, etc., as may be requisite to build up the church of Christ; to make known those sublime truths which are contained in the gospel, but which had not been made known before the revelation of Jesus Christ, and which are, therefore, called "mysteries." It is implied in this verse:

(1) That the office of a minister is one that is subordinate to Christ - they are his servants.

(2) that those in the office should not attempt to be the head of sect or party in the church.

(3) that the office is honorable as that of a steward is; and,

(4) That Christians should endeavor to form and cherish just ideas of ministers; to give them their TRUE honor; but not to overrate their importance.


1Co 4:1-21. True View of Ministers: The Judgment Is Not to Be Forestalled; Meanwhile the Apostles' Low State Contrasts with the Corinthians' Party Pride, Not That Paul Would Shame Them, but as a Father Warn Them; for Which End He Sent Timothy, and Will Soon Come Himself.

1. account … us—Paul and Apollos.

ministers of Christ—not heads of the Church in whom ye are severally to glory (1Co 1:12); the headship belongs to Christ alone; we are but His servants ministering to you (1Co 1:13; 3:5, 22).

stewards—(Lu 12:42; 1Pe 4:10). Not the depositories of grace, but dispensers of it ("rightly dividing" or dispensing it), so far as God gives us it, to others. The chazan, or "overseer," in the synagogue answered to the bishop or "angel" of the Church, who called seven of the synagogue to read the law every sabbath, and oversaw them. The parnasin of the synagogue, like the ancient "deacon" of the Church, took care of the poor (Ac 6:1-7) and subsequently preached in subordination to the presbyters or bishops, as Stephen and Philip did. The Church is not the appendage to the priesthood; but the minister is the steward of God to the Church. Man shrinks from too close contact with God; hence he willingly puts a priesthood between, and would serve God by deputy. The pagan (like the modern Romish) priest was rather to conceal than to explain "the mysteries of God." The minister's office is to "preach" (literally, "proclaim as a herald," Mt 10:27) the deep truths of God ("mysteries," heavenly truths, only known by revelation), so far as they have been revealed, and so far as his hearers are disposed to receive them. Josephus says that the Jewish religion made known to all the people the mysteries of their religion, while the pagans concealed from all but the "initiated" few, the mysteries of theirs.1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Paul showeth in what account such as he should be

held, of whose fidelity it should be left to God

to judge.

1 Corinthians 4:6,7 He dissuadeth the Corinthians from valuing

themselves in one teacher above another,

since all had their respective distinctions

from God.

1 Corinthians 4:8-13 To their self-sufficient vanity he opposeth his

own despised and afflicted state,

1 Corinthians 4:14-16 warning them, as their only father in Christ, and

urging theme to follow him.

1 Corinthians 4:17-21 For the same cause he sent Timotheus, and meant

soon to follow in person, when he would inquire

into the authority of such as opposed him.

The apostle here gives us the right notion of the preachers of the gospel; they are but ministers, that is, servants, so as the honour that is proper to their Master, for a principal efficiency in the conversion and building up of souls, belongeth not to them; they are ministers of Christ, so have their primary relation to him, and only a secondary relation to the church to which they are ministers; they are ministers of Christ and so in that ministration can only execute what are originally his commands, though those commands of Christ may also be enforced by men: ministers of the gospel, not of the law, upon whom lies a primary obligation to preach Christ and his gospel unto people. They are also

stewards of the mysteries of God, such to whom God hath committed his word and sacraments to dispense out unto his church. The word mystery signifieth any thing that is secret, but more especially it signifieth a Divine secret, represented by signs and figures; or a religious secret, not obvious to every capacity or understanding. Thus we read of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 13:11; the mystery of godliness, 1 Timothy 3:16; the mystery of Christ, Ephesians 3:4. The wisdom of God, Colossians 2:2; the incarnation of Christ, 1 Timothy 3:16; the calling of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:4; the resurrection from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:21; Christ’s mystical union and communion with his church, Ephesians 5:32; the sublime counsels of God, 1 Corinthians 13:2, are all called mysteries. Ministers are the stewards of the mysterious doctrines and institutions of Christ, which we usually comprehend under the terms of the word and sacraments.

