1 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 1 to 5 – The Servant The Steward and his Secret Sin - JS Gillespie 

1 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 1 to 5 – The Servant The Steward and his Secret Sin - JS Gillespie

One of the not so often spoken on chapters in 1 Corinthians?  

What is it all about?  

Maybe not quite such a clear take away message 

1 Corinthians chapter 4 is about: 

Nothing in particular 
Everything in general 

It's not like so many other chapters in 1 Corinthians that get their teeth into a specific problem: 

Chp 5 &  6 -  Moral Problems 

Chp 6 -  Material Problems 

Chp 7 -  Marital Problems 

Chp 8 to 10 -  Meat offered to idols 

Chp 10 to 14 -  Meeting Problems 

Chp 15 -  Miracle of Resurrection 

Chp 16 -  Money 

Chapter 4 is about none of that and it is about all of that! 

Chapter 4 is about dealing with the people who have the problems. 

This is preparation to deal with the people 

In chapters 5 to 16 we deal with the problems 

Chapter 4 is a doorway into the various problems of 1 Corinthians and I think instinctively the apostle pauses before he opens the door.  


It's about sorting out his relationship with them before he delivers corrective ministry to them! 

Chapter 4 is a doorway into the various problems of 1 Corinthians and very instructive the apostle pauses before he opens the door. 

It's about sorting out his relationship with them before he delivers his corrective ministry.  

We have suggested previously that 1 Corinthians isn't so much a Church epistle as an epistle of personal consecration and holiness; a Lordship Epistle,  in which the apostle looks for the Lordship in every aspect of the Corinthians life: 





(1 Corinthians 1:30) 

Not that the epistle is not: 

To the church (1:1) 
About the Church 
For the Church 

It very clearly is,  but the problems do not begin in the church but are brought there by believers from Corinth. 

If these problems are going to be dealt with effectively we are going to have to get to the root of the problems rather than strimming the head off of the Dandelions. 

The man who would deal with problems like this is a man who has the respect of all of the believers 

There are people who have the uncanny knack of taking DIFFICULT situations and turning them into an unmitigated DISASTER 

In chapter 4 the apostle is going to deal with the people before he deals with the problems.  

This is the same person who is the wise master builder of chapter 3 -  he is going to very carefully deal with any problems in the structure,  in case,  in the process of chiselling out the old loose mortar and repointing with new cement,  the whole lot falls down around about him. 

Pauls Relationship with Christ (4:1-4) 
The Corinthians Relationship to Paul (4:6-14) 
Pauls Relationship to the Corinthians (4:14-21) 

Pauls Relationship with Christ (4:1-4) 

Consider 2 truths: 


The Corinthians Relationship to Paul (4:6-14) 

The Crown (v8) 

The Cross (v9-13) 

Pauls Relationship to the Corinthians (4:14-21) 

Son (v14) 

Father (v15) 

Pauls Relationship with Christ (4:1-4) 

The Servant (4:1) 
The Steward (4:1) 
The Secret Sins (4:5) 

The Servant (4:1) 

It is educational to consider the way that the apostle presents himself to these Corinthians. 

It is very easy for churches to end up as complex hierarchical systems; with a top down, dictatorial approach to service. 

Even in the assemblies where in name and form these systems have been removed, there very easily can arise. 

Instead of the leaders: 

being an example to the flock 
feeding the flock of God amongst us 
overseeing the believers 

They become dictatorial and use the shepherds crook to beat the sheep repeatedly about the cranium. 

Helpful to observe how the apostle vaccinates himself against this by viewing his service for the Lord amongst His people, under 2 titles; Paul considers the schism amongst the Corinthians and asks them to consider him in a 2 fold way: 


Minister : 'huperetes'  : 'ὑπηρέτης' : 5257: 'under'  and 'rower' 

Minister -  under rower,  not the usual word for servant;' diakonos' (3:5) or even 'duolos'  -  slave 

The picture of the ship with the galley of slaves all rowing to the common of the overseer. 

They are located deep in the ship 

They do not have the responsibility to decide the direction of the path 

They possess no knowledge of the plan / route 

They cannot see what is happening outside 

There's is a simple task,  to be obedient to each word of the overseer. 

