Stewards of the Mysteries of God

I want to highlight a passage that explains the concept of stewardship. Although Paul is not talking about financial stewardship, he uses this metaphor in an explanation to the Corinthians. That church was divided into factions, some of which said they followed Paul’s teaching, others Apollos, and others Peter. Paul explains that all these teachers should be viewed as “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Like all stewards they must be found faithful, but not in the eyes of the people, the courts, or even themselves. Every steward is accountable to the king or lord whom they serve, in this context, Jesus.

So the Corinthians should “not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes.” This is evocative of Jesus’s parables. Jesus had several variations on the stewardship theme, but all of them included these elements: the king goes away from his kingdom for a time, leaving one or more stewards in charge. Later, perhaps after many years even, the king returns to judge the stewards for how well or how poorly they managed what the king had entrusted to them.

Stewardship is not ownership

The king or lord owns the land, money, or the whole kingdom, and the steward manages it. While stewardship is a high ranking position, the steward cannot let this go to his head. He or she must remember that everything they have was received from the king. That remains true regardless of the kind of stewardship.

Paul was talking about the ministry of preaching and teaching. Apollos, Peter, and Paul himself had quite a bit of authority in the church in their role as apostles. It might have been tempting for any of them to accept the immature Corinthians’ devotion, and think of themselves as the final authority on God’s word. Paul resists this temptation and redirects the church to Jesus:

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

We are all stewards

With this Paul extends the stewardship metaphor even to the Corinthian believers, immature as they still are. But he shows it is a paradox: all things are yours, and yet at the same time nothing is yours, because all is Christ’s. As we walk with him, under his authority, all authority and power has been given to us. “For the very power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you”…”You shall do even greater things than these”…”Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Our power and authority is connected to him. Our ability to bear fruit is contingent on remaining connected to the root that nourishes us. “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit, but apart from me you can do nothing.”

Regarding the Corinthians’ own stewardship, Paul rebukes them again. The worst thing a steward can do is usurp the place of their king:

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!

Paul goes on to explain how the stewardship of being an apostle is not as glamorous as it appears. It involves being hated by many, being in need — hungry, thirsty, and homeless — and being persecuted. He makes it sound as if the Corinthians are happy to let these burdens fall on their supposedly favored teachers, while they themselves remain honored and supplied with their own creature comforts. In this they mistreat the other servants of the king. Jesus also alludes to this in the parable in which one of the servants, thinking that the master will wait long in returning, begins to mistreat the other servants.

So whatever our stewardship — whether managing a business, farm, or other form of wealth, or teaching and preaching the gospel, or raising children — let’s do it for the king and not boast, remembering that all we have is from him and to him who is above all things.

Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV®. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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