First Corinthians 4--Stewards and Judges
Mar 10, 2017
After Paul makes it clear that we all belong to Christ, and so we are all His servants, he says in 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2,
1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants [hyperetas] of Christ, and stewards [oikonomos] of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy [pistos, “faithful”].
In describing believers as “servants,” Paul chooses the word hyperetas, a subordinate rower, as if to say that we are all rowers on a ship. The word shows the importance of everyone rowing together at the same pace at the sound of the drummer (Christ).
Paul had eight words to choose from, each describing a servant in a different way. A diakonos is a servant as seen in activity (from dioko, “to pursue” or run errands). A doulos is a slave or bond-servant (Romans 1:1). A teitourgos is one who serves an office (such as priests). A misthos (“pay”) is a hired servant. An oiketes is a household servant (from oikos, “house”). A pais is a boy who serves. Finally, therapon is an attendant, one who performs services voluntarily.
Yet Paul chooses the word hyperetas here in verse 2, because it describes the best type of servant that fits his previous admonition to be in unity. It pictures oarsmen laboring in harmony in subordination to Jesus Christ. These servants are also “stewards.” The Greek word is oikonomos, from oikos, “house,” and nomos, “law.” He is the manager of the household, the chief of staff, who carries out the will of the master of the house.
The rowers are subordinate to Christ, and they are also household managers who carry out the will of the Master, Jesus Christ. In neither case are they to carry out their own will if it runs contrary to the will of their Superior. As long as they remain stewards and do not usurp the position of Christ, they are “found trustworthy” (pistos, “faith, faithful, trustworthy”).
Dealing with Accusations
Paul then begins to address Chloe’s letter directly. His appeal to unity thus far has established the basis by which we may reunify as servants belonging to Christ. He is now finally ready to address the contents of the letter itself. 1 Corinthians 4:3 says,
3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined [anakrino] by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
Apparently, the letter had revealed that some in the Corinthian church were questioning Paul’s teachings or his character. The word anakrino means “to judge, examine, investigate, scrutinize, or pick apart.” Paul did not become indignant that men would do this. He considered it to be “a very small thing.”
Paul also recognized that because we are all fellow servants, the final judgment is Christ’s, not our own. No accused person has the right to judge or acquit himself, but must defer to a higher authority. When Moses found himself accused by Korah, he deferred to the divine court. God told all parties involved in the dispute to present themselves before the Lord (Numbers 16:16).
In 2001, I too was accused of opposing the Kingdom. Having learned from Paul’s experience, I knew that this was a matter for the divine court, so I appealed the case in a similar manner. The dispute arose as a result of the transfer of authority from the church to the overcomers, which took place over a 7½ year period from May 30, 1993 to November 30, 2000. At the end of the transition, we were led to declare the New Jerusalem as the capital of the Kingdom.
Shortly afterward, in January of 2001, I wrote a newsletter about this, and a copy of it came into the hands of a woman in Wisconsin who took offense at it. I had met her a few months earlier at a meeting, and she had greatly opposed my teaching on the Restoration of All Things. So when she learned that I and others had held a summit and had declared the transfer of authority from the church to the overcomers, her reaction was to send me a “cease and desist” letter, rebuking me and commanding me to repent. With it came the usual threats on my life from the Lord, who, she said, was greatly offended by my actions. I received her letter on January 29, 2001.
I believed she was wrong, of course, but I also knew that it was not up to me to examine the case. It had to be appealed to Christ Himself, because I and my accuser were both mere servants of Christ. So on February 2, 2001 I appealed the case to the divine court, spiritually laying my “staff” (authority) in the tabernacle, as Moses and Aaron did in Numbers 17:4. In that story, the one whose staff that blossomed and bore ripe almonds (fruit) was confirmed to have the rightful authority in this dispute.