Let a man so account of us,.... Though the apostle had before said that he, and other ministers of the Gospel, were not any thing with respect to God, and, with regard to the churches, were theirs, for their use and advantage; yet they were not to be trampled upon, and treated with contempt, but to be known, esteemed, and honoured for their works' sake, and in their respective places, stations, and characters; and though they were but men, yet were not to be considered as private men, and in a private capacity, but as in public office, and as public preachers of the word; and though they were not to be regarded as lords and masters over God's heritage, but as servants, yet not as everyone's, or as any sort of servants, but

as the ministers, or servants, of Christ; as qualified, called, and sent forth by him to preach his Gospel; as ambassadors in his name, standing in his place and stead, and representing him, and therefore for his sake to be respected and esteemed; and as such who make him the subject of their ministry, preach him and him only, exalt him in his person, offices, blood, righteousness and sacrifice, and direct souls to him alone for life and salvation:

and stewards of the mysteries of God; though they are not to be looked upon as masters of the household, that have power to dispose of things in the family at their own pleasure; yet they are to be regarded as stewards, the highest officers in the house of God; to whose care are committed the secret and hidden things of God; whose business it is to dispense, and make known, the mysteries of divine grace; such as respect the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, the union of the two natures, divine and human, in his person, the church's union to him, and communion with him, with many other things contained in the Gospel they are intrusted with.

Let {1} a {a} man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

(1) He concludes the duty of the hearers towards their ministers: that they do not esteem them as lords. Yet nonetheless they are to give ear to them, as to those that are sent from Christ. Sent I say to this end and purpose, that they may receive as it were at their hands the treasure of salvation which is drawn out of the secrets of God.

(a) Every man.

1 Corinthians 4:1. Οὕτως] is commonly taken as preparatory, emphatically paving the way for the ὡς ὑπηρ. which follows. Comp 1 Corinthians 3:15, 1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Corinthians 9:5; Ephesians 5:33, al[595], and often in Greek writers. The καυχ. ἐν ἀνθρ. before repudiated arose, namely, out of a false mode of regarding the matter; Paul now states the true mode. Since, however, there is no antithetic particle added here, and since the following epithets: ὑπηρ. Χριστοῦ and οἰκον. Θεοῦ sound significantly like the ὑμεῖς δὲ Χριστοῦ, Χριστὸς δὲ Θεοῦ which immediately precede them, οὕτως is rather to be regarded as the sic retrospective (in this way, in such fashion), and ὡς again as stating the objective quality, in which the ἡμεῖς have a claim to the οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζ. ἄνθρ. which is enjoined. Accordingly, we should explain as follows: Under this point of view, as indicated already in 4:22 f. (namely, that all is yours; but that ye are Christ’s; and that Christ, again, is God’s), let men form their judgment of us, as of those who are servants of Christ and stewards of divine mysteries. Let us but be judged of as servants of Christ, etc., according to the standard of that lofty Christian mode of view (οὕτως), and how conclusively shut out from this sphere of vision will be the partisan καυχᾶσθαι ἐν ἀνθρώποις! Men will be lifted high above that.

ἡμᾶς] i.e. myself and such as I, by which other apostles also and apostolic teachers (like Apollos) are meant. In view of 1 Corinthians 3:22, no narrower limitation is allowable.

ἄνθρωπος] not a Hebraism (אִישׁ, one; so most interpreters, among whom Luther, Grotius, and others explain it wrongly every one), but in accordance with a pure Greek use of the word in the sense of the indefinite one or a man (Plato, Protag. p. 355 A, Gorg. p. 500 C, al[596]). So also in 1 Corinthians 11:28; Galatians 6:1. Bengel’s “homo quivis nostris similis” is an importation.

ὑπηρ. Χ. κ. οἰκον. μυστ. Θεοῦ] They are servants of Christ, and, as such, are at the same time stewards of God (the supreme ruler, 1 Corinthians 3:23, the Father and Head of the theocracy, the οἶκος Θεοῦ, 1 Timothy 3:15), inasmuch as they are entrusted with His secrets, i.e. entrusted and commissioned to communicate by the preaching of the gospel the divine decrees for the redemption of men and their receiving Messianic blessings (see on Romans 11:25; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:9; Matthew 13:11),—decrees in themselves unknown to men, but fulfilled in Christ, and unveiled by means of revelation. They are to do this just as the steward of a household (see on Luke 16:1) has to administer his master’s goods. Comp as regards this idea, 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10. There is no reference whatever here to the sacraments, which Olshausen and Osiander again desire to include. See 1 Corinthians 1:17. The whole notion of a sacrament, as such, was generalized at a later date from the actions to which men restricted it, sometimes in a wider, sometimes in a narrower sense.

