1 Corinthians


3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

iv] Have regard for your apostle, 4:1-21

a) Stewards of God's mysteries


In the passage before us, Paul encourages the congregation to view him, and his apostolic team, as agents and stewards of Christ committed to the administration of the gospel, v1, an administration which of necessity must be faithful, v2. Any human assessment of that administration is, by nature, of limited worth, including Paul's own assessment, v3. Paul has, of course, assessed his own ministry and found no major flaws, but none the less, his dependence is on Christ the judge ("his own accountability as an apostle ... is not to the church but to the Lord", Barnett), v4. "What the church needs to remember is that the Christ who scrutinizes them all will one day pronounce his infallible verdict", Naylor, v5.


i] Context: See 1:11-17. In chapter 4, Paul relates the themes of wisdom, foolishness and service (God's servants in ministry) to his own apostolic ministry exercised in Corinth. He opens with an exhortation, v1-5, then in v6-13 he applies the issues raised. His own example of suffering and simplicity ("humiliation"), rather than the success and status ("self-satisfaction") of those who have replaced him in Corinth, more properly indicate the marks of true apostleship. In v14-21 Paul concludes by seeking to reestablish his own apostolic authority over the Corinthian church. He states that he doesn't want to "shame" those now ministering in Corinth, causing them to lose face, but rather that he wants them to be "imitators" of him. He points out that he will soon visit Corinth and sort out any remaining problems.


ii] Background: See 1:11-17.


iii] Structure: Steward of God's mysteries:


"We" are agents and stewards (ministers) of Christ, v1;

Christian ministry must be faithful; v2;

A human assessment of Christian ministry is flawed, v3;

Paul has assessed his ministry as positive - but so what! v4;

God will assess the value of Christian ministry, v5.


iv] Interpretation:

In chapter 4, Paul winds up his critique of the divisions that have emerged in the Corinthian congregation. Many in the congregation have drifted in their dependence upon their founding apostle and have aligned themselves with eloquent teachers whose world-view is superseding the gospel of "Christ crucified." Paul, with his unsophisticated ministry style, is not fairing well in the party-spirit that now infects the congregation.

So, in 4:1-5 Paul encourages his converts not to pass judgement on his apostolic ministry; his accountability as an apostle "is not to the church but to the Lord", Barnett. Paul's ministry serves as an example for Christian ministry. The believers in Corinth need to look to this man who is "entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed" and who has proved faithful in their communication - he is the model of Christian ministry. It is really not wise for them to attempt some human assessment of that ministry; God is the judge and he is the one who will inevitably assess the worth of Paul's apostolic ministry.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:1

Stewards of God's mysteries, v1-5. Paul encourages the Corinthians to accept him and his team as agents and stewards of Christ; accept his team "as servants of Christ", servants who minister to the church on Christ's behalf - "stewards", or "administrators", serving under the Master's authority. They are stewards of "the secret things" (literally, "the mysteries"). Paul has used the term "mystery" before to describe something hidden, now revealed. The "mystery" is the secret of God's intentions revealed in the gospel.

ou{twV ..... wJV "so then ...... as" - in this way, thus ..... as. Rather than referencing backward, as NIV, the modal adverb ou{twV probably points forward; "people ought to regard us thus / in this way, as .....", ie. ou{twV and wJV are correlative. "This is the view which men should take of us, that we are Christ's servants", Cassirer.

anqrwpoV (oV) "men / you" - a man. Nominative subject of the verb "to regard." A general reference to the members of the congregation; "You must think of us", Barclay.

logizesqw (logizomai) pres. imp. "ought to regard" - let [a man] regard, reckon, calculate, consider. The imperative introduces an exhortation; "You should look upon us", Phillips.

hJmaV "us" - us. Possibly an editorial / royal plural, or "we apostles", but better Paul and his apostolic missionary team, cf., v9. Possibly Paul is including Apollos etc., even the unnamed teachers who should be regarded this way, but don't deserve to be so regarded.

wJV "as" - like, as. Establishing a comparison.

uJphretaV (hV ou) "servants" - stewards, servants [of christ]. Interestingly, Paul doesn't use the normal word for a minister of Christ / servant, diakonoV, but the word he has chosen means much the same, possibly in the sense of "assistant / subordinate / agent"; "Christ's attendants", Lenski.

oikonomouV (oV) "those entrusted with" - [and] stewards, administrators, managers. The word is used of an "estate manager", so "managers", Goodspeed, "trustees", Williams.

musthriwn (on) gen. "the secret things / the mysteries" - of mysteries. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / verbal, objective; "stewards who are set over the mysteries of God", Lenski. The word is used of truths once hidden but now revealed and usually refers to the gospel - "God's program of redemption", Naylor; "the secret counsels of God announced in the gospel", Fitzmyer.

qeou (oV) gen. "God has revealed" - of god. The genitive is probably ablative, expressing source / origin, "from God", as NIV11.


