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 God’s investment but also work to ensure a return on God’s investment.

Jesus, CEO

No.

But as 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.

A 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.

For Paul, the right attitude of a Church leader should be: “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.”

What are some specific ways this servant-attitude can transform how the local church does ministry?

20 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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    • I like how you compared this to the difference between a boss and a good leader. In my own work experience, the best bosses were the ones who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and who actually worked with their employees, as opposed to being distant and just ordering everyone around. I think that this is such an important thing for a church leader to realize. If a pastor just goes up on stage each week and gives sermon, and then walks off and isn’t seen by any church member till the next week, he will be a pretty ineffective pastor, because he is not truly investing into the lives of his congregation. A good church leader is someone who walks alongside the congregation, who is constantly present in their lives and gives up his own time to spend time with them and help them through the problems or trials they may be facing. It is through these interactions that a church can really grow in their faith, because they are able to learn by example. Also, it is important that the church leaders are not living hypocritical lives. If they are not living out the messages that they are preaching, than what reason does the congregation have to live by those same messages? A good church leader is one who spends time with the congregation, who is willing to help them deal with the many trials that they may be facing, and who lives out the messages that they preach.

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  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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  9. Throughout reading this blog post it has brought me to the remembrance that Jesus left us. His testimony and story lives within the pages of the word of God. We are called to use scripture as a tool to bring the good news of Jesus death and resurrection to the world we live in. The day and age we live in now is in transition in the church between old traditions and new. The word of God has always been alive and well but so much more now. God is trying to create more and more unity in the church so as Christians we will become more aware of the Holy spirit and His leading outside the church. For us to do that we need to fully surrender our whole selves, every part of us and with that seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).
    Paul spoke to the Corinthians about the ways of leaders, servants and stewards of the church but that was just the beginning. The word spoken in 1 Corinthians 4 is becoming even more alive today. In church we need leaders who are willing to fully surrender themselves to Jesus if they have not already. The statement of, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while” is so how we need to be looking at the church, but leaders in the church should be also. It is walking in the Spirit and taking each new day in ministry as if it’s the last. When leaders have the mindset that it is God’s church and where they are is temporary, it is humbling. They can then carry with them the sense of unity and the perspective that the church is not staying together because of them. The church is uniting because of their faithfulness in Christ and His leading of ministry through them in the physical. In Ephesians 4 it discusses the unity of the church and how God has called us worthy of the calling He has given. Not everyone is made for ministry or serving in the church. That does not make others any less in the calling Jesus has on their life. If we were all the same, then we wouldn’t reach all the areas of this world God has called us to.
    In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul goes on to say that we should have humility, patience and gentleness with one another in love. In the church especially individuals can disagree and get upset with one another. We have got to pray against the flesh and the devil trying to use those tiny gritty comments to ruin relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. At the end of the day we are all serving the same God. We should be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in peace (Ephesians 4:3). We were called to Jesus and one Father through all. The church is God’s and he has called some of us to ministry and with that is walking in step with the Spirit to lead as God has called us to (Gal. 5:25).

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  10. Having a servant’s attitude will definitely change the church for better. There are always jobs or tasks that people either forget about or groan about. It is an important lesson for people of any age to understand that whatever is entrusted to you is what you specifically have been picked for to help maintain and grow abundantly with the help of the Lord. We are to take honor in what opportunities God has so graciously handed over to us. Paul enforces the servant-attitude as a father-like figure for the church, speaking severely to them (Longenecker 120). Every aspect of ministry is beneficial to the Kingdom of God, and if He sees that you are faithful with what has been given to you, He will entrust you will even more than what was there before. If you misuse the gifts and callings God has given you, He’s not going to give you a way out by handing you a different gift because it is more important or easier, rather we are to steward and take care of what’s directly in front of us, just as 1 Corinthians 4:2 states. Having the church full of radical servants will lead to every square inch of ground being covered as they step into exactly what God has for them in that specific time period and for them specifically. It’s not for fame or for glory, but to give the honor and glory back to God, who rightfully deserves it all. Once it becomes not about the doer, but about the One who has created it all, there is no rankings in positions in the church, for we are one body, and each part functions differently. As 1 Corinthians 4:10 states, “we are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.” No matter what a radical servant is doing, even if they look like a fool or insignificant, they are doing great things for the Kingdom of God. Radical change happens with radical servanthood and stewardship.

