The subject of 1 Corinthians 4 is stewards of the mysteries of God (4:1-21). The focus of this chapter is neither Christ nor the church; it is the stewards of God’s mysteries. In 4:1 Paul says, “In this way let a man account of us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The Greek word rendered stewards in this verse is of the same root as the word economy or dispensation in 1 Timothy 1:4 and Ephesians 1:10. It means a dispensing steward, a household administrator, one who dispenses the household supply to its members. The apostles were appointed by the Lord to be such stewards, dispensing God’s mysteries, which are Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ (Col. 2:2; Eph. 3:4), to the believers. The dispensing service, the stewardship, is the ministry of the apostles.
In God’s economy revealed in the New Testament there are mainly two mysteries. The first mystery, revealed in the book of Colossians, is Christ as the mystery of God. In Colossians 2:2 Paul speaks of the “full knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ.” Christ is God’s mystery. In Himself God is a mystery. He is real, living, and almighty; however, He is invisible. Because no one has ever seen God, He is a mystery. This mysterious God is embodied in Christ. Hence, Christ is the mystery of God. Christ is not only God, but He is God embodied, God defined, God explained, and God expressed. Therefore, Christ is God made visible. The Lord Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The first mystery in God’s economy is Christ, God expressed, as the mystery of God.
The second mystery, revealed in the book of Ephesians and explained in it, especially in chapter three, is the mystery of Christ. Christ also is a mystery. In Ephesians 3:4 Paul uses the expression “the mystery of Christ.” Furthermore, Colossians 1:27 says, “To whom God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” As believers, we have Christ dwelling in us. But this Christ whom we have is a mystery. Although Christ lives in us, worldly people do not realize that He is in us. To them, this is a mystery. But although Christ is mysterious, the church is the manifestation of Christ. As the Body of Christ, the church is the expression of Christ. When we see the church, we see Christ. When we come into the church, we come into Christ. When we contact the church, we contact Christ. The church is truly the mystery of Christ.
When in 4:1 Paul refers to the mysteries of God, he means Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ. Paul and the other apostles were stewards of these mysteries.
We have pointed out that the Greek word for stewards in 4:1 is of the same root as the word economy or dispensation used elsewhere. This word, oikonomia, denotes a household administration or management. In the New Testament a steward is one who serves and takes care of the dispensing of God to His family. God has a very large family, and His desire is to dispense Himself into all the members of His family.
The place of a steward in God’s family may be illustrated by the function of a steward in a wealthy family in ancient times. A steward in such a family was responsible to care for the dispensing of the means of life—food, clothing, and other necessities—to the members of the family. Wealthy families often had an abundant supply of these necessities in storage. The responsibility of a steward was to dispense this supply to the members of the family. Using this as a metaphor, Paul refers to himself as a steward in God’s family. God is exceedingly rich; He has a vast storehouse of goods which He intends to dispense into His children. But this dispensation requires a steward. Thus, a steward is a dispenser, one who dispenses the divine life supply to God’s children.
As such a dispenser, Paul dispensed Christ into all the believers. Receiving such a dispensation through Paul, the believers could then grow with the supply they had received. By this we see that Paul’s ministry was a dispensing ministry, a ministry of dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ into our being so that we may grow and become the church. Paul dispensed Christ’s riches not only into the saints individually, but also into the Body corporately.
Paul’s service of dispensing is called the stewardship. In other words, this stewardship is the ministry. The ministry is a stewardship, a service, that dispenses the riches of Christ into the saints, the members of the Body, and into the church, the Body as a whole. May we all be impressed with the two crucial matters of the mysteries of God and the dispensing steward.
If we read 1 Corinthians 4 carefully, we shall see that this chapter on the stewards of the mysteries of God emphasizes four main points: faithful servants of Christ (vv. 1-5), a spectacle both to angels and to men (vv. 6-9), the offscouring of the world and the scum of all things (vv. 10-13), and the begetting father (vv. 14-21). We shall cover the first two points in this message and the last two points in the following message.
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