What makes a Christian? Western Government and non-Government institutions are busy purging Christianity from the public square and from the history books. Mainline denominations are trying to modify Christianity to align with the new moral standards that are acceptable to western society. And then there are some religious organizations that want to claim the mantel of Christianity but have not historically been associated as Christian. So what makes a Christian Christian? Can an individual define Christian to be anything or can Christianity be modified to be acceptable in polite society?
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 ESV
Paul identifies who a Christian should be in addressing conflicts within the Corinthian church. The church was dividing into political camps with one group following one leader and another group following another. Paul tells the church that this is how they should approach being Christians. Christians should be “servants” and “stewards of the mysteries” moreover they must be found faithful to that role and that stewardship.
First we can take a look at “servant” and the obvious question is servant to whom? The government? Media approval? Who should a Christian, identified by a name that by definition should be a follower of Christ, be servant to? The simple answer from Paul is Jesus Christ. Paul is a servant to Christ but this is more than a simple servant cleaning toilets. Paul is an officer of Christ commissioned to serve not unlike a commander in military or law enforcement. Paul as a follower of Christ is not just watching from the sideline listening to the wonderful speaker on Sunday morning. Paul is actively involved organizing, training, executing orders on behalf of Jesus. Here this same word translated servant in Paul’s letter is translated officer in the Gospel of John to identify the law enforcement servants that report to the High Priest.
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. John 18:12 ESV
Who did the officers serve? The High Priest of the Jews. They were bound to carry out those orders and they were bound to serve in an official capacity. The officers are not the decision makers on the need to arrest Jesus but they did know how to arrest him and what was necessary to carry out their orders when the time came. What if the officers serving the High Priest rejected the plain training and expectations of their role? Could they rightly be called officers of the Jews? Not for very long.
The second identifier that Paul used is “stewards of the mysteries” of God. Now this is an intriguing description. Much has been read into this and because Paul in his letters frequently speaks of “mysteries”. Some scholars have called Paul a “mystic” because of this. A mystic is someone who turns inwardly or receives inwardly some mystical revelation that could not have been divined in any other way. For example when someone says God told them to do it that could be viewed as a mystical revelation.
Christianity is not a mystical religion because Jesus the defacto leader had His words and teaching recorded. Any revelation an individual receives must be consistent and aligned with the entire recorded teaching of God and that is found in the Bible. Paul however as an apostle in that first generation did receive additional information from the resurrected Christ. For example Paul says that Christ revealed through the Holy Spirit the new order that all men not just the Jews are “partakers of the promise” which is the gospel of Jesus Christ
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:1-6 ESV
Because of this some scholars have dismissed Paul as creating his own version of Christianity separate from the Disciples of Christ. However Peter a leader of those disciples accepted Paul as a peer and acknowledged His ministry to the Gentiles. Paul and Peter would have received consistent instructions and were in agreement that those instructions came from Christ.
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him 2 Peter 3:15 ESV
Paul then revealing the gospel of Jesus Christ and being a steward of those mysteries is much more than a servant or even an officer. Paul and Christians who are called by Jesus Christ are managers and caretakers of the ministry while the owner is away. Paul is not the leader that is to be followed any more than Peter or insert your version of the Pope in the modern world. Those servants and stewards to be rightly called Christian must be working directly for Jesus who is present by way of the Holy Spirit.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 1 Corinthians 4:6 ESV
To conclude a Christian then by definition is a commissioned officer and a steward of the gospel message. That gospel is unchanging and contains the facts that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, born of a virgin, lived a sinless in life, was crucified on my behalf, and was raised to life on the third day thus robbing death of its victory. If this is not who you serve then when that King returns in an unknown hour how will you answer. That you were a faithful steward of the gospel message or that you were not faithful to the gospel because you choose to serve men, governments, and money?
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:7 ESV