Calvary Road Baptist Church

“STEWARDS OF THE MYSTERIES OF GOD”

First Corinthians 4.1

 

All week long, I have prepared to preach this morning’s message using First Corinthians 4.1 as my text, and bringing a topical message on the subject of bitterness this evening. I believe my difficulty in preparing this morning’s message was the result of not grasping how the two messages should properly fit together. Bitterness cannot be rightly understood apart from its relationship to God’s grace. Hebrews 12.15 reads, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” It is when people fail of the grace of God that bitterness becomes a serious issue in that person’s life.

How does that tie in with my message for this morning? In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul addressed a number of very serious spiritual difficulties his beloved Corinthians were wrestling with, but not before he set them straight on an extremely important matter that goes to the heart of every Christian’s perception of God. Ask yourself what Paul asked the Romans in Romans 8.32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” What kind of perverse thinking can believe that God, once He has sacrificed His Own Son for you, will then keep something back that you need and that would be good for you to have?

What mental picture of God must you have if you think He does not have your best interests in mind, or that He is so petty and arbitrary that He will play silly games with you to torment you and to make you needlessly suffer heartache and pain? To establish God’s character in this regard beyond any doubt to the Corinthians, Paul wrote verses 3-9 of First Corinthians chapter one. Please turn there and read along with me:

 

3      Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

4      I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;

5      That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;

6      Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:

7      So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

8      Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9      God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

It is a terrible mistake for any student of the Bible to pass lightly over Paul’s opening remarks, thinking them to be little more than platitudes of greeting along the lines of “What’s happening?” or “How’s it going?” Nothing could be farther from the truth. These words are inspired. They are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. As well, in these words, Paul points out to the Corinthians before he corrects them, that they have no excuses for the issues that plague them, ranging from carnality to confusion, because God is faithful, verse 9. Faithful how? God is faithful to presently provide grace for those who need it, verses 4-5, faithful to have provided grace for those who needed it in the past, verse 6, and faithful to provide grace for those who will need it in the future, verses 7-8. Thus, grace has always been available to God’s children, is available to God’s children now, and will be available to God’s children in the future. To doubt this is to challenge the graciousness of our God.

Now you may begin to see the connection between this morning’s message, and this evening’s message dealing with the spiritual cancer of bitterness that results from people who fail of the grace of God. That is, they fail to appropriate the grace that God makes available to them. It is something like, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Turn to First Corinthians 4.1, which is my text for today. When you find that verse, please stand for the reading of God’s Word: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Please focus your attention on the last part of the verse, where Paul writes, “Let a man so account of us as . . . stewards of the mysteries of God.”

I remind you of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4.29, where he challenges his readers to “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” It was to the Ephesians that Paul explicitly stated that grace is ministered from one person to another by means of the spoken word, which is why Christians need to be careful about the words they speak to other people. So, God’s grace is always available by one means or another. You can obtain God’s grace by reading His Word, by praying, by studying the Bible, by fellowshipping with other Christians, and by other means.

Though it has fallen into disfavor in recent years, the Bible is very clear about the preaching of God’s Word being the most effective means of communicating God’s grace to a sinful man. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul stresses his ministry here in First Corinthians chapter 4, and again in First Corinthians chapter 9. As well, it is why I mean to emphasize my ministry to you this morning.

Recognizing that Paul was referring to himself and his co-laborers in the gospel ministry in First Corinthians 4.1, what he asserts applies in great measure to any and to every preacher of the gospel: “Let a man so account of us as . . . stewards of the mysteries of God.”

For one month, I preached about your stewardship. For part of a week, Steve Bender preached about your stewardship in connection with our missions ministry outreach. This morning I speak about my stewardship, as I minister grace to those who hear me as I seek to exercise my stewardship of the mysteries of God.

Three things:

 

First, BE CLEAR IN YOUR THINKING ABOUT WHAT I AM

 

In our verse, we find two different Greek words that refer to slaves in a household. One type of slave is referred to as a minister, translating the Greek word that most commonly refers to a lowly slave over whom oversight and direct personal guidance would be required. The other word, translated steward in the phrase serving as my text, refers to a different kind of slave. From the Greek word oikonomoV, from which our word economics is derived, we have here a steward, a manager of a household, often a trusted slave who has been put in charge of the whole household. The word emphasizes that one is entrusted with great responsibility and accountability.”[1]

This means that the Apostle Paul and his co-laborers, and by extension I and others called to preach the gospel, are such stewards. However, what is the essence of what it is to be a steward? On one hand, it should never be forgotten that I am a servant. On the other hand, it should never be forgotten that what stewards handle and exercise oversight over belongs to someone else.

Thus, a pastor should never be so overvalued that he is looked to instead of God. Neither should any pastor ever think of himself as indispensable to God, as though those he ministers to and those he exercises spiritual oversight over are totally dependent upon him. No church member needs to know how the Lord Jesus Christ will make do in one of His congregations after taking the pastor to glory, just that He can and will.

On the other hand, it is also a mistake to undervalue the steward of the mysteries of God. So many professing Christians see themselves without any need of a preacher or pastor, and allow no more penetration of a preacher’s ministry into their lives than a Sunday morning sermon. That is clearly not the Savior’s plan for anyone, since such men are gifts given by Christ to equip Christians for Christian ministry, Ephesians 4.11-12, and are integral to Christian growth and maturity, Second Timothy 3.16.

So, though I am in every respect a slave of Jesus Christ, I am also a slave who is used by the master to play an important role in the lives of His people. One of the ways in which people fail of the grace of God, as Hebrews 12.15 mentions, is by throttling the impact of a pastor’s ministry in your life. So many people cut off their own supply of grace by refusing in one way or another their pastor’s ministry.

