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Environmental Stewardship Commission
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Episcopal Church in Minnesota

 
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Lectionary Reflection

Year A, Epiphany 8
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary – Revised Common Lectionary
New Testament Reading

1 Cor. 4:1-5

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement 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 commendation from God.

 

Reflection on 4:1-5
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Trustworthy Stewards

In these few verses the apostle deals with several particulars of the conflict situation within the Church at Corinth: wisdom, trustworthiness, leadership, the nature of the gospel, Paul's relation to that gospel, accountability, judgment, mysteries (God's, not those of mystery religions). Some of these the following comments address:

One popular misunderstanding of Paul's attacks on human wisdom, especially strong in I Cor. 1-3, is the anti-intellectual one. That claim, however, reflects a value-orientation in our culture, not what Paul values, for there is nothing anti-intellectual in his theology. With considerable mental energy and spiritual dedication he turns at 4:1 toward "God's mysteries," which the leaders of the Church are to serve with spiritual wisdom — in contrast to a worldly wisdom that extols party interests at the expense of the whole Church.

What, then, are God's mysteries? As Paul showed in 2:1-11, they are the foundation of the Church's practical action, and they are expressed most clearly in "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Now in 4:1-5 Paul adds exhortation that leaders of the Church of God at Corinth be faithful stewards of God's mysteries. The way for leaders to be servants of Christ is to stop partisan strife, and become accountable to the Lord who rules by serving. That central accountability relativizes all other loyalties, and subordinates every other judgment ultimately to God at the time when "the Lord comes."

Trustworthy stewards, then, keep their focus and accountability on and to God and Christ. Leaders who build up the Church do not rely on opinion polls or focus groups to tell them what most needs to be done or thought or explored. They serve the congregation best "only insofar as they are discharging their assignment from God (3:5)," as Jouette Bassler puts it [see below], but not by being under the judgment of the congregation. Bassler sums it up: "Underlings of Christ and overseers for God — together these two phrases capture the paradox of the apostolic call. Humility and exaltation are united in one office."

In any case, there will be a final assize to which everyone is called — not only partisan leaders and disputatious members, but also the apostle himself. Our central reference point in all discriminations and judgments (which Paul does expect - Bassler lists the texts) is the gospel of God's ultimate grace ("commendation," 4:5).

There is nothing explicit here about the Creation. However, any idolatry at Corinth was a matter of the so-called "wise" becoming really foolish, just as they did at Rome with their confusions between creatures and the Creator (Rom. 1:23-25). At Corinth as at Rome, God cannot be domesticated. Otherwise, "God would be in our pocket." [Cf. Lampe below.] The circumstance that all of us Christians are accountable to God safeguards the Creation from abuse, for the original Gardener calls all the rest of us to "till and keep" the Garden (Gen. 2:15).

[Jouette M. Bassler, "Expository Article on I Corinthians 4:1-5," Interpretation, Vol. XLIV #2 (April 1990), pp. 179-83. Peter Lampe, "Theological Wisdom and the 'Word About the Cross': The Rhetorical Scheme in I Corinthians 1-4," Interp. Same issue, pp. 117-31]

Printable version

To Reflections on other Readings for Year A, Epiphany 8:

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal)
Lectionary
Revised Common
Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Isaiah 49: 8-18
Isaiah 49: 8-16a
Psalm
Psalm 62 or 62: 6-14
Psalm 131
New Testament Lesson
1 Corinthians 4: 1-5 (6-7) 8-13
(this page)
1 Corinthians 4: 1-5
(this page)
Gospel
Matthew 6: 24-34
Matthew 6: 24-34

 

John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2010.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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