Leaders are Servants and Stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul calls himself and Apollos “stewards” who have been entrusted with the most important thing imaginable, the “mysteries of God.” Like a fund manager, he is to protect that investment but also see that there is a return on that investment.

But at Gordon Fee points out, God seeks stewards who are faithful, they are not chosen due to their “not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor ‘initiative,’ nor ‘success’—our standard requirements).” Those who have been entrusted with the Gospel are to humbly servant the master and seek his glory and honor alone.  The leaders of the Corinthian church are failing in just this regard, they are seeking their own honor rather than the one who has called them.

Paul and Apollos have been entrusted with the mysteries of God (4:1-2). A steward in this context is a servant entrusted with a task, a commission. Paul uses a slightly different word for servant in 4:1 than in 3:5 (ὑπηρέτης vs. διάκονος), but there is likely no difference in meaning. In both cases the servant is subordinate to a master and serves by doing the will of that master.

InvestmentA steward (οἰκονόμος) is a manager or administrator.  This could be a servant put in charge of a household (Joseph, for example, or the servants in Jesus parable in Luke 16). It can refer to a city official, such as a public treasurer, the word used to describe Erastus in Rom 16:23. An administrator is charged with a task (manage a city’s money, for example). In the LXX, the word translates Hebrew words of civil administrators (1 Kings 4:6, 16:9, Isa 36:3, 22, 37:2, etc., cf., eight occurrences in Josephus with the same sense).

The content of this deposit is the “mysteries of God.” Rather than a huge sum of money to invest and protect, Paul is a servant of God’s revelation. Mystery is typically something that must be revealed to be known, a secret hidden until the time is right. This is not something guess-able, but rather a revelation of something new and previous unknown.

In order to be a successful steward, they must be “found faithful.” If the steward is a money manager for a city, they have to protect the money entrusted to them and invest it in a way that returns a profit. Paul and Apollos are therefore accountable for their management of the mysteries of God. The preaching of the Gospel will naturally expand the body of Christ, and there are some strategies Paul might use to preach the Gospel in ways that are more likely to bear fruit. He goes first to the synagogue, for example, since that is where he will find people who already know the Scripture and may be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, as well as some God-Fearing Gentiles who are interested in the Jewish God. When he was in Athens, he went to Mars Hill, a place where people enjoy discussing new ideas and debating philosophy. His goal was to go to the location where he would have the best chance getting an audience for the Gospel.

If Paul describes Apollos and himself as servants and stewards, then certainly the leaders of the church at Corinth are servants as well! Verse 6a Paul says that the things he has applied to himself and Apollos are applicable to all Christian leaders at every level, from a nursery worker to the long-time elder to the Lead pastor.

The proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.”

9 thoughts on “Leaders are Servants and Stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

  1. This is how all leaders should view being part of a church. It is not about what they can do or how well they can do it, but being a servant of God. God has trusted his people, the Church, to take care of his body of believers. We need to prove that we can do this and be faithful to what God has entrusted to us. (1 Cor. 4:2). If church leaders had this mindset of being servants and stewards the church would not be looked at as being hypocritical. We are to live contrary to what our culture says in order to show the light of Christ and be these servants. Paul even says some harsh things about his own ministry that pretty much show that he was a servant. “Paul characterizes his ministry as, among other things, foolish, weak, and dishonorable by cultural standards” (TTP 120). If we live the opposite of the way the world says we should live, then we are doing it right. We would be putting others above ourselves and not making everything about us and what we want, or we think is right. It is about what God wants and what God says is right. I completely agree with the last statement of this blog, “The proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, ‘This is God’s church and I am just taking care of it for a while.'” This means we should take care of his Church in a way that God sees fit, otherwise we will just mess it up.


  2. I think church leaders and churchgoers in general would gain by learning that there is nothing about them that makes them special compared to other people in the church. Not to say that they are unimportant, but that they shouldn’t be “puffed up” above other people (1 Cor. 4:6). The next verse goes on: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (v. 7). I have nothing to brag about. Just because I was born in rural Michigan to a low-middle class family and not in the middle of the jungle doesn’t mean I am better than the person who was born there. This goes farther to say that the person serving beside me in my church-maybe he was born into a rich family-has no place above or below me because we are both doing work to minister the gospel or some other thing to people. The pretense in TTP that Corinth was extremely obsessed with honor and reputations (TTP, 117) would help to make this an even more intense thing that Paul was trying to show the Corinthians. They spent all this time building up a reputation and now they associate with lowly normal people. I can see how they might be having this problem.


  3. I feel like with today’s mega churches and media making certain pastors very popular, it can become very easy for pastors to become very proud and boastful. Those pastors can make a lot of money. When they become rich, I can’t but think that they have to be effected by this. Wouldn’t this make them feel like, “Oh, I did this. I brought these people to Christ. I am a great pastor.” They should be “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). But if they start becoming rich, and “long to be rich, [they will] fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). They would become like the “super-apostles” who “serve[d] only to enhance they own wain glory” rather than to “enhance to glory of God” (TTP 152). Not all people who are pastors of mega churches or who are in the media obviously think like this, but I believe there would be less tempted pastors to be boastful if they weren’t the hot-shots others make them out to be. They would be more likely to think, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while,” like you concluded with.


