Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.1 Corinthians 4:1(NASB)
It was necessary for Paul to send a strong and rather formal letter of correction to the Christians at Corinth because they had fallen into sin, which was causing a serious division within the congregation. They had become embroiled in fleshly arguments based on human wisdom, which is so contrary to the way a child of God who is walking in spirit and truth should behave.
Many in the Church were demonstrating spiritual immaturity and worldly carnality, which conflicted with the truth that Paul had already taught them earlier, and made a mockery of their Christian testimony. Paul had to tackle issues such as idolatry, incest, and prostitution, within the very Body of Christ, and challenged them in areas such as litigation, where believers were discrediting themselves and tarnishing the name of the Lord by involving unbelievers in their petty legal proceedings, rather than sorting differences out between themselves in a quiet and godly manner.
In the middle of Paul's chastening words, we have a section that switches from discipline and correction to their relationship and close connection with the apostle: "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God," he writes.
Paul was not part of the immediate community in the Corinthian Church, but he was their father in the faith who had taught them the truth of the glorious gospel of God, and opened to them the holy Scriptures and the way of salvation. However, Paul may have felt his correction might be resented by the believers there and seems to have felt it necessary to suspend his word of correction and provide a reminder of his relationship with them and the reason he is scolding them in this manner.
Paul had presented his position as the authoritative apostle of Christ by the will of God in the opening remarks of his letter, but here he also identifies himself and other Church leaders as servants of Christ who are required to carry out God's will as it pertains to the Body of believers. He not only wanted to remind them of the authoritative guardianship given to him by the Lord, but also that he was a servant of God who was used by the Spirit to open up the truth to their understanding, and as such, was required to correct all false teaching and rebuke any ungodly behaviour.
Paul's example of godly servanthood needed to be mirrored by these believers, rather than them engaging in their recent ungodly fiascos! Paul's example also needs to be replicated in the pulpits of churches today. As Christ's servant, he was not only an example to follow but one that had the right to judge their behaviour and admonish them for any wrongdoing.
But Paul also mentioned that he was a steward of the mysteries of God. The mysteries of God are not puzzling or an enigma, nor are they a hidden knowledge for the elite few, but they are the truth of the gospel of God. They are the foundational elements of our Christian faith which had been kept hidden during the previous dispensation of Law, but have now been made manifest and brought into the open.
As a 'steward of the mysteries' and one to whom the gospel message had been entrusted, Paul felt no compunction but to share the good news of the gospel of grace, oppose any false teaching, and challenge any wrongdoing in the Body. Paul knew that if sin is not addressed, it will crouch at the door and soon devour its prey. The responsibility Paul felt in correcting doctrinal error and chastising carnality in the congregation has been given to all pastor-teachers and church elders, but sadly not all take this responsibility seriously, and while some turn a blind eye to wrong doing, others may react in an overbearing and unbiblical way.
"Let everything you do be done in love," are some of Paul's closing words to these believers in Corinth. This faithful servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God demonstrated much love to these carnal Christians through correcting them of their waywardness, challenging them to change their ways, and teaching them the godly way to live.
Paul's defence of the gospel in Corinth and elsewhere is not only a wonderful example for pastors and elders to imitate, but a reminder to all of us to take the faith we have in Christ seriously and to examine ourselves regularly, to see if we have slipped from godly behaviour into carnality or are standing firm on the Word of truth.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Paul, the servant of Christ and faithful steward of the mysteries of God. Equip pastors and elders today to take their responsibilities toward their congregations serious and biblically. Give me discernment, I pray, and keep me from being sucked into wrong thinking or carnal ways. May I run my race well, looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith. This I ask in His precious name, AMEN.