 

Next, BE CLEAR IN YOUR THINKING WHO I SERVE

 

I mean this most respectfully and without a trace of haughtiness, I promise you. I do not work for you. I am not in the employ of this church, though God does make wonderful use of you to meet my material needs. It is just that I am not the servant of men. Paul writes in First Corinthians 7.23, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” Thus, though none of us are to be the servant of men, keep in mind that as your pastor I am not the servant of men, insofar as working for you is concerned. That needs to be pointed out from time to time because there are so many congregations full of sincere people who are sincerely mistaken about this point. They honestly think, whether they are churches committed to deacons running the congregation or the congregations voting on everything, that their pastor works for them.

Now, in a sense I certainly am accountable to you. The Lord Jesus Christ exempts no one from scriptural accountability. However, as I am accountable, so are you to me and other church members. That said, the problem Paul addressed to the Corinthians, which is certainly applicable to us today, had to do with their recognition of his accountability to God.

Am I addressing that I think is an ongoing problem here at Calvary Road Baptist Church? Do I think I am hamstrung, either by church members in general or by the church’s deacons in specific? Absolutely not. However, to be true to the text I must expound and apply the truth contained in the text, and Paul did write, “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

I and others like me handle God’s mysteries, they are certainly not our own. In doing so, by teaching and preaching God’s Word, I minister grace; but only to those who are here, and only to those who hear, and only to those who are receptive. When all is said and done, at the end of the day, I and others like me will be held accountable by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose we are and whom we serve. Paul informs his readers of this accounting at the Judgment Seat of Christ in First Corinthians 4.2-5:

 

2      Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

3      But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

4      For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

5      Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

 

Finally, BE CLEAR IN YOUR THINKING WHAT I AM ABOUT

 

I am a steward of the mysteries of God. I handle, I deal with, I pass along to others, the mysteries of God. However, we need to ask ourselves, what are mysteries? Though I am in profound disagreement with him concerning his misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches about the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ as it relates to the crucifixion and our Lord’s resurrection, John MacArthur does reflect a consensus of conservative scholarly opinion regarding mysteries in the Bible. In a footnote in The MacArthur Study Bible, he writes, “‘Mysteries’” are those truths which have been hidden from all ages in the past and revealed in the NT.”[2]

Should it be a surprise to anyone that there are truths presently revealed in the New Testament that were hidden from ages past? After all, is He not the “invisible God,” Colossians 1.15? As well, consider what Paul said to the Athenians on Mars’ hill: “. . . as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”[3] Therefore, if God Himself is in most respects a mystery, it should be no surprise that there are mysteries associated in connection with God’s program of the ages.

What mysteries, then, should I reveal and shed light on by preaching the Word of God and instructing Christians when I am conducting my ministry? There are a number that I will cite in no particular order of importance:

First, this present age in which we live, referred to by various scholars as the church age or the dispensation of grace, an interruption really in God’s established program with Israel, was a mystery, Matthew 13.11.

Next, the judicial blinding of Israel by God so that Gentiles might be brought to Christ was a mystery, Romans 11.25.

Third, the establishing of the church and the New Testament plan of comprising in the various congregations both Jews and Gentiles together in one body is a mystery, Ephesians 3.3-9, Colossians 1.26-27, and Romans 16.25.

Fourth, the whole program of God that results in a sinner’s salvation is called a mystery in First Corinthians 2.7.

Fifth, the relation of men to Christ in redemption and resulting in our hearts being comforted and knit together in love is called a mystery in Colossians 2.2 and 4.3.

Sixth, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is termed a mystery in First Timothy 3.16, not as to the fact of the incarnation, but as to its accomplishment. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

Seventh, the development of evil into its culmination in the man of sin, Second Thessalonians 2.7, and the development of the great apostate end-time religious system, Revelation 17.5 & 7, is labeled a mystery. This would be the antichrist and Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots.

Finally, but not exhausting the list of mysteries, there is the mystery of a new way by which God receives men into His presence apart from death, namely the Rapture, First Corinthians 15.51.

I think you realize that these are important truths, showing how the salvation of individual sinners and their involvement in churches comprised of both Jewish and Gentile members fits into God’s grand design for the ages. Incredible, is it not? Through the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, called foolishness by the lost, a God-hating sinner can become so spiritually connected to Jesus Christ by this thing called faith that his entire relationship with God is forever altered, so much so that he is adopted into God’s family, enjoys the forgiveness of his sins, and actually becomes a partaker of the divine nature.

Amazing to think about. Had these truths not been revealed in the New Testament, had these mysteries not been unveiled, who would have known? Certainly not such men as Enoch and Job, Noah and Abraham. These things are not discoverable by human investigation, and can only be known by the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the New Testament that He inspired to be written. What glorious truths these are that are revealed in the New Testament. And I and others like me have been called to declare these saving, these liberating, these astonishing truths, that were once hidden from all but the angels.

 

Stewards of the mysteries of God. It is my privilege and calling to minister grace to you by declaring to you the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, mysteries concealed for ages but now revealed in the New Testament.

What will happen to you is also a mystery that will someday be revealed. There are two possible destinies that await you, an eternity of torment in the lake of fire with all who have rejected Christ in favor of the pleasures of sin for a season, or eternal bliss with God along with those who have repented of their sins and trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

What will someday be revealed about your personal mystery? Will you turn to Christ, or will you continue on the path you are now traveling? If you want me to minister grace to you by opening the Bible and guiding you to Christ, come to this part of the auditorium immediately after the service as we quickly vacate the premises. I will be with you shortly after we dismiss in prayer.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 395.

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1416.

[3] Acts 17.23

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org