Observe, moreover: between the Father, the Master of the house, and the οἰκονόμοι there stands the Son, and He has from the Father the power of disposal (comp on John 8:35 f.; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ff.), so that the οἰκονόμοι are His servants. Paul uses ὑπηρέτης only in this passage; but there is no ground for importing any special design into the word (such as that it is humbler than διάκονος). Comp on Ephesians 3:7.

[595] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[596] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5. The right point of view from which to regard Christian teachers (1 Corinthians 4:1-2); Paul, nevertheless, for his own part, does not give heed to human judgment, nay, he does not even judge himself, but his judge is Christ (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). Therefore his readers should give up their passing of judgments till the decision of the Parousia (1 Corinthians 4:5).1 Corinthians 4:1. “In this way let a man take account of us, viz., as servants of Christ, etc.” Οὕτως draws attention to the coming ὡς: the vb[631] λογιζέσθω implies a reasonable estimate, drawn from admitted principles (cf. Romans 6:11; Romans 12:1, λογικήν), the pr[632] impv[633] an habitual estimate. The use of ἄνθρωπος for τις (1 Corinthians 11:28, etc.), occasional in cl[634] Gr[635], occurs “where a gravior dicendi formula is required” (El[636]). Ὑπηρέτης (only here in Epp.: see parls.) agrees with οἰκέτης (Romans 14:4, domestic) in associating servant and master, whereas διάκονος rather contrasts them (1 Corinthians 3:5, see note; Mark 9:35): see Trench, Syn[637], § 9.—ὡς ὑπηρ. Χριστοῦ κ. οἰκονόμους κ.τ.λ., “as Christ’s assistants, and stewards of God’s mysteries”—in these relations Jesus set the App. to Himself and God: see Matthew 13:11; Matthew 13:52. With P. the Church is the οἶκος (1 Timothy 3:15), God the οἰκοδεσπότης, its members the οἰκεῖοι (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:19), and its ministers—the App. in chief—the οἰκονόμοι (1 Corinthians 9:17, Colossians 1:25, etc.). The figure of 1 Corinthians 3:9 ff. is kept up: those who were ἀρχιτέκτων and ἐποικοδομοῦντες in the rearing of the house, become ὑπηρέται and οἰκονόμοι in its internal economy. The οἰκονόμος was a confidential housekeeper or over-seer, commonly a slave, charged with provisioning the establishment. Responsible not to his fellows, but to “the Lord,” his high trust demands a strict account (Luke 12:41-48).—On μυστ. Θεοῦ, see notes to 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:9 f.: the phrase implies not secrets of the master kept from other servants, but secrets revealed to them through God’s dispensers, to whose judgment and fidelity the disclosure is committed (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 3:1).

[631] verb

[632] present tense.

[633] imperative mood.

[634] classical.

[635] Greek, or Grotius’ Annotationes in N.T.

C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

[637] synonym, synonymous.1. Let a man so account of us] ‘Of the things of which we have spoken this is the sum.’ We are not to be regarded for any qualifications we may have of our own, but simply as ‘the servants of the Most High God.’

