I have been a Christian for about 7 years now. As I entrenched myself in Christian community, I began to acquire the vernacular of the Christian. We have our own secret Christianese language that people on the outside don’t really understand and many on the inside cringe over.
The words “servant” and “steward” are two of those words I added to my vocabulary once I became a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul says these are words that people should commonly be able to attach to Christians.
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
Paul throws us a little bit of a curve ball in this passage by using a different word for servant than he uses elsewhere. Typically, Paul uses the word “doulos.” You probably know somebody who knows somebody who tattooed that on his body. It is the word used for a common slave.
Paul uses the word “hyperetas” in verse one, which literally means “under rower.” This word originally described the rowers in the lower tier of Roman ships, but came to describe anyone in a servant’s position, including free men who took on roles of servitude.
The word was not so much about the lowly nature of the individual but about the elevation of the master. They followed the captain’s orders and drove the ship forward by exerting great effort. The under rowers asked no questions.
In my opinion, this is a really cool word in this context. We are not just common slaves under the rule of Christ. We have the privilege of driving the ship forward under the wise leadership of Jesus Christ, the head of the church and captain of the ship. He shows us where to go, and we grind away, driving the ship in whatever direction he deems appropriate.
Stewards were a different type of servant. They helped to manage the house and its finances. Nothing they tended to was their own, and they faithfully protected what they had been entrusted.
I served as best man for a pledge brother shortly after our graduation. At that point, they opted not to purchase a wedding band for the bride, so when they swapped rings, my brother simply put the engagement ring back on her.
Sounds easy enough, except for the fact that I was responsible for holding that rock leading up to the exchange of the rings. I put it on my pinky finger and clinched as hard as I could from the moment he gave it to me. It was more than a little uncomfortable and stressful.
I don’t think I have ever held anything that tightly. I had been trusted with this precious ring, and I wasn’t about to add “lost diamond ring” to the long list of face palm worthy moments in my life. My brother trusted me with that, and I took it seriously.
What have we been stewarded? In this case, it’s the mysteries of God. The mysteries of God are those truths that are not understood unless God, by his grace, makes them clear to us.
Now that these mysteries have been made known to us, we have been stewarded them to make them known to others. These are delicate, powerful truths that must be treated with the same care as that diamond ring that inflicted permanent damage upon my pinky. We must grow in our understanding so that we may share them appropriately.
This is how we are to be viewed: as individuals driving the kingdom of God ever onward under the direction of Christ, sharing His truth with diligence and care.