The following is excerpted from St John Chrysostom’s tenth homily on the First Letter to the Corinthians and is his treatment of 1 Cor 4:1-2. His eleventh homily which includes his treatment of 1 Cor 4:3-5 can be read here.
1 Cor 4:1. “Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” After he had cast down their spirit, mark how again he refreshes it, saying, “as ministers of Christ.” Do not thou then, letting go the Master, receive a name from the servants and ministers. “Stewards;” saith he, indicating that we ought not to give these things unto all, but unto whom it is due, and to whom it is fitting we should minister.
1 Cor 4:2. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful:” that is, that he does not appropriate to himself his master’s goods, that he do not as a master lay claim for himself but administer as a steward. For a steward’s part is to administer well the things committed to his charge: not to say that his master’s things are his own; but, on the contrary, that his own are his master’s. Let every one think on these things, both he that hath power in speech and he that possesses wealth, namely, that he hath been entrusted with a master’s goods and that they are not his own; let him not keep them with himself, nor set them down to his own account; but let him impute them unto God who gave them all. Wouldest thou see faithful stewards? Hear what saith Peter, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man to walk?” (Acts 3:12) Unto Cornelius also he saith, “We also are men of like passions with you:” and unto Christ Himself, “Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee.” (St. Matt 19:7) And Paul, no less, when he had said, “I labored more abundantly than they all,” (1 Cor 15:10) added, “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Elsewhere also, setting himself strongly against the same persons, he said, “For what hast thou which thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). “For thou hast nothing of thine own, neither wealth, nor speech, nor life itself; for this also is surely the Lord’s. Wherefore, when necessity calls, do thou lay down this also. But if thou dostest on life, and being ordered to lay it down refusest, thou art no longer a faithful steward.”
“And how is it possible, when God calls, to resist?” Well, that is just what I say too: and on this account do I chiefly admire the loving-kindness of God, that the things which He is able, even against thy will, to take from thee, these He willeth not to be paid in (eisenekqhnai) by thee unwillingly, that thou mayest have a reward besides. For instance, He can take away life without thy consent; but His will is to do so with thy consent, that thou mayest say with Paul, “I die daily,” (1 Cor 15:31) He can take away thy glory without thy consent, and bring thee low: but He will have it from thee with thine own goodwill, that thou mayest have a recompense. He can make thee poor, though unwilling, but He will have thee willingly become such, that He may weave crowns for thee. Seest thou God’s mercy to man? Seest thou our own brutish stupidity?
What if thou art come to great dignity, and hast at any time obtained some office of Church government? Be not high-minded. Thou hast not acquired the glory, but God hath put it on thee. As if it were another’s, therefore, use it sparingly; neither abusing it nor using it upon unsuitable things, nor puffed up, nor appropriating it unto thyself; but esteem thyself to be poor and inglorious. For never,—hadst thou been entrusted with a king’s purple to keep,—never would it have become thee to abuse the robe and spoil it, but with the more exactness to keep it for the giver. Is utterance given thee? Be not puffed up; be not arrogant; for the gracious gift is not thine. Be not grudging about thy Master’s good, but distribute them among thy fellow-servants; and neither be thou elated with these things as if they were thine own, nor be sparing as to the distribution of them. Again, if thou hast children, they are God’s which thou hast. If such be thy thought, thou wilt both be thankful for having them, and if bereft thou wilt not take it hard. Such was Job when he said, (Job 1:21) “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away.”
For we have all things from Christ. Both existence itself we have through Him, and life, and breath, and light, and air, and earth. And if He were to exclude us from any one of these, we are lost and undone. For (1 Pet. 2). “we are sojourners and pilgrims” And all this about “mine,” and “thine,” is bare words only, and doth not stand for things. For if thou do but say the house is thine, it is a word without a reality: since the very air, earth, matter, are the Creator’s; and so art thou too thyself, who hast framed it; and all other things also. But supposing the use to be thine, even this is uncertain, not on account of death alone, but also before death, because of the instability of things.
These things then continually picturing to ourselves, let us lead strict lives; and we shall gain two of the greatest advantages. For first, we shall be thankful both when we have and when we are bereaved; and we shall not be enslaved to things which are fleeting by, and things not our own. For whether it be wealth that He taketh, He hath taken but His own; or honor, or glory, or the body, or the life itself: be it that He taketh away thy son, it is not thy son that He hath taken, but His own servant. For thou formedst him not, but He made him. Thou didst but minister to his appearing; the whole was God’s own work. Let us give thanks therefore that we have been counted worthy to be His ministers in this matter. But what? Wouldest thou have had him for ever? This again proves thee grudging, and ignorant that it was another’s child which thou hadst, and not thine own. As therefore those who part resignedly are but aware that they have what was not theirs; so whoever gives way to grief is in fact counting the King’s property his own. For, if we are not our own, how can they be ours? I say, we: for in two ways we are His, both on account of our creation, and also on account of the faith. Wherefore David saith, “My substance is with Thee:” (Ps 39:7 upostasi” Sept. “hope” rec. vers. of. ver. 6; Ps 139:14) and Paul too, “For in Him we live and move and have our being:” (Acts 17:28) and plying the argument about the faith, he says, (1 Cor 6:19-20) “Ye are not your own,” and “ye were bought with a price.” For all things are God’s. When then He calls and chooses to take, let us not, like grudging servants, fly from the reckoning, nor purloin our Master’s goods. Thy soul is not thine; and how can thy wealth be thine? How is it then that thou spendest on what is unnecessary the things which are not thine? Knowest thou not that for this we are soon to be put on our trial, that is, if we have used them badly? But seeing that they are not our’s but our Master’s, it were right to expend them upon our fellow-servants. It is worth considering that the omission of this was the charge brought against that rich man: and against those also who had not given food to the Lord. (St Luke 16:21. St. Matt 25:42)
Say not then, “I am but spending mine own, and of mine own I live delicately.” It is not of thine own, but of other men’s. Other men’s, I say, because such is thine own choice: for God’s will is that those things should be thine, which have been entrusted unto thee on behalf of thy brethren. Now the things which are not thine own become thine, if thou spend them upon others: but if thou spend on thyself unsparingly, thine own things become no longer thine. For since thou usest them cruelly, and sayest, “That my own things should be altogether spent on my own enjoyment is fair:” therefore I call them not thine own. For they are common to thee and thy fellow-servants; just as the sun is common, the air, the earth, and all the rest. For as in the case of the body, each ministration belongs both to the whole body and to each several member; but when it is applied to one single member only, it destroys the proper function of that very member: so also it comes to pass in the case of wealth. And that what I say may be made plainer; the food of the body which is given in common to the members, should it pass into one member, even to that it turns out alien in the end. For when it cannot be digested nor afford nourishment, even to that part, I say, it turns out alien. But if it be made common, both that part and all the rest have it as their own.