Just to pull on the oar when instructed to do so.  

No knowledge of the plan nor of the year ahead -  just given today; "boast not thyself of tomorrow..."  

Just to be sensitive to the commandment and to the leading of the master. 

Peter: "what is that to thee; follow thou me" 

There are many examples of this in the word of God: 

Abraham -  Genesis chapter 22 -  taking Isaacs up Mount Moriah 
Moses parents -  Exodus chapter 2 -  Moses in a basket; 3 possible outcomes surely: 



Current will carry him away 

Elijah – instructed one step at a time on his path home to heaven (2 Kings 2) 
Namaan -  to dip 7 times in the river 
Gideon -  trim down the army from 32000 (Judges 7:3) to 300 (Judges 7:6) and equip them with trumpets and lamps and pitchers. 
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch 

All of these were antecedents to a mighty movement of the Spirit of God! 

What was the master plan?  

They didn't know 

They had but to be faithful 

The Steward (4:1) 

This servant is also a steward: 'οἰκονόμος' : "a steward of the mysteries of God" . A steward of that: 

"predetermined,  foreordained,  eternal purpose of God for His creation in Christ,  hidden until the time of fulfillment and for the Glory of His Son and thus the blessing of His people" 

Paul would have loved them to have been mature enough to have come into the knowledge of these truths (2:6) but they couldn't they were 'immature'  and hindered by appetite and ability (3:1-3),  and that caused by carnality (3:3); a carnality characterised and caused by schism.  

Paul has laid the foundation (3:10) 

A foundation in Christ (3:10) 

A foundation laid in Christ (3:11) and has encouraged others to build consistent with this foundation : "gold,  silver and precious stones"  (3:12); not just to build with quality and with endurance; but specifically with; 

Gold -  Divine Righteousness 
Silver -  Redemption Truth 
Precious Stones -  Wisdom 

Paul views himself as a Steward of these mysteries 

As we look back over the OT; this word 'steward'  in the Greek is used of a number of individuals in the LXX; including: 

Eliezer -  the servant of Abraham 

The Greek word 'oikonomos' is: 

Used of Eliezer in Genesis 15:2 

Used of Joseph in Genesis 39:4 

In Genesis 24 he is sent out with an evangelical Mission to obtain a bride for Isaac; to bring a woman: 

Was she Jew?  By definition at this point no -  she was not of the line of Abraham 

Was she gentile?  -  Abraham draws a very definite distinction between Rebecca and the heathen people's of Canaan. 

She is a bride who breaks down the distinctions between Jew and Gentile and she will be a bride for Isaac. 

The steward is to bring Rebecca to a man she has never seen before. 

Is he real?  What's he like?  Does Eliezer truly represent him?  

After all there were a lot of people about in those days trading in people?  

So the steward will demonstrate the genuineness of his mission with his ability to bring: 

Silver - Gen 24:53 
Gold -  Gen 24:22,53 
Precious things - Gen 24:53 

The genuine marks of the Steward of the mysteries of God,  include his ability to present: 

Precious things 

Things of value from the deep things of God 

Do we state the facts like 'liturgy'  

In our service for Christ do we bring something of: 


Something that has been through the fire?  -  Gold 

Mined from the rock?  -  Silver 

Comes from the rivers of Eden?  -  Gold 

Something of Value?  -  Above Rubies 

“And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.” (1 Chron 21:24) 

Let us not give anything cheap to God. If its cheap keep it 

There ought to be an 'awe'  and a 'joy'  and a 'fascination'  

The role of the servants of God is to bring the Gold and silver and precious stones of Christ mind from the Word of God to His people. 

The preaching of Gods word ought not to be dead or dry and boring and disinteresting 

V2 -  'faithfulness'  -  runs through the chapter 

The forgotten virtue 

Illust: Chinese buffet in Spain,  usually we don't take the weans to restaurants where you get a knife and fork! They could get whatever they wanted.  

It is possible to deal with God in a similar fashion; like a buffet.  

For Paul: 

His relationship with Christ was one of 'faithfulness'  (4:1) 
His relationship with them was one of 'faithfulness'  (4:15) 
Timothy likewise was marked by 'faithfulness'  (4:17) 

Consistent and committed faithfulness 

Can we not just drift? 