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  11. P. Long, I like how you said “For Paul, the attitude of a Church leader should be, this is God’s Church, and I am just taking care of this for a while.” I like to think of people who work at chic-fil-a that say “my pleasure” whenever someone says thank you. It is way they express they are glad to serve their guests. They show up, do their duty, and it is their pleasure to serve. In 1 Corinthians 4:2 Paul says, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (ESV). Servants are going to be trustworthy to do their duty, especially within the Church. They are going to make sure the message will be preached, that teaching will be sound, that people will be greeted well, that everything will be locked and secured and that no money is stolen. This reminds me of Luke 16, “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.” In Luke 16:10 it says, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is is also dishonest in much” (ESV). If the modern local Church were to have the attitude of “This is God’s Church and I am just taking of this for a while,” I think our ministry would be more effective in the way that it is not about ourselves and our glory, but to honor and bring glory to God, to please Him while we are only here for a while to be faithful as servants doing our duty that God has given us.

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  12. Paul does not use the teacher-disciple language in his letter to the Corinthians because it would have implied several cultural connotations that Paul wanted to avoid. First, orators competed with one another for prestige and power (Long, 90). Paul did not want the Christians in Corinth to believe that he was competing with the other apostles for disciples. Second, disciples in the first century Greco-Roman culture were extremely dedicated to their teacher (Long, 90). This mindset may have been the cause of the divisions that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 1. The church was split over which apostle they attributed the most authority to. Instead, Paul describes himself as a servant (1 Corinthians 4:1). A servant does not seek glory or honor for themselves. This mindset changes how a church leader interacts with the congregation. The pastor does not make or break the church. I have heard of churches who hired a cool pastor who was very good at preaching so the church grew in numbers. But as soon as that pastor left, for whatever reason, the church slipped back down again. Rather, the church should be unified around one mission and the pastor is the guide and facilitator of that mission. A church leader should serve for the glory of God.

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  13. P. Long’s blog post on servanthood and stewardship within Paul’s and Apollo’s ministry is reflecting how Jesus Christ himself is a servant, though out of all of humanity, Jesus was the one would could have rightly claimed kingship instead of servanthood. Two out of four of the gospel records show that Jesus came to serve others and not for Himself to be served (Mat. 20:28, Mark 10:45, John 13:13-16). As we see within P. Long’s blog and Paul’s letters, servanthood is so counter-cultural especially compared to those Christians within Corinth who seem to have difficulty transition from their pagan culture of self-honor to serving. Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still in their book Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology that Paul characterizes his ministry as foolish, weak, dependent upon God, and shameful by cultural standards (Longenecker, 120). Paul’s and Apollo’s ministries are merely considered those shameful things by cultural standards because of the honor-shame culture of Corinth, and the Roman empire as a whole, because it was not self-honor, they sought out but instead honor and spread of the Gospel. How servant-minded leadership might specifically change the way churches do ministry is perhaps each volunteer, congregational member, spiritual supporter, financial supporter, and payed staff member are content to serve in one’s own capacity. Not seeking to gain more authority or honor for their works, but instead recognizing no matter how you contribute to ministry, it is possible to humble serve in your unique way and glorifying God within that talent. Not desiring or focusing on self-honor through your contribution to ministry, but humbly doing your part so that God’s honor and glory may increase.

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  14. I really connected with this post because I have recently entered into a leadership role in my church. I am the new nursery coordinator and it is something very new to me. I like how P. Long stated, “to be a successful steward, they must be found faithful.” A servant of the Lord needs to be faithful to God but they also need to be faithful to the people who look up to them and follow their example. Paul was devoted to the churches he visited he would constantly write letters to encourage and rebuke his churches in the ways of Christ. I have always looked at leadership as living as an example, and Paul mentions himself as that example in 1 Corinthians 11, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (v. 1). Having more people in leadership roles within the church with a servant attitude can change the church in several ways. Having a steward as a leader can help encourage others to serve. By having someone to follow, people are more willing to serve. It can also improve the church atmosphere. I believe with servant-hearted people in leadership will create a more welcoming presence in a church. It will also help people connect to Christ in a more personal way. Seeing someone living their life fully for God can really affect whoever is around them. People will be able to find that connection and while serving in their ministry, serve out of a deeper love for Christ.

