whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 3:22-4:1-5 (ESV)
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
It’s funny, Paul, turns this the tables. The people don’t belong to Paul, or Cephas or Apollos. It is Paul, Cephas and Apollos that belong to them! But it isn’t as if they are hired hands or slaves to be told what to do or not to do. They take their orders from Christ. What Paul says here has reference not only to the apostolic office but to the pastoral office that comes out of it as can be seen by the inclusion of Apollos, but also by Paul’s use of the term steward in Titus. Luther commentating on Titus says that “Stewards of God” is Paul’s reference to the more complete phrase as used in 1 Cor. 4.
Stewards of the Mysteries of God. It is actually the Latin translation of this verse that gives us the term sacrament which we use for baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So it is funny when some commentators want to exclude those two mysteries from the mysteries that this verse is talking about. Admittedly the word mysteries has a wider use than the sacraments as we know them. Here would be included all the articles of faith as summarized in the Apostles Creed. The mysteries that are to be taught and received which all belong to faithful proclamation of the gospel. Of course, these then would also include those mysteries that have come to be known as sacraments because the faithful proclamation of the gospel cannot be separated from these two. Together they make a three stranded cord that shall not be broken. Sasse does a great job of showing how the three go together or unravel together. He looks at churches that downplay the sacraments and shows how they lose the gospel. I have to say, it’s rather a convincing argument when I see what passes as gospel preaching in Reformed churches. But he also shows how amidst all the problems of the Roman Catholic Church the gospel remains when “for you for the forgiveness of sins” is spoken in the words of institution. These are the mysteries of which the apostles and pastors are stewards. And it is the faithful proclamation of these that members of the church have a right to demand of the pastors that belong to them. This too is why the confessions speak of the right to call faithful preachers of the gospel to be their pastors. Perhaps also why, “able to teach” is the most important qualification in the list of qualifications for overseer or pastor.
I remember hearing that in class with Dr. Weinrich at seminary my first year. I scratched my head over that at the time. I wondered how it was that one was given more weight than the others. I’ve come to understand it a bit more over time. This isn’t to say that the others don’t matter. But the office is one that requires teaching, teaching also requires knowledge of what is to be taught. Congregations then will overlook a myriad of shortcomings in a pastor’s life if he is able to teach. But if a person isn’t able to teach then he can’t do the job given. Everything depends on the faithful proclamation of the gospel. This is also why ad hominem attacks are not helpful and unbecoming of faithful preachers. Luther knew this. Of course, he could attack a man’s character when in controversy and argumentation with them. He does so ingeniously against the pope in “On the Freedom of the Christian” for instance. But he was always quick to say that it wasn’t the morals of the Roman Curia he was attacking. He blamed the failure of proto-reformation movements in the church upon the fact that they concentrated on morals and didn’t grab the goose by the neck with doctrine. So Luther is quick to admit he himself is a sinner, and to prove it by making an ad hominem attack. But then he concentrates on the doctrine. It’s the gospel that matters. Today when I see pastors airing laundry publicly concerning the sins of other pastors, or former pastors who still dare to proclaim the gospel, I’m rather disheartened. If you can’t point to what is wrong, false or unbiblical about what they have preached or written, then praise the Lord! Don’t berate them for personal failings. Believe me, law mongers have as many personal failings as any preacher of grace you are tempted to call an antinomian. And of course, that is why the proto-reformation fails, once you start calling someone’s character into question on this, your own character comes into question. Walk a mile in their shoes and you might just find yourself doing the same sinful things sinful men have always done. It wasn’t Timothy’s character that Paul said would save him and his hearers, but his teaching.