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.…
The apostle here intimates what are right thoughts for Christian people to cherish concerning their teachers, he uses two words, "ministers," "stewards," the former of which is familiar, the latter needs some explanation. A minister is "one who serves," and no more honourable thought can be attached to the Christian teacher than that he serves Christ among his people, and serves the people for Christ's sake. Our Lord himself said, "I am among you as he that serveth;" and St. Paul says to his converts, "Ye serve the Lord Christ." We propose now to dwell more fully on the figure of the steward. A Christian teacher is to be thought of as a "steward of the mysteries of God." The word "steward" is used in England for a "land bailiff;" but in the East it was employed for a person put in trust of all his master's goods - "such as was Eliezer in the house of Abraham (Genesis 24:2-12), and Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4). It was one of the main duties of such a steward to dispense their portions of food to the different members of the household (Luke 12:42), to give the slaves or servants their "portion in due season." Compare the words "housekeeper," "house ruler," "house feeder," and see Matthew 24:45. The apostle's point is that the Christian teacher is not to be esteemed for any particular qualifications which he may have of his own, but simply for his faithfulness in doing his work as the servant of God. Christian congregations may fall into either of two errors; the "Christian minister may be glorified, or made an idol of, in two ways - by party worship of the man, or by attaching a mystical or supernatural power to the office." Both the minister himself, and those among whom he labours, do well to keep ever in mind that he is but a steward, only Christ's servant, to minister to them in Divine things. We consider, then -
I. THE STEWARD'S TRUSTS. "The mysteries of God." Mysteries were familiar things to those whom the apostle addressed. "The word 'mysteries' 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." It should be noticed that the word "mystery" is used in the Scriptures in two distinct senses:
(1) for things that are hidden from the ordinary understanding; and
(2) for things that in past times were unknown, but are now revealed to those who believe the gospel. The term is chiefly used in this latter sense. When St. Paul exclaims, "Great is the mystery of godliness," he means the "revealed mystery," of which he immediately speaks, even God, or Christ, being "manifest in the flesh." The trust of the Christian teacher is, then, the revealed mystery of the gospel, and this may be said to have three centres round which it gathers:
(1) the Incarnation;
(2) the Sacrifice;
(3) the Resurrection.
The Incarnation reveals the mysteries of God and of man; the Sacrifice reveals the mysteries of sin and of redemption from sin; and the Resurrection reveals the mysteries of immortality and of sanctification. So these are the great truths and trusts of which the Christian teachers are "stewards." Their work is to minister these truths, in all their varied adaptations and applications, to the people of their charge. Happy, indeed, are they who can close their ministry pleading as St. Paul did, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God."
II. THE STEWARD'S RESPONSE TO HIS TRUSTS. "Found faithful." The thought of St. Paul seems to have been that due inquiry is made into the character and trustworthiness of a man before he is put into the office of a steward; as he elsewhere says, "Let them first be proved." But we may fairly include under his language the reasonable expectation that the man who is entrusted with a responsible position and work will be "found faithful" in his doing of it. Then we must inquire what should be the faithfulness of a Christian teacher, or indeed of the Christian man, to whom the gospel mysteries have been revealed. It should be manifest in three departments:
1. He must be faithful to his Master, God; seeking his service only, and his glory only.
2. He must be faithful to the truths he has received; carefully setting them, and not any mere ideas he may have about them, before the people; and seeking to set the whole of them, and not merely portions in which he may be personally interested, before his congregation.
3. He must be faithful to the people to whom God may have sent him; taking up the burden of their spiritual needs on his own heart; feeling ever as did good Samuel Rutherford when he said, "God is my witness, that your salvation would be two salvations to me, and your heaven two heavens to me!" Impress that the more deeply we feel the greatness of our trusts, as having had the great religious mysteries in part revealed to us, the more serious becomes for us the question of our "faithfulness;" and the more shall we feel the need for solemn times of self searching and self criticism. It is an unspeakable honour to be entrusted with the "mysteries" of God and of Christ and of redemption from sin; but all true and humble souls say with the apostle, "But who is sufficient for these things? " - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.