What then is required of God's ministers? A minister is to do the Master's bidding; they are to "prove faithful" - be trustworthy.

w|de loipon "now" - here remaining = furthermore. These two adverbs form a rather awkward expression. Moule suggests "on that showing (w|de, referring back to the preceding verse where the apostles have been called stewards) it follows that (loipon) what is looked for in steward is that ......" "In this connection, moreover, ......", Zerwick.

zhteitai (zhtew) pres. pas. "it is required" - it is sought. Possibly a divine passive which is why it is translated as "required (of God)" in the NIV. "What one looks for in stewards", Zerwick; "what is expected of stewards", NJB.

en + dat. "[those who have been given a trust]" - in [stewards]. Turner argues that en here functions as a dative of reference, "what one looks for with reference to / with regard to / with respect to stewards."

iJna + subj. "that" - that. Here introducing an object clause / epexegetic / dependent statement of perception, explaining / expressing what "is sought / expected of stewards".

tiV "-" - a certain. Again Paul generalizes his identification of the teachers / ministers; "another", as NIV. "They should be dependable", TNT.

euJreqh/ (euJriskw) aor. pas. subj. "must prove" - be found. Possibly another divine passive, so "found by God to be" = "judged".

pistoV adj. "faithful" - faithful, reliable. Predicate adjective. Probably "trustworthy", "worthy of the trust that has been placed in their care", Fee.


As for the business of assessing the worth of a person's ministry, no human has the capacity to determine the worth of one of Christ's servants. Paul is not even willing to judge the worth of his own ministry. He will leave that to the Lord.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the argument, here to a qualification; "A minister should prove themselves worthy of trust; mind you, I'm not interested how my ministry is assessed, except by Jesus.""

eiV + acc. "-" - [it is] to / for [me it is a very little thing]. Here expressing purpose, or result.

emoi dat. pro. "I care" - to me. Ethical / feeling dative; "as far as I am concerned." Obviously expressing a self assessment, "it matters very little to me", Moffatt.

elaciston (mikroV) sup. adj. "very little" - [it is] least. "It does not matter in the least to me", Barnett.

iJna + subj. "if [I am judged]" - that [i am judged]. The hina clause may be classed as epexegetic, explaining what matters very little, or as a dependent statement of perception, expressing the content of the thought; "that by you I am judged, or ....."

uJf (uJpo) + gen. "by" - by [you]. Expressing agency. Paul poses three possible human judges of his ministry / stewardship: the Corinthians, a human court and himself. Paul dismisses all three as irrelevant.

hJmeraV (a) "[any human] court" - [or by] a human [day of judgment]. "The day" = "the day of the Lord" = "the day of judgment". The link between "day" and "judgment", along with the fact that the word "day" is an equivalent for "court" in Hebrew and other languages, explains Paul's use here, cf., R&P. "Human court of judgment", Thiselton.

alla "even" - but [not myself i judge]. Not with an adversative sense here, but rather functioning as a confirmation, "indeed"; "the truth is I don't even scrutinize my own conduct", Cassirer.


Paul has stated that he regards all human assessments of his ministry as irrelevant, including his own. In this verse he qualifies his own assessment by noting that he is not aware of any flaws in his ministry, but in any case, his own assessment doesn't pronounce his innocence; it is the Lord who judges.

gar "-" for. Probably introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul doesn't get into a critique of his ministry, namely,because he is not aware of any major failings; "In fact, I don't even judge my own ministry (v3) for I am not aware of any major failures in it, however that doesn't mean that I'm innocent."

sunoida (suneidon) perf. "[my conscience] is clear" - i know [nothing to myself]. The compound verb is something like "know with / share knowing with", and this with the dative reflective pronoun emautw/ "to myself", which serves as a dative of interest, disadvantage, "against myself" = "I have [nothing] on my conscience", NEB. "I am not aware of anything in my life that is worthy of my criticism", Junkins.

