1 Corinthians 4:1-7
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.…
The idea of the ministry as a Divine institution, set apart as a peculiar calling and charged with an infinite trust, cannot as yet relax its hold on St. Paul's mind. Tenacity of a great truth is not altogether a matter of our volition. At first the will has much to do in directing attention to a truth and keeping it fixed; but in no long time, if the man has trained himself to reflect, and, above all, if he is an earnest man, the truth recurs by some process of self suggestion. After a while, indeed, it happens with many who give themselves to profound investigations, that the subject gains a certain mastery over them, so that it costs more effort to dismiss it than was originally needed to concentrate attention. No capacity of the mind is so pliant as the capacity to be absorbed in an object of thought, and it seems independent of idiosyncrasy. Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Walter Scott both refer to the difficulty they had in discharging a topic from their minds if it had enlisted their interest. St. Paul had said much on the office of the ministry, but the theme was by no means exhausted. One aspect, a special one, remained, viz. stewardship. Ministers are "stewards of the mysteries of God;" if so, fidelity is their highest duty, or rather the soul of every duty. If the preacher had to set forth so unpopular a doctrine as Christ crucified, so obnoxious to worldly culture, so alien to the civilization of the age, then this "foolishness of preaching" was a very urgent reason for faithfulness. What need of watchfulness here! "Who can understand his errors," and especially these errors? Apostles were "men of like passions" with others; and this very likeness, while fraught with dangers both obvious and occult, made them fit, under God, for their work. The idea of stewardship was familiar to these Corinthians, perhaps keenly so to some of them; for in the business of that day much had to be entrusted to agents. Now, the master in such cases cannot give detailed instructions to his stewards, and hence a good deal must be left to their judgment. The hazard, let it be observed, is not on the side of the understanding; no rare intellectual outfit was requisite in this instance; the one supreme doctrine of Christ crucified had wisdom and power sufficient to impart truth of thought and emotion to all subordinate doctrines. But the danger lay in a want of fidelity. And had not St. Paul evinced this faithfulness while with these Corinthians? Yet, whether they admired or blamed, whether acquitted or condemned, what was that to him? "A very small thing was man's judgment;" nor, forsooth, would he judge himself, but leave all judgment to the Lord Jesus. Spiritual discernment has its functions; insight is a glorious gift; but the Lord reserves judgment to himself. That judgment awaits its day of revelation, when "the hidden things of darkness" and the "counsels of the hearts" shall be made manifest. Then, indeed, men shall see themselves as Christ sees them. Here, in this world, even in our most enlightened state, consciousness is partial. Much of a man lies far down in unillumined depths; the secrets of motives and impulses evade his personal cognizance; only in fragments can he realize himself; how much less can he comprehend others! And, "therefore, judge nothing before the time." Obviously, then, humility of judgment is not only an intellectual excellence but a spiritual virtue. It is a Divine discernment of our limitations, a Divine insight into the fact that there is an unconscious man no less than a conscious one in every human being, and that, meantime, fidelity stands free of all restrictions and abatements. Does fidelity look at office? It does not see popularity, honour, preferment, but duty, duty alone, duty ever; and this sense of duty, inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost, educates the man in tact and skill, in diligence and patience. Does fidelity look at others? It neither exaggerates nor depreciates them, nor can it regard them as rivals, since no man can possibly have a sense of rivalry who realizes Christ in the most essential fact of work, viz. brotherhood. And consequently, one of the many beautiful provisions of Christianity to secure fidelity is found in the brotherhood of Christians. Does fidelity look into its own heart? Even then infirmity clings to its energetic searching. On its good side it may be too self exacting, morbid, harshly critical of itself; on its weak side it may be lenient and over indulgent. And hence St. Paul, while conscious of knowing nothing against himself, declares, "Yet am I not hereby justified," and relies solely on the justification of Christ at that great assize, which, among all its wonders, shall surprise men most of all by its divinely revealed estimates of human character. "For your sakes," so he argues, "I have been thus explicit and emphatic, transferring these things to myself and Apollos," in order that the Corinthians might clearly see his own disinterestedness. This point assured, the way is open for remonstrance. Why are ye puffed up? If we are recipients; if Paul and Apollos are mere stewards of the Master's riches; if self judgments and judgments of others are impossible to men under the limitations of consciousness and observation; if "the counsels of the hearts" keep out of sight and hold their latency intact for the final day; and if, meantime, fidelity to duty is the supreme concern and adequate to call out and employ all the spiritual resources of our nature under grace; and, finally, if you owe all your means of acting on one another and the world to the brotherhood of the Church; - why do ye stand arrayed in sharp hostility against one another and rend asunder the Lord's body? - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.