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The Preacher As God's Steward

By James Earl Massey

I remember wrestling with the text and meaning of I Timothy 3:16 in order to preach on it for the first time. What a declarative and definitive word about the content, center, and circumference of the Christian faith! Notice how the Apostle introduces that grand hymn about the incarnate Christ, and how he refers to the facts of our treasured faith as "mystery":

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

He was revealed in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among Gentiles,

believed in throughout he world,

taken up in glory.

I also remember my attempts to preach on that great Christological hymn that Paul preserved for us in Philippians 2:6-11. In the context of the first century church, this hymn not only proclaimed the mystery of the Incarnation and the drama of the saving death of Jesus, but also His present exalted role as cosmic Lord — and the universal homage to Him that God has purposed and will surely effect.3 What a grand and needed word to remind the church about our center of gravity! The Christ we are sent to preach about is not just Lord of the Church; the time is coming when He will be vindicated and acknowledged as Lord of the Universe! This truth is one among the many "mysteries of God" entrusted to our telling.

Paul took pride, although humbly, in being God's steward in preaching such truths. Paul stated, "If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel." He went on to explain, "For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission" (1 Cor. 9:16-17). That word "commission" could just as well be rendered "stewardship" because behind it is oikonomia, a Greek term translated elsewhere as "stewardship." Paul understood himself as one of God's stewards, someone entrusted to handle and herald the gospel, someone whose province in preaching was "the mysteries of God," or to use Paul's words from his descriptive charge to a group of preachers gathered at Miletus, "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

Since this commissioning trust was committed not only to Paul and successive generations of Christian preachers but also to us, our concern should be to live and labor honorably as "good stewards." Paul spelled out some requisites for doing so when he wrote, "Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" (I Cor. 4:1-2). In a day when publicity blurbs seem demanded for all who seek acceptance in a highly competitive social arena, just how do you want people to think of you? How do you advertise or explain yourself?

Paul was eager to be thought of first as hyperetes, a "servant," a category whose rich history of meaning includes the notion of "assistant," someone who assists a superior, someone who is secondary to someone else who holds a place of importance.4 Paul went, secondly, to include "and steward," using oikonomos, which I have already mentioned means "entrusted manager" — in keeping with guidelines supplied by the one who entrusted the appointed task. Then Paul followed up these descriptions with the statement, "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" [or as the KJV renders it, "faithful"]. Paul's description here states the necessity for the person assigned a stewardship to "be found" (heurethe — discovered, disclosed, seen) as indeed trustworthy.

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