Summary: Everything we have came from God- even our personalities- and we need to exercise proper stewardship within this reality.
March 3, 2001
We don’t have stewards in most areas of our lives anymore, but in a bygone day, stewards were tremendously important. In fact, the efficient operation of a household depended on the faithfulness and diligence of the steward. The steward was the official who controlled the affairs of a large household, overseeing the services at the master’s table, directing the household servants, and controlling the household expenses on behalf of the master. Without question, you’ll recognize this to be a powerful and very influential person.
If you remember the story of Joseph, in Egypt, when his brothers came, it was the steward who received the instruction about returning their money, and whom the brothers talked with when they found it and were very troubled by that discovery. It was the steward, named Eliezer, who would have been Abraham’s heir if Ishmael and Isaac had not been born. In Daniel, it is the steward of the king that the 4 Jewish men talked with about not eating the rich food and being able to have a more healthy diet, and who complied, reluctantly, fearing loss of his office and privilege if they were to appear to be wanting.
Stewardship is very important in the Christian life, as well and although we don’t use the term all that much, in general life, it is an important concept for us in 2001, too! It was for the Corinthian Christians and Paul had to bring them up short because their ideas were not rooted soundly on this subject.
Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 4, and let’s unpack some of what Paul has to say to us today, and here, even as he had to say some things to the Corinthian Christians. We have a discussion in which he attacks self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, and self-exaltation in any form. Paul is truly the humble servant of God, and has the most incredible measure of perspective about what is important.
Let’s look at the focus in the first few verses here.
v. 1- ministers of Christ- now that ‘could’ be read in several different ways with different messages. Some might read that in a way to emphasize their own importance as ministers of Christ, but that would be very much out of keeping with the context. The key word is not ‘ministers’; the key word is ‘Christ’. This is a term of ownership or possession, where Paul is emphasizing who he answers to.
Similarly, in the expressions ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’ can be read, and has been read over the years, in different ways. It could be read to emphasize the specialness of someone who understands or has these mysteries of God. But, again, that would be outside the proper context, and I believe you’ll recognize that as you put this chapter in the context of the 3 chapters that have come before, where Paul’s constant emphasis is on “Him” and identity coming from Him and accountability to Him. There’s absolutely NO space for emphasis on the individual as special. The focus here is that the mysteries belong to God, and they are stewards of those. A steward had to behave carefully. Remember the parable of the unfaithful steward, who was about to be removed from office because of abusing it and bringing a certain shame to his master and his master’s household? Stewardship carried heavy responsibility.
v. 2- the requirement of stewardship was to be faithful. A steward was a super servant. He was not an entity to himself. He had to behave in a way that was consistent with the master and the nature of the household.
v. 3, 4- was Paul being ‘cocky’ and self-assured? Not at all. When you understand the context, you don’t misunderstand Paul- so much of contemporary attacks on Paul come from not understanding the context and what he was really saying. His confidence, of course, is in God and he knows that he is answerable to God. This is a correct understanding of the steward’s role. The steward answered to the master and to no one else! He was exalted or condemned by the master of the household. This is what Paul is declaring.
v. 5- What a verse full of principles for us all! Hasty judgment is so prevalent and is what so many of us will do, on almost any issue. This is what the news media is ‘into’, and editorialists and commentators are always jumping into issues, often without doing their research very well.
In the true context of this letter, though, Paul is urging being slow in judgment and waiting for the whole story to come out. This, he acknowledges, doesn’t necessarily happen immediately. Sometimes it takes time! Wait and let the day of the Lord take care of things. This brings us to that idea of ‘the Day of reckoning,’ which he discussed in chapter 3. At that time, everything will be on the table, not just part facts or personal perceptions of facts.