alla "but" - but. Here introducing a qualification / correction; "however".

ouk en toutw/ "that does not" - not on this fact. Here en prompts cause / basis; the sense being, "not on the basis of this fact" - the fact that Paul is not aware of anything against him (although such provides no ground for innocence).

dedikaiwmai (dikaiow) perf. pas. "make me innocent" - have i been justified. I have been justified = declared / made innocent / right with God, acquitted. Paul is clearly not using the word here in its full theological sense of "set right before God", but rather of Paul standing acquitted before God with regard the faithfulness of his ministry. "Pronounced in the right", Thiselton.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a further step in the argument; "It's the Lord's scrutiny that I must undergo", Cassirer.

oJ .. anakrinwn (krinw) pres. part. "who judges [me]" - the one judging [me is lord]. The participle serves as a substantive.


For the present, the Corinthians should be careful how they assess the worth, or otherwise, of someone's ministry. The day will come when we will all stand before the Lord Jesus. In that day our secret acts and thoughts will be revealed. So, when it comes to the praise, or otherwise, of a person's ministry, let it be done by a merciful judge.

w{ste "therefore" - thus. With the imperative, the conjunction draws a logical conclusion.

mh .... krinete (krinw) "judge [nothing]" - do not judge [anything]. The Corinthians are to "cease weighing up the validity of Paul's ministry", Naylor, for "all anticipation (before the day of judgment) is vain", R&P.

pro + gen. "before [the appointed time]" - before [time]. Temporal; possibly "ahead of time" = "too early", Phillips, but more likely "before" the time, namely the day of judgment, cf., Fee. Negative critiques of Paul's ministry are best left to the day of judgment and to the perfect judge.

e{wV an + subj. "wait till / until [the Lord comes]" - until [comes the lord]. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause expressing future time. It is always difficult to know where the Lord "comes" to. Often taken to mean that the Lord comes to earth, but where the subject is judgment, the coming is usually to the throne room of the Ancient of Days for his enthronement, subsequent to judgment and reign.

kai "-" - and. Probably simply "and who will bring to light ....", but possibly "who when he comes will also ...", ie., adjunctive, or "who will both bring to light ..... and .....", ie., correlative, cf., Barrett.

o}V pro. "he" - who. Introducing a two part adjectival clause limiting / describing "the Lord", linked by kai; "who both .... and ......" Possibly an example of Semitic poetic parallelism describing the process of judgment. It has been suggested that Paul is quoting from a lost source and that "Lord" refers to "God", not the Messiah, but this is unlikely.

fwtisei (fwtizw) fut. "will bring to light" - will enlighten, shed light upon.

ta krupta adj. "what is hidden" - the hidden things. The adjective serves as a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb "to shed light on".

tou skotouV (oV) "in darkness" - of the darkness. The genitive is adjectival, possibly possessive "the hidden things that belong to the darkness", or attributive / idiomatic, "the hidden thing whose nature is dark", R&P; "the hidden things hitherto hidden and protected by the darkness", Thiselton.

fanerwsei (fanerow) fut. "he will expose" - [and] will expose, manifest, reveal, make known.

twn kardiwn (a) gen. "[the motives] of men's hearts / of the heart" - [the counsels, motives] of the heart. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, subjective, "the motives generated from within", but adjectival, idiomatic / place is possible. "The inner thoughts" = "the motives".

tote adv. "at that time" - [and] then. Temporal adverb.

ekastw/ dat. pro. "each" - [the praise will be] to each, each person. Dative of interest, advantage.

oJ epainoV (oV) "[will receive] his praise" - the praise. "Praise", "commendation", NJB, REB, even "recognition", Thiselton. As has already been noted in these studies, the issue of reward in the scriptures is a rather contentious one. Most conservative commentators limit a believer's reward for faithful service to that of God's praise - the "well done good and faithful servant." The difficulty with this position is that the only servant who deserves praise, commendation, even recognition, is the one and only faithful servant, namely Christ. A believer will certainly receive God's praise, but only in Christ. Possibly Paul mentions divine praise as a counter to the praise of a grateful congregation. When it comes to praising a minister / servant for their faithful "administration of the mysteries of God", whether it be "Paul", or "Apollos", etc., only divine praise has any value. Then shall each man have his praise", RV.

apo + gen. "from" - from [god]. Expressing source / origin.


1 Corinthians Introduction



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