1 Corinthians 4:1, 2
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.…
In the Corinthian Church two errors were prevalent with regard to the apostolic and other ministries - there was a tendency to exaggerate the importance of the agents by whom the truth was communicated, and there was a disposition to set one of these agents up as against another; so that partisanship and sectarianism violated the Christian unity.
I. THE SUBORDINATE POSITION OF CHRISTIAN TEACHERS. None need deem it a denudation or an undue humiliation to stand where the apostle stood; indeed, Paul is an acknowledged and admired model to all who work for the kingdom.
1. They are, in relation to Christ himself, ministers. They serve him, and count it an honour so to do. For his sake, and in his Name, they act as servants to their fellow men.
2. They are, in relation to the truth they promulgate, stewards. That is to say, the truth is not revealed by them, but to them; it is held not as their property, but as their trust; it is not appropriated to their own use, but dispensed by them for the benefit of others; they are not at liberty to do as they like with it - they are accountable to the Lord of all for the way in which they deal with it.
3. This being so, faithfulness is the virtue they are bound to cultivate and display. Whilst those who are independent are not especially bound to this duty, all who have derived from another, and are accountable to that other, are emphatically called to be faithful. Such is the position of all the ministers of Christ.
II. THE TRUE DIGNITY OF SPIRITUAL SERVANTS ARISES FROM THEIR RELATION TO THEIR LORD AND TO HIS WORD. There is a contrast between the service and the Master, between the stewardship and the mystery. The minister cannot think too lowlily of himself or too loftily of his theme and trust.
1. If they are ministers, they are ministers of Christ. An ambassador may be a person of lowly birth and feeble powers, but if he is an ambassador, his relation to his sovereign and the credentials and commission he has received entitle his message to peculiar consideration. And however the pastor, teacher, or evangelist may in himself be lacking in claims upon the respect of the superficial society called "the world," however he may be destitute of the shining gifts which command the admiration of the Church, still neither he nor those whose welfare he seeks are ever at liberty to forget that he is an ambassador from heaven, that he is commissioned and authorized by the King of kings.
2. If they are stewards, they are stewards of the mysteries of God. By mysteries the apostle meant truths which had in the past been hidden but were now revealed. Revealed in Christ, the Divine purposes of grace, salvation and life to all mankind, were published by the apostles and. their fellow labourers. And the declaration of the mind and heart of God was well worthy of being regarded as the impartation of a mystery compared with which all the wonders of Eleusis sank into insignificance. Of this Paul was conscious, and it would be well if every preacher of the gospel were ever to have this before his mind. We have this treasure, though "in earthen vessels." The solemnity of publishing Divine truth and the responsibility of hearing it are alike by these considerations brought very vividly before the mind. Thus are ministers unto some a savour of life unto life, unto others a savour of death unto death. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.