1This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
5Therefore do not pronounce judgment 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 his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
People love praise and hate criticism. That’s why we either fear being in front of a crowd or crave it. It’s why we check Facebook a dozen times a day to see how others have ‘liked’ our posts. It’s why verbal bullying drives kids to suicide. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but a critical word can break our hearts.
In this passage, Paul addresses fans and critics in the Corinthian church. He had planted this church, and in his absence a gifted teacher named Apollos had arrived. Because Apollos was eloquent where Paul had been simple, some began to call him their favorite teacher (Acts 18:24; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Others took up for Paul and division ensued.
Critiquing a minister’s ministry is like critiquing a mother’s child, yet Paul writes, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” How could he be unmoved by all this praise and criticism? Because he knew that human judgment is insignificant compared to Jesus’ judgment.
Human judgment is premature.
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes… (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Paul’s fans and critics were judging him prematurely. It would take time to see whose fans would become more fruitful. And what if Paul proved unfaithful to Christ or committed a disqualifying sin later in life?
Watching a person is like watching a golf ball soaring through the air. No one can know if it is a good or bad shot until it rolls to a stop. We’re all in midair and Jesus will judge when the time is right.
Human judgment is superficial.
Therefore no not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to the light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
We do not know each other’s secrets (the things now hidden in darkness) or motivations (the purposes of the heart).
We don’t know each other’s secrets.
Virtually everyone is hiding secret sins, wounds, regrets, hopes, dreams, endeavors, plans or pains that would drastically alter your perception of them if you knew.
As Paul wrote these words, perhaps he had in mind his own past. He had violently persecuted Christians before becoming one. Perhaps theses acts were now haunting memories that would likely change his fans’ opinion if they knew.
As a pastor I see beneath the surface of many lives and I can confidently say that everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load that you may not know about. So be patient with each other and remember that Jesus will bring secrets to light when the time is right.
We don’t know each other’s motives.
Have you ever done a seemingly bad thing with good intentions? How about a seemingly good thing with bad intentions? The Pharisees did good deeds, yet Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs,” because he knew the selfish purposes of their hearts.
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water” (Proverbs 20:5). We don’t even understand our own heart purposes. I may think I teach the Bible because I love God’s people. But when threatened by a better teacher, my jealousy reveals compromised motives. If we struggle to know our own hearts, how can we expect to know others’?
A Very Small Thing
If our fans and critics do not know our future, our secrets or our motivations, their judgment “is a very small thing.” Since Jesus knows all these things, his judgment is all that matters.
Freed from performance for service.
Because Jesus alone is our judge, we can say with Paul, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
In Christ we are free from performance concerns to serve. Fans and critics are our service opportunities, not our judges. Therefore when praised, we serve. When criticized, we serve. When our Facebook posts are ‘liked’ 100 times, we serve. When no one notices us, we serve. When we receive a standing ovation, we serve. When booed, we serve. When embarrassed, we serve. When socially anxious, we serve. When bullied, we serve. When misunderstood, we serve. This is how one should regard us, as servants.
Human judgment is premature and superficial, therefore insignificant. Jesus is our judge. Let’s serve him together.
- Read 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
- What do you find most interesting in this passage?
- What do you find most challenging in this passage?
- Do you consider yourself sensitive to praise and/or criticism? Are you more sensitive to one than the other?
- If you were to live completely in light of this passage, how would it change the way you receive praise and criticism? How would it effect the way you praise and criticize others?
- What does it mean to be regarded as “servants of Christ” and “stewards of the mysteries of God?” Even though we are not all vocational ministers, can all Christians be regarded as such?
- Pray together.