  4. Servant-hood has become a very much behind the scenes thing in our churches today, and seems to be less sought after than in previous generations. People today may only see service as the pastors up front on the platform, or the worship team and Sunday school teachers, but as 1 Corinthians 4: 2 says, ” Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Everybody has some sort of gift that they can use to do service for the name of Christ. We limit ourselves to being “Christians” only while we’re at church. Many of my own gifts lay outside of things that would be found in the church. Being handy, creative, or hardworking can all be used to show service with the love of Christ outside of the walls of our church building. Longenecker in TTP says that in viewing 1 Corinthians 3:3 that the Corinthians were stuck being humanly minded in “various attachments to the leading personalities in the early Jesus movement” (Longenecker, 119). They were relying too much on their lead figures rather than on the gifts that God had given them.


  5. Should the church live out this mindset of “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.” I think that we would be a lot better off. Many of the issues that have plagued the church have had to do with trivial things that should have never been an issue. This mindset of stewardship takes the pride issue out of it. It is not your ministry it is God’s. Paul explains the commendations are given by God (1 Cor 4:5). The opinion that matters most is God’s. This allows us to take our own pride and preferences out of decisions regarding our ministry and focus on what is best for the ministry. Paul’s argument was that God’s wisdom is better than human honor (120). God uses those things that don’t seem sufficient so that God may get the glory and that pride is void since it was God’s power that accomplishes things (1 Cor 1:27-29). There were issues that the church was following specific leaders like Paul and Apollos and the church was being divided over spiritual leaders (I Cor 1:11-13). Paul’s description of himself as a steward takes the attention off of him and points to Christ. So also in the church today we must view our ministry in this way. The number of people we reach does not matter if they are following our name rather than Christ. This should be a warning to church leaders to make a point to get the focus off of themselves and onto Christ.


  6. I find the statement from above, that “the proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, ‘This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while,'” to be very true. I believe that this most definitely should be the case of every church. We ought to all think this about church. We are to be servants and not be boastful. We should have an attitude such as what can we do to help, serve, and glorify God rather that what can I do for myself, how can I gain from this. I think that this would solve so many problems in our churches today as well as back then.


  7. A great way to think about this is the difference between a boss and a leader. The boss says ‘go over there and do that’, while the leader says, ‘lets do it!’. It also correlates to the parable of the ten talents. Just like the man was entrusted with something valuable, and was expected to invest it and hope it multiplied, so too was Paul and Apollos entrusted with the Gospel. They were servants in charge of their masters assets. To take a step back, check out 3:10-13. Paul talks about the “foundation” he laid. He said to be careful, because no other foundation (investment) can be made than that of Christ Jesus. And that when you are dead and gone, it is your work for Christ that will be remembered or forgotten. It will be tested by fire, and if it was pure, will remain. We are called to be good stewards of each and every thing in life. Money, time, and the Gospel. If we keep Christ the center, then it does not matter if I am remembered, but my work for Christ and the ones who heard the Gospel from my words and life. The necessity for Paul to say those things probably came form the Corinthians view of honor. However, it was “A gospel of the crucified Jesus that frees his followers from the endless quest for culturally defined honor…” (TTP, p. 118). It is not about being remembered forever, but a legacy of Christ bearing.


  8. We (Christians) are all stewards of Christ. That’s obvious. But not all of us see it that way. Some of us don’t know what God’s plan is for our life. It’s hard to accept sometimes, but that’s OK. 1 Cor. 2:9 says, “…No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” The past month or so at Elevate (college & career group @ Rush Creek Bible Church), we’ve been sharing our testimonies. Right now, I don’t know what God’s purpose is for my life. It upsets me sometimes, but it helps me trust God more. My best friend shared her testimony. She’s an artist & favors painting. She sometimes doesn’t like that God gave her this fantastic artistic ability. She doesn’t know why He gave it to her in the 1st place. No matter how hard she tried to avoid it, God kept pushing, & is continuing to push. We all have creativity that God wants us to use for His glory. It may not be the same creativity as my artistic friend. For some, it could be how you dress. For others, it could be through your technology skills. Don’t become like Cybermen in Dr. Who that have gone cold to creativity. The Doctor constantly argues for our worth & how creative we are, no matter who we are. We are made by THE Creator, in HIS image (Gen. 1:26 & 27), so therefore we must be creative. Adam had to be creative in coming up with names for all of the animals of the earth by himself! Talk about a tough job. Use your creativity for His glory & be stewards. You may not think that you have a great testimony, but you know Christ & His word that is THE truth.


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