How should we look at leaders in the church? Paul was a kind of “superstar” leader in the early church. We still look up to him today. He had a lot to say about how we as the church should view our leaders. In my previous bible study on 1 Corinthians 3:18-21, I covered some of his remarks on the subject. You can read this bible study here. These teachings are continued in chapter 4. I’ll talk about some of them today, then finish the subject when I post my next study on 1 Corinthians 4:6-21. Meanwhile, you can access 1Corinthians 4:1-5 and follow along with me.
David tells us in Psalm 104:27-28 that God gives His creation their portions in due season. It’s easy for me to see that this doe is completely dependent on God’s hand to feed her, but sometimes it’s harder for us humans to see that in our own lives. Our supply lines get complicated as God uses our businesses, employers, friends, government, etc. to take care of us. Sure, we take care of ourselves, but that ability, too comes from God. As believers, we’re expected to feed ourselves, but God also ordained some of us to particularly care for the spiritual needs of others.
Paul is concerned that the Corinthians are boasting about their mentors, some of them bragging, “I learned from Cephas (Peter) himself!”; or “Well, I’m an Apollos man. He’s my kind of preacher!”; or “If Paul didn’t say it, it probably isn’t worth saying. You aren’t properly trained until you’ve spent time with Paul.” I’m making up the dialogue, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t pretty close–only in Greek, of course. In verse one, he tries to give a more correct view of the apostles.
He says, “Look at (consider) it this way.” Consider, or logizomaiis an accounting term also translated reckon. In mathmatics, we reckon and come out with an exact answer, neither more nor less than correct. The word is given in the present imperative, which is the form used for commands. Look at us, the apostles, as servants or assistants. The word he uses means, literally, under-oarsman–surely a humble position. He also refers to himself as a manager or steward. Men holding this position in his time were usually slaves or freed men. The manager had the care of the household–finances, task assignments, etc. He would also have responsibility for and authority over the minor children of the householder. He was a servant both to his master and to those he supervised–responsible to give each person his portion of food, money, chores, etc. and to see that the household ran smoothly.
Paul and other leaders are “managers of the mysteries of God”. What mysteries? What is a mystery? The Hebrew word is mueo, which means “to initiate (or be initiated) into the mysteries”. Musterion, likewise, means “that which is known to the initiated.” New Testament useage denotes that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and only to those who are illuminated by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense, it means knowledge withheld, but in Scripture, the significance is rather truth revealed. Associated words are: made known, manifested, revealed, preached, understand, dispensation.
Paul is a manager, steward, dispenser of these mysteries. It is his responsibility to impart these mysteries to followers and seekers of Christ, to each as much as he is mature enough to receive. All believers share in this responsibility to reveal God’s mysteries to others, whether brethren in the Lord or seekers of the Lord. Some secret societies hoard their esoteric knowledge. God opens wide His doors to all who are willing to enter. There’s a built-in fail-safe in this knowledge. You need the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life to decode it. And you don’t get the whole shebang at once. Seekers have been wooed by God and begun to try to find Him. They have a little understanding–as much as they can handle. God will not destroy us by giving us more than we’re ready for. As we follow, listen, seek to understand, we become more able to take in God’s truths. Managers appointed by God not only minister these truths to us, but they also gently nudge us in the right direction to become more able to receive truth, and to find it for ourselves directly from God.
Believers can understand the mysteries in a progressive fashion. A child growing up becomes more skilled as he matures and as he is trained. In the same way, a believer becomes (or should become) more spiritual and less dominated by the desires of the flesh as he learns to yield more and more of his self-will to God. Unbelievers can hear God calling them and decide whether to check Him out. If they are willing, they too will progressively understand more and more and will eventually reach a point of decision: whether to leave the kingdom of the world and become new citizens in the kingdom of God. There is no such thing as dual citizenship. If we cling to the world while trying to follow God, we will either quit our journey toward God or deceive ourselves into believing that, as we “prayed the prayer”, we’ve got our “fire insurance” paid up and nothing more is required.
Managers have a great responsibility. (Luke 12:42-48) This is not a job for everyone. Unfaithful managers are warned of severe punishment, and managers are, I believe, an especial target of Satan. Are you a manager? Probably, if only to your children and/or younger or less experienced friends. It is vital that we stay hooked up to our supply line and support network (Jesus and our Christian peers). Without that support, we will fail and fall.
The Corinthians’ valuation of Paul’s faithfulness was unimportant. Had Paul been guilty of obvious sin, such as financial impropriety, sexual sin, arrogant railing, etc., the Corinthians would be required to judge him unfaithful (see I Cor 5), but this isn’t what Paul was talking about in this verse. They aren’t, however, qualified to judge his motivations or his faithfulness to God. Paul himself denies any qualification to judge his own motivations, but defers that responsibility to God. Paul can’t think of anything he’s doing wrong, but he says, “That doesn’t mean anything.” How many of us do judge ourselves before the time? Do we say things like, “I’m at least as good as brother so and so, and he’s a deacon”, or “I’m not a bad person–I do my best and I think I do all right”? We need to leave it to Jesus to decide how well we’ve done. If we seek Him and humbly follow, we will hear those most coveted words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Again, Paul speaks of judgements as of motivations, worth, eternal destiny. We do not and cannot know these things. He isn’t talking about loving and constructive warnings by fellow believers or even of breaking off fellowship with brothers because of overt, unrepentant sin. He isn’t talking about knowing right from wrong, good from bad. He’s talking about condemnation–judging one person as superior and another as worthless. This isn’t part of the mystery God has entrusted to us. We don’t know these things. We can judge sin as bad without judging the sinner as worthless, condemned, irredeemable. We can judge actions as good and believe the motives are good, but really, we simply can’t know for sure. We should therefore appreciate one another, love one another, exhort one another, and pray for one another. God, Who knows our hearts, will give the final judgement.
Grace and Peace to you,