Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written’, so that none of you will be puffed up in favour of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
I do enjoy a good mystery: from intriguing crime-scene to intricate resolution, I marvel at the intellect of the detective – and the imagination of the writer. I don't have a great track-record in spotting all the clues and predicting the outcome; but just occasionally I manage successfully to identify “whodunnit”. Because when it comes to contemporary fiction, that's how mystery works: we're invited not just to be entertained, but to join in the sleuthing – to prove our prowess and hope thereby to win the satisfaction of having worked it all out ourselves.
So when we come across the term “mystery” in the Bible, perhaps our instinct is to imagine it's this same kind of exercise in testing our detective talent – seeing if we've got what it takes to grasp the hidden, complex principles that would baffle lesser mortals.
But that's really not what Paul means when he writes of “God's mysteries”. Against a 1st-century backdrop in which various cults claimed to offer initiation into the still-secret ways of spiritual beings, the Apostle emphasises that in Christ, God's purposes are now made plain to all upon whom God's Spirit is graciously poured. And so for disciples, the essential point about a mystery is not that it's arcane and difficult, but on the contrary, that it's been revealed.
As he here wraps up his encouragement to the Corinthians to lay aside partisan divisions over particular apostolic heroes, Paul makes the point that because the unfolding of mysteries is God's initiative, not human achievement, it's not to be used as a pretext for pride or judgement. For judgement, again, is God's prerogative; and because God has a habit of revealing mysteries, in due time it'll be the things we ourselves have kept hidden – the purposes of the human heart - that God shall uncover.
In the meantime, we too can be “stewards of God's mysteries” – not by claiming mastery of secrets, but by sharing what God has revealed.
God of grace and truth,
you summon us to proclaim
what has been revealed among us,
the mystery of faith:
that “Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.”
In our Walking the Way,
empower us by your Spirit
to be bold in witness,
faithful in hope,
and generous in love,
to the glory of your name. Amen.
The Rev’d Dominic Grant, minister, Trinity URC Wimbledon