Is there anything worse than responsibility?  

Yes we can just drift and avoid all responsibilities.  

Paul will deal with problems in chapters 4ff 

It will take strong bonds to deal with these problems, 

This building is held together with the cement of strong  committed, faithful relationships forged in adversity. 

We can drift from thing to thing 

We can treat the people of God and the church of God and Fellowship like a buffet 

But faithlessness in relationships is a self judging error 

This faithful and sacrificial relationship between Paul and the Corinthians becomes the means of the Lord recovering these Corinthians 

Relationships faithfully formed may be costly but they become a resource in trial and trouble 

Steward: 'oikonomos'  : 3623: administrator 

The Secret Sins (4:5) 

“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” (1 Co4:3) 

Note the big issue of judgment here in 1 Corinthians: 

4:3 – 'judged' : anakrino 
4:3 – 'judgment' : hemera – daytime, occasion, time 
4:3 – 'judge' : anakrino 
4:4 – 'judgeth' : anakrino 
4:5 – 'judge' : krino 

One of the great ironies of 1 Corinthians, of which there are a number: 

The irony of Wisdom (chps 1+2) – The wisdom the Corinthians sought (2:1) was found only in God (2:7) and they regarded it as foolishness (1:18). 

The irony of Schism (3:6) – They divided over success of united servants. 

The irony of Judgment (4:3ff) – that in an assembly where so much was in need of judgment: 

Morally (chp 5) 
Materially (chp 6) 
Marriage (chp 7) 
Meat offered to idols (chp 8-10) 
Meetings (chp 11-14) 
Miracle of resurrection (chp 15) 
Money (chp 16) 


Not prepared to judge SIN 

Only prepared to judge SERVICE 

The Corinthians were expected to judge sin both: 

personally (11:28) 
collectively (5:4ff)I 

There is still a need for both 

Sometimes when sin comes in there can be a personal failure to judge it and then collective judgment comes in. 

There was personal failure to judge sin at Corinth (chps 5 to 11) and a collective failure to judge sin too. 

To deal with sin effectively inevitably involves confrontation and to the genuine believer marked by meekness and humility and love it is an unappealing task 

It can be easier to work around it: 

To sweep it under the carpet 
To avoid it being dealt with by 'resigning' 

To judge sin is a confrontational experience and not very appealing 

To judge service is more about controversy – hidden criticism. 

To judge anothers service is an easy option. 

I am judging a service not required of me. 

I can be critical of others with no or minimal implications for myself 

The net result of putting others service down is to push my service up (4:6). 

At Corinth they repeat the same mistakes as the disciples (Mark 9:34); “they disputed among themselves who should be the greatest” 

The Lord alone is able to give accurate judgement and thus true praise (4:5) for He alone is able 'bring to light the hidden things of darkness' and to 'make manifest the counsels of the hearts.' (4:5) 

Many of the great had 'secret sins' 

Sins that had a huge impact on their life and that of others. 

Noah – Gen 9:20ff – drunkenness in his tent – brought disaster for a son 
Moses – Exodus 2:12 – Murder of the Egyptian – affected his relationship with a nation and perhaps delayed the deliverance of that nation for 40 years 
Achan – Joshua 7:1ff; 7:10-13, 19-26 – Materialism and covetousness for a goodly Babylonish garment, 200 shekels of silver, wedge of gold of 50 shekels – brought disaster for an army 
David – 2 Sam 11 – sexual immorality – a secret sin? Not hidden from God, 2 Sam 12:1ff – would affect Davids family and the whole of subsequent history and his families claim to the throne. 

The Corinthians Relationship to Paul (4:6-14) 

Pauls Relationship to the Corinthians (4:14-21) 

There are somethings we will only take from some people 


This relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is one which has been hard won and long developed through sacrifice and commitment but it is now a tool which God can use for their benefit and blessing.


Notes from a sermon preached  as part of our systematic bible study series on 1 Corinthians. 

Free audio, mp3 downloads  available above, of these messages as we expound verse by verse through the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. 

Yours by Grace in Christ 

Dr J Stewart Gillespie