This month I began studying I Corinthians and early on I came across a couple sentences that left me with a puzzle to solve. The NASB version of I Corinthians 4:1, 2 reads this way: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”
I am already fairly familiar with the word “steward”; I wrote about that last year here on my blog, the entry is “Steward of the Word” dated January 2, 2011. I’ve also learned since then that Joseph can be seen as a steward to Pharaoh. His story, told in the last few chapters of Genesis, accurately portrays stewardship as being in charge of another person’s possessions, and in this case, Pharaoh gave Joseph control over his entire kingdom.
So why did I stop at these verses in I Corinthians and question stewardship? Actually, it wasn’t so much the stewardship part I was questioning; I really thought I understood the concept of biblical stewardship. It was more the use of “trustworthy” that was tripping me up. It seemed to me that Paul was using some very strong, explicit language here – why is trustworthy required of stewards? And, more importantly, since it is required, I wanted to understand if this word describes me.
So, what does that word trustworthy really mean?
My initial thoughts were that trustworthy means something like being dedicated and showing up to work every day on time, being honest by not stealing stuff from your boss, and being straightforward - letting your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”.
After a couple rounds with some hefty-sized English dictionaries, I concluded I wasn’t very far off. I did learn that this compound word (trust + worthy) was only “compounded” recently. Other than that, nothing else seemed especially interesting.
Now sometimes all you need is just to better understand the English uses of a word in the Bible (like indignation in Psalm 7:11), but here is a case where knowing the English meaning just wasn’t telling me enough. Why would it actually be required of stewards to be trustworthy? My gut was telling me there was more, so I grabbed for Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. . . .
So I found the word in question is the Greek word “pistŏs”. Here’s what Strong’s gave me as a definition: trustworthy, trustful, believe, believing, believer, faithful, faithfully, sure, and true. I don’t know about you, but as I look at the list - believe, believing, and believer - all seem to be out of place. The rest however, do seem to be just synonyms of each other.
Next I used my Strong’s in reverse to help me find some more verses that use this same Greek word. Among them I found II Timothy 2:2 which says teach reliable (pistŏs) men that they might teach others. This verse seems to speak of having a consistent behavior, having a dependable pattern in our lives. Then from I John 1:9, I found this word even applies to the immutable nature of God, it says He is faithful (pistŏs) to forgive us our sins.
If I had stopped at this point, I might be led to think that “pistŏs” means nothing more than being consistent, dependable, or unchanging and immutable – and these are all qualities desired in a steward. But does this really explain how the words “believe”, “believing”, and “believer” fit on this list? Well, maybe.
Follow along with me as I try to unravel this mystery a bit. . . .
I can easily see how God would require His stewards to be “believers” - He wouldn’t put unbelievers in charge of “the mysteries of God”. And this believer would need to have consistent faith, to be immutable, unchanging, and unwavering in his or her convictions concerning God. I’m reminded of verses in James that teach us to not be doubting and double-minded when we ask for something in prayer (James 1:5-8).
Our faith in Jesus, and the teachings of His Word, needs to be reliable in the sense that we don’t falter, causing the lost world around us to doubt if we have found Truth. Paul reminds us to not have child-like faith, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, but to be steadfast. (Ephesians 4:14-16).
We also shouldn’t be stumbling through life without any permanent transformation into the image of Christ - one day serious about our walk, and the next day “out to lunch” spiritually speaking. Last month I wrote, “Paul on the Road to Damascus” (4/18/2012) about renewing our minds, being metamorphosed by immersion in the Word and time in prayer – butterflies don’t return to being caterpillars (Romans 12:1, 2).
In this way then, I can see Paul’s point here in I Corinthians that stewards must be consistent believers if they are to be put in charge of "the mysteries of God". This sort of unwavering conviction of faith in God and His Word is certainly required.
But this kind of “pistŏs” believing isn’t what you did once on the day you were saved; this isn’t a past tense kind of word. This is continual and on-going, something that you live with conviction and consistency – 24/7, 365 days a year. You are to be ever and always, actively believing God, believing His Word, and believing His plan is working out in your life. And yes, Paul tells us quite emphatically; for a steward of God, this “pistŏs” is required.
So now the difficult question: does this “pistŏs” describe you and I?
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to “pistŏs” men who will be able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2 (NASB).
Here are journaling suggestions for you to try:
Describe the effects of a “pistŏs” mentor upon your life.
Pass it on - write a letter of spiritual advice to a “Timothy”.