This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (I Corinthians 4:1-2)
This passage summarizes Paul’s view of ministry. He has been dealing with the divisions among the Corinthians. Some were saying they they were of Paul, others said they were of Apollos, and still others said they were of Cephas. They had placed their leaders on a pedestal. They boasted in men. Paul had just told them not to boast in men (3:21). Then Paul summarizes what Christian leaders are to be.
First, Christian leaders are to be servants of Christ. Christ made it perfectly clear to His disciples that they were to follow His example and be servants to others. On one occasion James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in the seats of honor when they were in glory with Christ (Mark 10:38). Jesus responded with these words to all His disciples:
And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave to all” (Mark 10:42-44).
Jesus defines true greatness here. We must be servants, slaves to Christ and to others. This totally goes against what the world teaches and thinks. In fact, the world views servants as the least, at the bottom of social status. But Jesus in His kingdom views those who live as servants to be great.
Often Paul identified himself as a servant as he does in our passage from I Corinthians. Paul also made it clear that being a servant is no easy task. It takes great courage.
But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God; with weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors; and yet are true; as unknown and yet as well known; as dying and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything. ( II Corinthians 6:4-10)
Paul makes it very clear that being a servant is no easy task. Servants are often mistreated, taken advantage of, misunderstood, unappreciated, and even abused at times.
But he also makes it clear that servants are to be men and women of the highest character and integrity — purity, knowledge, patience, kindness. Being a servant means taking on the mind of Christ and relying on the power and fruit of the Holy Spirit. I do not think any other passage of Scripture explains true servant hood as well as Philippians 2:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind in yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant , being born in the likeness of men. And becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-11)
Servants must be humble. They must not only be concerned with their own interests, but also the interests of others. They must consider others as more important than themselves. They must be willing to make sacrifices. In short, they are required to have the mind of Christ.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Servants are to serve others as they would serve Christ Himself. They must not simply serve to please men, but they are to render their service as to the Lord. And faithful servants will receive a reward from the Lord Himself.
Much more could be said of our responsibility to be servants of Christ, but we move on to the second responsibility Paul attributes to Christian leaders — they are to be stewards of the mysteries of God.
First we must define what Paul means by “the mysteries of God.” He explains it in Colossians:
…Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the Word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)
From this passage, it seems that the glory of this mystery is the truth that Christ lives in us. He is our hope of glory. Until the time that Paul wrote and ministered God had not revealed this mystery. People did not realize that one day Christ would live in them.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Here is the mystery — Christ lives in me. It is not simply that Christ dwells in me, but that He lives HIs life out in my life. This is so profound, a mystery indeed. By His Spirit, Christ actually, truly lives in me. Now in the flesh, the life that I live is a life of faith in the Son of God. He is the One who loves me and the One who gave His life for me. And His life in me is my hope of glory! Now I see it. Christ lives in me. His life in me enables me to live my life in His power and in the sure hope of glory. We now have an eternal perspective This is what Peter means in his first epistle:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (I Peter 5:10)
We have been called to God’s eternal glory in Christ. This means we can live now with eternity in minds. This gives us the assurance that any suffering we face will be short-lived. “After you have suffered for a little while…” God Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.
This mystery is great and eternal. Now Christ lives in us and in the future He is our glory — our hope of glory now, but the fullness of our glory yet to come.
And now, one last thing. We are the stewards of the mystery of God. The gospel has been entrusted to us. It has become our responsibility. We are to live this mystery out in our lives to its fullness. And we are to anticipate with certainty our hope of glory.
To me though, I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Paul says that this mystery, this grace was given to him to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, a mystery that was hidden for ages in God. This mystery will result in a cosmic witness, yes, even to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This stewardship given to us has effects in eternity!
As God’s people we are to be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What an honor! What a responsibility!
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