Servants of Christ and Their Work: Part 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

October 4, 2012


Commentary on First Corinthians By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 2.8: Servants of Christ and Their Work
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4.1-4.4

1 Cor 4:1-4 (KJV)
All ministers are servants of Christ
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Introduction
In this chapter we have an account, of the constancy of the apostle and his fellow-laborers in their work.
• Their constancy is declared (v. 1).
• Their sincerity is affirmed (v. 2).
• An objection is anticipated (v. 3, v. 4).
Many Corinthian believers were rejecting both Paul’s teaching and his authority. Paul reasserted his authority over them, all the while emphasizing his role as “servant” and “steward” of the mysteries of God—the truths of the gospel. A “steward” (Gk. oikonomos) is the servant who is entrusted with the administration of his master’s business or property. Life, itself is a stewardship, so be faithful (vv. 1–5). We judge ourselves, and others judge us; but the Final Judge is the Lord. Live to please Him alone.

Commentary
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

It follows from what was said in the previous chapter that the people should regard their ministers as the servants of Christ, and dispensers of the truths which God had revealed.

Let a man so account of us,
Although the apostle had said before that he, and other ministers of the Gospel, were not anything when compared to God, and, as far as the churches are concerned, they belonged to them; they were for their use—to lead and benefit them; however they were not to be trampled upon, and treated with contempt, but they were to be known, esteemed, and honored for their works' sake, their respective positions, and personal character; and although they were mere men, they were not to be considered as private men, acting in a private capacity, but in a public office, and as public preachers of the word; and they were not to be regarded as lords and masters over God's Christians, but as servants of the church. They are to listen to what they have to say, as if they were sent to them by God, which they were: they were to receive as it were at their hands the treasure of salvation which is drawn out of the secrets of God.

So account of us. Paul makes a request of the Corinthian believers; that he, and the other apostles (us) be regarded as servants. Paul had a real problem with the Corinthians; they tended to look down on him and not respect his apostolic authority. In carefully chosen words, Paul will show the Corinthians how to have a proper regard—not too exalted, and not too low—of him and the other apostles.

us--Paul and Apollos, and the other apostles.

as the ministers of Christ,
We are all “the ministers of Christ.” Every believer is a minister of Christ. Sometimes a member of a congregation will say, “There is my minister.” Well, I hope he is a minister of Christ instead, because he is responsible to Him. And you, as a minister of Christ, are responsible to Him. We are all ministers. You are a preacher whether you like it or not. Now don’t get angry with me for saying that. I heard this story from a preacher on TV. “There was a man living near our church in Pasadena, when I was pastor there, who was an alcoholic, a real sot. He lived with his mother who was a wonderful Christian lady, and she asked me to talk with him. One day when I saw him staggering down the street, I just sort of detoured him into my study. He sat down and I told him what a sorry person he was. He agreed with every bit of it. Then I said to him, “Do you know that you are a preacher?” Well, he stood up and said, “Don’t you call me that—I’ll hit you!” He didn’t mind being called a drunkard or an alcoholic, but he certainly didn’t want to be called a preacher! Well, we are all preachers. As I told him, ‘We preach some message by our lives. You are saying something to the world and to those around you by your life. You can’t help it. I live my life unto you and you live your life unto me. It’s just that way. We have that kind of influence.’”

My friend, if you are a believer, you are a minister of Christ. What kind of message are you giving?

Ministers of Christ are not heads of the Church in whom you are to personally pay tribute to: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Co. 1.12; KJV). There appears to have been four rival parties in the Corinthian Church. Those who professed to follow Paul; perhaps because he was the most inspirational teacher. Then there were those who professed to follow Apollos, the gifted orator from Alexandria. Others claimed to follow Peter, or Cephas as he is listed in the text. These may have been Judaists or, more likely, they were those who preferred Peter because he represented more authority, since he was with Christ in His earthly ministry. Then there were those who renounced all the others, and claimed only Christ. What special advantage this last party claimed is not certain. But they were just as disruptive as the others since they degraded the Lord to the level of a party leader.

The headship belongs to Christ alone; we are only His servants ministering to you: “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Co. 3.21-23; (KJV). It is only because of our relationship to Christ who is Lord of all, that all of these benefits accrue. Christ is God’s; He is not subordinate to God, as the believer is to Christ; rather, He is the Anointed One of God. He is God in the flesh, “reconciling the world unto himself” (II Cor 5:19). Christ is the Head of the church and the Head of every believer.
The word rendered "ministers," means, literally, "under-rowers." The picture is that of a ship propelled by oars. The church is the ship; Christ commands; ministers are the under-rowers, who only obey orders. Since they have no right to give orders, no parties should be formed around them. The cargo would be Christians, who also receive their orders from Christ.

and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Again there is a change of image, this time from minister or servant to steward, also a servant. Generally a steward was a slave in the master’s household who is entrusted with property. Although ministers are not to be looked upon as if they were masters of the household, that have power to dispose of things in the family at their own pleasure; nevertheless they are to be regarded as stewards, the highest officers in the house of God, into whose care are committed the secret and hidden things of God; whose business it is to dispense, and make known, the mysteries of divine grace; such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, the union of the two natures, divine and human, in his person, the church's union to Christ, and communion with him, along with many other things contained in the Gospel they are entrusted with.

Stewards—“And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?” (Luke 12:42; (ASV). “According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10; ASV). The steward, or oikonomos, was his master's agent in managing almost everything that concerns the family; providing food for the household, insuring that it was served at the proper times, and in proper quantities. He received all the cash, paid it out when it was necessary for the support of the family, and kept exact accounts, which he was required at certain times to lay before the master.

And stewards of the mysteries of God—What did Paul and the other apostles "manage" in the household of God? Among other things, they were stewards of the mysteries of God. They "managed" (in the sense of preserving and protecting) and "dispensed" (in the sense of distributing) the truth of God. Whenever Paul would hear criticism of his style of preaching, he could simply ask "Did I give you the truth?" As a good steward, that's all he really cared about.

Here we have that word mystery again. Remember that mysteries are those things which had not been revealed before but are now made known. The mysteries cannot be understood by the natural man. It is only the Spirit of God who can take the things of Christ and show them to us. The “mystery” here is actually the gospel, the Word of God. Since we are stewards of the “mysteries of God,” we are to dispense those mysteries.

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