and stewards of the mysteries of God] Literally, house-ruler, or house feeder. Cf. German Hauswalter from walten to rule, and the English house-keeper. What a steward’s office is, we learn from St Matthew 24:45. And he is appointed to dispense the mysteries of the Gospel. This word is derived from a word signifying to close, to shut, and was in the old Greek civilization used to denote those rites which were only permitted to the initiated, and were kept a strict secret from the outside world. Of such a kind were the well-known Eleusinian mysteries, which were kept every fifth year at Eleusis in Attica, the rites of the Bona Dea, which were observed at Rome, and those of Isis and Mithras, which were of Egyptian and Persian origin. (See Article “Mysteria” in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities.) The word is used in Scripture in two senses, (1) for things hidden from the ordinary understanding, (2) of things formerly concealed in the counsels of God but revealed to those who believe the Gospel. We have examples of the former meaning in ch. 1 Corinthians 13:2 and 1 Corinthians 14:2 of this Epistle, in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and in Revelation 1:20. The latter sense is met with in Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26, &c. The present passage appears to include both meanings. The ministers of Christ are to nourish their people on the knowledge of the truths of His Gospel, a knowledge (ch. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16) revealed only to the spiritual. No instance of the word in its more modern Greek sense of Sacraments is to be found in Holy Scripture. In the Septuagint it is frequently found in the Apocrypha (as in Tob 12:7; Tob 12:11), but the only instances of its occurrence in the Canonical books are in the Septuagint translation of the book of Daniel, ch. Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:27-30; Daniel 2:47, ch. 1 Corinthians 4:9 (where it is the translation of a Chaldaic word signifying “a thing hidden,” which in our Authorized Version is translated secret) and in Isaiah 24:16, where, however, the translators, as those of the Vulgate, appear to have been misled by the similarity of the Chaldee word to a Hebrew one. Luther, Ewald, and the English version translate the word by ‘leanness.’ It is also found in some editions in the Greek of Proverbs 20:19. Cf. for similar sentiments to the above passage, Titus 1:7, and 1 Peter 4:10.

Ch. 1 Corinthians 4:1-7. The true estimation of Christ’s ministers and the true criterion of their work

After having pointed out the light in which the teachers of Christianity should be regarded, the Apostle in this chapter goes on to point out the practical difference between those who preach themselves and those who preach Christ, and urges all to a life like His, that He may have no need of rebukes when He comes.1 Corinthians 4:1. Οὕτως, so) is determinative, and resumes the subject from what precedes.—λογιζέσθω, account) without glorying, 1 Corinthians 3:21.—ἄνθρωπος, a man) איש, any man, one like ourselves, 1 Corinthians 3:21.—ὑπηρτέτας, ministers) Luke 1:2.—Χριστοῦ, of Christ) in His office [as the only Great Mediator]; not [ministers] of men.—οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων Θεοῦ, stewards of the mysteries of God) Paul, where he describes the ministers of the Gospel in the humblest language, still acknowledges them to be stewards: see Titus 1:7, note; comp. of Christ, and, of God, with 1 Corinthians 3:23. [Mysteries are heavenly doctrines, of which men are ignorant without the revelation of GOD.—V. g.]Verses 1-5. - Judgments, human and Divine, respecting ministers. Verse 1. - Let a man so account of us. Since it is inevitable that Christians should form some estimate of the position of their ministers, he proceeds to tell them what that estimate should be. Ministers are not to be unduly magnified, for their position is subordinate; they are not to be unduly depreciated, for if they are faithful they may appeal from frivolous human prejudices and careless depreciations to that only Judge and Master before whom they stand or fall. Ministers; here huperetas; in 1 Corinthians 3:5 diakonous. They are huperetai (in its derivation "under rowers") in their relation to Christ; diakonoi in their relation to men. Of Christ; and therefore responsible to Him. Stewards; dispensers, subordinate distributors. These "agents" were higher slaves (Luke 16:1-8). Of the mysteries of God. The word "mysteries" means truths once hidden but now revealed; as in Luke 8:10, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." In later patristic usage the word means "sacraments;" but St. Paul has expressly said (1 Corinthians 1:17) that his mission was to preach the gospel, not primarily to administer the sacraments. (For descriptions of the work of a minister according to St. Paul's lofty ideal, see the pastoral Epistles, and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-11; Colossians 1:25-29; Acts 20:18-21, 24-28. St. Peter's is given in 1 Peter 4:10, 11; 1 Peter 5:2-4.) A minister is not to be estimated as a supernatural teacher, or a civil autocrat, or an infallible critic, but as an ambassador from Christ, who reveals to the "initiated" that which they could not otherwise know. Ministers (ὑπηρέτας)

See on officer, Matthew 5:25. Only here in Paul's epistles.


See on Luke 16:1.

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