The Lord said that He would give His answer at noon on February 21. Shortly after this, a lady named Sunny Day called a meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in Minneapolis and scheduled it for the afternoon of February 21. She called it the Almond meeting. She was unaware of our court case, so I knew that she was being led unknowingly and that we would see God’s answer at noon just before the meeting started.
As it turned out, a couple from North Carolina (the Berry’s) decided to fly to Minneapolis for the meeting. They asked if I would pick them up at the airport at 11:32 a.m. It was immediately obvious that God had send the Berry’s to bear witness that my staff was bearing fruit. The plane arrived on time, but it had to wait on the tarmac for another plane to leave the port. It arrived at the port precisely at noon. That was how God issued His divine court ruling. A more complete account of this story can be found in my book, The Wars of the Lord, chapter 28.
The lesson from this is that we should not be come indignant when people question our teachings or even our authority. These are matters for Jesus to examine and judge, as Paul shows us. Paul did not presume to judge the case himself. If anyone questioned his teaching, it would be appropriate first to discuss the matter out of court to see if the issue could be resolved. But if the dispute could not be resolved, they could always appeal it to the divine court.
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 4:4,
4 I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
In other words, Paul was not conscious of any wrongdoing or incorrect teaching, but his lack of awareness in itself did not acquit him. He was sincere in his teaching, even if wrong, and in the end, the Lord is the judge who must make a ruling on all such matters. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says,
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Too often, men appeal their cases to God and then go ahead and make the ruling themselves. In doing so, they take upon themselves the role of the judge as well as one of the disputing parties. The reason for this error is that they have little or no knowledge of the divine court, nor have they ever seen evidence of how God intervenes to make rulings in cases appealed to Him. Further, they lack patience.
Verse 5 (above) admonishes us to be patient, for Paul says, “wait until the Lord comes.” In the case of the Great White Throne judgment, we must all exercise patience, but here Paul was speaking of all court cases, where the disputing parties must wait for the judge’s ruling. When the judge finally enters the room, all rise, and wait patiently to hear what the judge has to say.
So it is with the divine court. We must wait until the Lord comes with His verdict. After the judge has concluded His “visitation” (i.e., investigation), He will “bring to light” the hidden facts in the case, including “the motives of men’s hearts.” He does not simply judge the facts, but also the motives. Recall that in the days of Moses, Korah’s motive was also uncovered (Numbers 16:9, 10).
In other cases involving the divine court in my own experience, I have found that God judges all parties in any dispute according to their motives. We see this most clearly in Judges 19-21, where the tribe of Benjamin was judged for protecting criminals. The other tribes appealed for justice, but God first judged them for their arrogance before judging the tribe of Benjamin.
In the war that followed, God told Judah to take the lead in the battle (Judges 20:18), and 22,000 men of Judah were killed in battle. The Israelites wept, not understanding why they would lose a battle after following the command of the Lord. They inquired again, and God again told them to go into battle (Judges 20:23). They obeyed, and another 18,000 Israelites died in battle. Only in the third battle did God judge Benjamin.
The Israelites probably never understood what happened. They were on the right side of justice, but they too had been guilty of supporting injustice in other ways. They should have come to the tribe of Benjamin without indignation and arrogance, and with less confidence in the rightness of their position. They pre-judged Benjamin without mercy, and so God judged them first. Apparently, the men of Judah had taken the lead in wanting to judge Benjamin. So Judah was judged first, then Israel, and finally Benjamin.
In my early years, when I felt that I was falsely accused, I took my case to the divine court and found that God first judged me before judging my accuser. The next time I was accused, I was more careful to search my own heart.
As time passed, I learned to be less arrogant in defending my rights and about the principle of showing mercy to receive mercy. Finally, I learned of the Law of Victims Rights, wherein every victim of a crime has not only the right to accuse, but also the right to forgive. These are all crucial elements in divine court situations. Knowing these laws and procedural principles are necessary, if one wants to avoid trouble.
This is part 18 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones