In these first few chapters of Corinthians, Paul has been taking the Corinthians to task for their underlying spiritual immaturity. One manifestation of that immaturity is that they were splitting up into little cult-like groups following one particular leader – even though the leaders were absent, and did not wish them to behave that way.
Last time we looked at how Paul said to them that there is only one foundation – Jesus Christ – and that Christians will receive (or not receive) rewards for how they build upon that foundation. The passage we will look at this time is a continuation of those thoughts, which all come in the broader context of the pride and immaturity of the Corinthians.
If you remember, at the very beginning of this letter, Paul opened with a reminder of all that the Corinthians had in Christ. In Christ, they were perfect. In Christ, they had all wisdom, all spiritual gifts. Once more, Paul pauses to remind them of this. In fact, he points out how foolish it is to exalt one apostle above another, because all them, their teachings and their “style” belong to the Corinthians through Jesus Christ. So he writes:
21 So then, no more boasting about mere mortals! For everything belongs to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future. Everything belongs to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Once again, the answer is not for the Corinthians to reform themselves – it is to go back to the well – to find their strength, their joy, their very life, in Jesus Christ. If they do that, they will be building wisely upon the foundation of Christ, and there will be no purpose in splitting up to follow the various apostles as if those apostles somehow meant anything apart from Jesus. They already have everything in Jesus.
Paul closes out this entire first section of the letter with chapter 4:1-21. There are two things I want to look at in this section.
By the way, as we go through this book I want to point out that I am not covering every little thing that could be covered in every single verse. Mostly, I am trying to listen to the Holy Spirit, and see what he wants to say to us, at this time, through this part of the bible. I am consciously by-passing some things that we could examine at greater length. Hopefully, I am doing that as the Spirit leads.
The first (and main thing) I want to examine today are Paul’s words about being evaluated, (or as some translations say, judged). Paul says he and Apollos are examples for all believers in this respect. He says that we are servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries. He goes on:
In this regard, it is expected of managers that each one be found faithful. It is of little importance that I should be evaluated by you or by a human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God.
Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the saying: “Nothing beyond what is written.” The purpose is that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over another.
In Western culture today, there is a great deal of confusion about judging. One of the most misused and misunderstood verses of the Bible is Matthew 7:7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This does not mean we can’t call sin, “sin.” It doesn’t mean that we can’t say what the Bible says, which is that the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ. For example, when confronted with someone who says “All religions lead to the same God and the same heaven,” I don’t need to pass judgment. I can simply say what the Bible says: “Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Acts 4;12 says “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” I am not judging anyone. I am simply repeating what the Holy Spirit has already said. I don’t have to do it in an attitude of condemnation. I can simply pass on the information that the Spirit has given me through the Bible.
If I say “adultery is wrong” I am not making the judgment – I am simply affirming what the Holy Spirit Himself said through the Bible. Actually, it is when I insist on saying something that the Bible does not say – like that all roads lead to heaven – that I am making that judgment myself.
So when Jesus said not to judge, and when Paul says human judgment doesn’t matter, they are not saying we should just ignore the Bible – in fact, they are saying the opposite – let God do the judging, not our own biased opinions. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul is going to apply God’s Word to someone who is sinning. He will call a certain behavior sin. He will tell the church to have nothing to do with the sinner until he repents. This is not judging someone – it is simply saying what God has already said. The actual decision of that person’s eternal future is still up to God.
In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul is talking about a specific kind of judgment – we are not judge someone else’s Christian life and service when sin is not an issue. He said the same thing in Romans 14.
Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:4)
What Paul is saying is this: “You Corinthians are picking sides, and saying ‘Apollos is better than Paul. Paul is better than Peter.’ But Apollos, Paul and Peter are not accountable to you. God will judge how well they have served him. Your judgment about that is irrelevant.”
There is a lot of freedom as we walk with Jesus. There are many things that the Bible neither commands, nor forbids. For instance, not to shock you, but the Bible does not forbid smoking. I think we all know that smoking is extremely bad for your health, so it’s definitely not a good idea to do it. But if you are already hooked, understand this: You may be killing yourself physically, but you aren’t sinning every time you light up. We are not supposed to judge each other on these matters.
There are other things which are important, but which bible believing Christians disagree upon, and have for centuries. We all agree that baptism is important. But there is some discussion about how to do it, and what it means. I think what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through passages like these, is “follow me to the best of your understanding, and don’t condemn others who have a different understanding than you.”
We make evaluations based upon outward appearances. We looked at this a few weeks ago when we studied 1 Cor 1;26 – 2:16. We see a person with an outwardly successful life, and say “she’s doing well.” Actually, that’s judgment we aren’t qualified to make.
I don’t think New Joy has a problem with this, but you’ve probably been in churches in the past where people were judged based upon the clothes they wore to church.
Sometimes, it’s a positive judgment. But this isn’t any more right than a negative one. We might judge a person who does a lot of outward good works to be Holy. People are always surprised when a Deacon at the church who volunteers at homeless shelters suddenly turns out to be a child-abuser, or runs off with his secretary. This surprises us because we are making judgments we have no right to make. We’ve judged the man “good” by what he does on the outside.
We often make judgments based upon our traditions, our culture or what we are used to.
Churches are usually fairly traditional. By that I mean, many churches place a great value on tradition. That’s often a very good thing. However, because of this value of tradition, we may tend to have a negative view of things and people that are different from those traditions. The Bible claims that it is the revelation of God. It is different from, and has authority over, human-made traditions. So just because something is traditional, does not necessarily mean it is biblical. And something that we view as not traditional (according to our traditions) may in fact be more biblical than our traditions.
Paul’s emotional discourse after he makes these statements shows us something about the effect of making judgments. Even though Paul does not regard their evaluation of him as valid, it is still painful to be wrongly judged by others. Paul says it is of little importance that he should be evaluated by the Corinthians (4:3). I believe he means it, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to say it. At the same time, though the evaluation of the Corinthians was not important to him spiritually, I think it is safe to say that Paul was deeply hurt emotionally by their attitude toward him. He is saying, in a godly and righteous way, that he deserves better from them.
Our brothers and sisters deserve the same from us. We can – in fact we must – say what the bible says. There are times when we need to point to brothers and sisters that their behavior is against what the Holy Spirit teaches through the Bible – Paul himself does that many times in this very letter, following this section. But even so, the actual judgment of that person is God’s responsibility, not ours.
Even more, we have no business bringing our evaluation or judgment to another believer when neither sin nor biblical truth is an issue. My sister in Christ is not my servant. She doesn’t exist on earth to do my work. She is here for God’s work. I should encourage her and help her. But it is not my business to evaluate how well she is serving God.
My biggest problem, practically, with this passage, is Tom. Paul says he doesn’t even evaluate himself. My biggest temptation is not to evaluate you, but rather me. But Paul says this is equally wrong. I don’t even have the authority to judge myself, because I do not live to serve myself, but Jesus.
Once again, we are in the realm of grace. We are called hear to give grace to others, and also receive it for ourselves. What will you do?