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  15. God wants those who are faithful and loyal to others. Those who put others first in their lives and who are willing to give back to others. Paul and the Apostolls have put their faith in Stewards that are headed in the right direction in life. A leadership role that you must excel in. For example, my basketball team here at Grace,being a leader on and off the court espcially for the new guys. But not just doing it one day or even two but showing my consistency of my leadership qualities day in and day out. God knows that I am the one for the job and want to excel at just that. My coaches are making me a steward and my duties consist of leading the guys to act according the culuture here at Grace. But also making sure they are listening and maintaing their grades and soaking up everything they possibly can to succed on and off the court. If I was alive back when Paul was, he would make me a steward for sure. In life this is all God wants for us. This is all Paul wanted to see from his people as well. Just to be a faith first person and do what is right.

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  16. Church leaders would definitely benefit from pursuing a servant-hood mindset like Paul’s. Looking at Paul’s ministry and his way of serving those he encountered should the level of commitment he had to being Gods steward. Paul always carried his faith in Christ into every city he traveled too and expressed it in a variety of ways. Ways that came through teaching, serving, and providing guidance for those who lost sight of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1-4). Never did Paul break character or lose his faith in God while actively living out his obligation as God’s steward. Having this obligation to take care of the church of God is how church leaders should consider their roles in the congregation. They are one of the most influential factors to a person’s faith in God and they must properly demonstrate how one is to uphold the title of a steward. As Longenecker states those who align themselves with Christ will engulf themselves with God’s power to transform people from service and free them from cultural codes (Long, 118). So if church leaders were to acknowledge Christ and his servant-hood qualities they would have a whole different outlook on how they approach their ministry. Being equipped with the qualities of Christ servant-hood can transform people in the church and bring them closer to God. Paul’s narrative is filled with success stories that were achieved through a servant hood mentality.

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  17. A lot of times when people are serving their hearts are not in the right place. That means they are already off to a bad start. People who are in ministry have to be ready to serve with almost all of their being. There are no red carpets, constant affirmations, or consistent people that are grateful. Something servant leaders have to learn to adapt to is serving and seeking no reward from others afterward. For most people they would think that is easy, but when pride or humility gets involved then it can turn into a very hard task. Although people will not always affirm when someone is doing an honorable task we have to be okay with that. The right kind of attitude to have is that as long as God sees then it is okay. Everything should be done for and to His glory alone anyway. If someone is content with that, then in that moment anyone can tell their heart is in the right place when it comes to serving. When everyone is able to reach that point then serving in or outside of the church will become less hard in some ways. Because, people who serve while seeking personal gains are more likely to get burnt out. However, when someone is serving for God then they wear His armor that keeps them going. Another important factor is that people do notice when someone is genuine and when they are not. So, it is better for the ones to have good intentions to step in where needed.

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  18. Servanthood and stewardship was a big part of Paul and Apollo’s ministry. They emphasize the importance of servant-leadership and display it very well. Paul was so faithful to the churches he would visit and write to. He was encouraging and building them up so they could live as better followers of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells the people of Corinth to follow his example as he follows the example of Christ. Jesus Christ was and is the best example of servanthood and stewardship. He wants us to follow his example and be faithful and loyal to others. As a Christian, I have the opportunity daily to act as a steward. I have the opportunity at work, at home, and at school. It is definitely not easy to be a steward all of the time. It is also hard work to be a servant. I do not think that Christ intended this course of action to be easy for us. He never promised an easy road for us and following Him requires sacrifice. It takes humility and grace to embrace a lifestyle like this. Paul was a great example of the strength it takes to be a servant for God. He followed Jesus with his whole heart and rejoiced in his suffering. On page 120, Longenecker says that Paul embraces the servant-attitude as a father-like figure (Longenecker, 120). He strived to be a steward of God and encouraged the people of Corinth to do the same.

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