Think of us in this way: as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
(1 Corinthians 4:1)
Paul was in trouble – again. This time it was with some members of the congregations he helped because of that pack of holier-than-thou “super-apostles.” They were going around stirring up doubts about his leadership, saying that his leaders, whom he called apostles (meaning “sent-out ones”), were just too ordinary, too common, to be The Real Deal come from God. These super-apostles thought they were purer than that. They were more holy, more set-apart and different from the rest of us regular folks. They acted as if they were more worthy to be Christian leaders than Paul or any of his colleagues.1
So Paul defended his gang of everyday heroes. Yes, they were lowly Janes and Joes, helping their house churches with daily chores: assisting families, settling quarrels, leading worship. They were just like the rest of us: not famous celebrities but marginal servants, not acting like owners but helping like stewards. They were servants and stewards – but servants of Christ, stewards of God’s mysteries.
Talk about burying the lead.
The Great Mystery – So what is the great mystery that Paul says hasn’t been fully revealed until now? It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27) Well, that’s pretty fancy phrasing. One way of unpacking it is the traditional threefold understanding of God’s radiant, living presence:
• The paradox: God the transcendent Creator of all who is also the immanent One who dwells within our hearts, choosing to love each one of us finite creatures. Many people are familiar with one lovely summary of this truth: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
• The Incarnation: God in human flesh in Jesus, whom we call the Christ. He came into history as the vulnerable baby born to a low-class family, but at the same time was and is the Word of God, part of God from before all the worlds were made. (John 1:1-5)
• The Holy Spirit: the Spirit of Christ, who has been active among, around, and even within us since the very beginning. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, aids us in prayer (Romans 8:26f.), and empowers all who want to spread the Good News of God’s love. (Acts 1:3-5)
Day-by-Day Mysteries – So that’s one way of picturing the Great Mystery that has now come fully to light. But what about the little glimpses we get when we’re just going about our daily business, doing presumably mindless activities that can open us to the Spirit?
These are the day-by-day mysteries. They cannot be planned or forced, but periodically reveal the real glory of what lies beyond our human limits, in a momentary nexus of time and space –
• The velvet red roses just on the other side of my window and the tiny bird that nestles inside the bush only inches away.
• The sparkle in my husband’s eye when he brings a treasure in from the garden.
• The wiggle of excitement when our dog takes me for a walk.
• The joy of sharing good words with good writer friends.
It’s precisely in everyday actions like these that God’s mystery most often unfolds.
Stewards – So we all are “stewards:” people meant to do creative, loving things with what God has entrusted to us. God has given us not only time as we usually know it, moving minute by minute from present to future, but also day-to-day mysteries, full of God’s glory, giving us hope.
Your partner in faith,
1 – One criticism they had of Paul was that he was not as eloquent a preacher as Apollos of Alexandria. Paul told them he and Apollos were both servants of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:4-9), and not to be puffed up as if in competition with one another (1 Corinthians 4:6). He saw Apollos and himself as working in collaboration. (1 Corinthians 16:12)
People treated Jesus that way, too, as if he was supposed to be “better than” regular folks. Jesus denied that kind of pedestalization, saying that the greatest are meant to serve others. (Mark 9:33-35).