1 Corinthians 4 says that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” What did the apostle Paul mean by that phrase? How can one “steward a mystery”?
The phrase “stewards of the mysteries of God” touches something deep within us, but its exact meaning can prove elusive when we think about it more specifically.
First, some background: In this passage Paul has been talking about leadership in the starting and nurturing of new communities of faith. His point is that it is not first and foremost about who is the local leader, evangelist, or pastor. These are secondary to Christ, who is first and foremost as the one who is preached.
Church leaders, Paul says, are servants and stewards. In that day, these terms would be known from specific roles within households. Servants served their masters and mistresses; stewards had a duty to oversee faithfully the management of the household. Paul uses this common household arrangement to identify the proper status and role of leaders in the church.
Remember, you are not masters or mistresses, but servants and stewards—servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Stewards must be trustworthy, taking good care in their management responsibilities. Here the service and the stewardship are connected. The mysteries of God are those things that were hidden from time immemorial but have now been revealed with the coming of Christ. God in Christ reconciled the world to God, and leaders must be faithful in tending to that mystery as it is being revealed to the world.
In the ancient world, there was a lot of fascination with “mysteries”—secret, strange knowledge known only to a few insiders. The world of the early church had its own conspiracists. Paul wants to pull the Corinthian Christians (and us) out of any conspiracy worlds and back to the one fundamental mystery at the heart of the Christian faith: that God’s grace and goodness is available to all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.