(So also in regard of wealth. If you enjoy it alone, you too have lost it: for you will not reap its reward. But if you possess it jointly with the rest, then will it be more your own, and then will you reap the benefit of it. Seest thou not that the hands minister, and the mouth softens, and the stomach receives? Doth the stomach say, Since I have received, I ought to keep it all? Then do not thou I pray, in regard to riches, use this language. For it belongs to the receiver to impart. As then it is a vice in the stomach to retain the food and not to distribute it, (for it is injurious to the whole body,) so it is a vice in those that are rich to keep to themselves what they have. For this destroys both themselves and others. Again, the eye receives all the light: but it doth not itself alone retain it, but enlightens the entire body. For it is not its nature to keep it to itself, so long as it is an eye. Again, the nostrils are sensible of perfume; but they do not keep it all to themselves, but transmit it to the brain, and affect the stomach with a sweet savor, and by their means refresh the entire man. The feet alone walk; but they move not away themselves only, but transfer also the whole body. In like manner do thou, whatsoever thou hast been entrusted withal, keep it not to thyself alone, since thou art doing harm to the whole and to thyself more than all.
And not in the case of the limbs only may one see this occuring: for the smith also, if he chose to impart of his craft to no one, ruins both himself and all other crafts. Likewise the cordwainer, the husbandman, the baker, and everyone of those who pursue any necessary calling; if he chose not to communicate to anyone of the results of his art, will ruin not the others only but himself also with them.
And why do I say, “the rich?” For the poor too, if they followed after the wickedness of you who are covetous and rich, would injure you very greatly and soon make you poor; yea rather, they would quite destroy you, were they in your want unwilling to impart of their own: the tiller of the ground, (for instance,) of the labor of his hands; the sailor, of the gain from his voyages; the soldier, of his distinction won in the wars.
Wherefore if nothing else can, yet let this at least put you to shame, and do you imitate their benevolence. Dost thou impart none of thy wealth unto any? Then shouldest thou not receive any thing from another: in which case, the world will be turned upside down. For in every thing to give and receive is the principle of numerous blessings: in seeds, in scholars, in arts. For if any one desire to keep his art to himself, he subverts both himself and the whole course of things. And the husbandman, if he bury and keep the seeds in his house, will bring about a grievous famine. So also the rich man, if he act thus in regard of his wealth, will destroy himself before the poor, heaping up the fire of hell more grievous upon his own head.
Therefore as teachers, however many scholars they have, impart some of their lore unto each; so let thy possession be, many to whom thou hast done good. And let all say, “such an one he freed from poverty, such an one from dangers. Such an one would have perished, had he not, next to the grace of God, enjoyed thy patronage. This man’s disease thou didst cure, another thou didst rid of false accusation, another being a stranger you took in, another being naked you clothed.” Wealth inexhaustible and many treasures are not so good as such sayings. They draw all men’s gaze more powerfully than your golden vestments, and horses, and slaves. For these make a man appear even odious: (forticon, a conj. of Saville’s for fortica) they cause him to be hated as a common foe; but the former proclaim him as a common father and benefactor. And, what is greatest of all, Favor from God waits on thee in every part of thy proceedings. What I mean is, let one man say, He helped to portion out my daughter: another, And he afforded my son the means of taking his station among men: (ei” andra” emfanhnai) another, He made my calamity to cease: another, He delivered me from dangers. Better than golden crowns are words such as these, that a man should have in his city innumerable persons to proclaim his beneficence. Voices such as these are pleasanter far, and sweeter than the voices of the heralds marching before the archons; to be called saviour, benefactor, defender, (the very names of God;) and not, covetous, proud, insatiate, and mean. Let us not, I beseech you, let us not have a fancy for any of these titles, but the contrary. For if these, spoken on earth, make one so splendid and illustrious; when they are written in heaven, and God proclaims them on the day that shall come, think what renown, what splendor thou shalt enjoy! Which may it be the lot of us all to obtain, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ; with Whom unto the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, honor, now and always and unto everlasting ages. Amen.