Let God Judge   Leave a comment

The Corinthian church had a leadership crisis. Small cliques had attached themselves to leaders in whom they took pride. Highly regarded in the secular world, these leaders were chosen because of their message and their methods. Their content was thought to be the essence of wisdom. Their methods were powerful. In the 21st Century we’d be expecting the church at Corinth to be experiencing significant growth.

Although each clique appears to have been a personally following of one of the apostles — of Paul, Apollos, or Peter — it wasn’t the apostles themselves who were the problem. They were not competing with one another for positions of power and prominence. If we think the rivalry at Corinth was between the followers of certain apostles like Paul or Apollos or Peter, Paul has a surprise for us in chapter 4. Here, in verse 6, Paul indicates that the real cliques have been established around personal allegiance to certain unnamed men, who are not apostles. As the two letters to the Corinthians continue to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that some of these leaders were spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37-38), and some were not even believers, but rather “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5

The Corinthians had given themselves to one leader, whom they elevated to the place which rightly belongs only to our Lord. Speaking for himself and for the other true apostles, Paul sought to revise their perception of leaders. Even those whom God had appointed as apostles were to be regarded as servants, not as masters. Paul made this point earlier in chapter 3, verse 5: “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.”

Image result for image of god as judgeIn this verse (3:5), Paul employed the first of three Greek terms for a servant, which he would employ in reference to himself and the other apostles.

Diakonos is a common term for servant, which on a few occasions refers to the office of deacon. The term for servant in 4:1 is hyperetes, which refers to a slave who was seated under the deck of a ship and was one of a number of rowers, by whom the ship was propelled. It was not a position of status, and thus Paul employed this term to emphasize the humble service of the apostles. The third term, oikonomos, is rendered “steward.” The steward was also a slave, but one given a higher authority, under his master. He was the responsible head of the estate, assigning to each slave his duties and entrusted with the administration of the stores. He was a slave in relation to his master, but the epitropos or overseer in relation to the workmen.

Even apostles are mere men, who have been chosen and appointed by God to be His servants, and to whom He has given authority to serve as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Servants do not own things; they are owned by their Master. As servants, the apostles did not own or possess their followers as the false teachers seemed to do, and as their followers even boasted (“We are of …”). As stewards, the apostles had a certain authority to act in behalf of their Master, but they were still servants of Christ. As slaves and stewards, the apostles were not intent on pleasing men (see Galatians 1:10), but on pleasing the Master. The Lord was their Master, and He will be their Judge. They will give account to Him for their stewardship, and the standard for judgment will be their faithfulness in fulfilling their stewardship.

In verses 3 and 4, Paul pursued the matter of the judgment of himself and the other apostles as God’s stewards. He conveyed to the Corinthians the inherent weaknesses in human judgment. Paul informed them that he was not overly influenced by their judgment of his faithfulness to his calling as an apostle. He didn’t directly attack their ability to judge him, but pointed out his own limitations in judging himself. If Paul couldn’t rely completely on his own self-evaluation, then how could he be heavily influenced by the judgment of the Corinthians, whose knowledge of Paul was much more limited? Paul could search his conscience to see if there was something worthy of an indictment, but even if his conscience gave him a clean bill, his conscience might be ill-informed. Consequently, the only One who is completely qualified to judge Paul is his Master. It is the Lord Who examines him.

If human judgment is fallible, then Paul could rightly instruct the Corinthians to refrain from making final judgments, which should be left to God. When he wrote, “do not go on passing judgment,” we know that the Corinthians were passing judgment, and Paul was instructing them to cease doing so.

Let us pause for a moment to consider what the Bible as a whole has to say on the subject of judging. It does NOT say we shouldn’t judge. That’s a manipulation of Scripture. We are required to judge many things. The Book of Proverbs is written to enable us to discern character, and various character types are vividly described: the naive, simple or gullible, the fool, the sluggard, and the scoffer — all contrasted against the wise. We are to deal with a person according to their character, and thus we must judge character, based upon the descriptions given in Scripture. We are to judge sin, which is clearly defined in the Scriptures, and clearly evident in our life (1 Corinthians 11:17-31) and in the life of another (1 Corinthians 5). We are also to make judgments on spiritual matters involving believers (1 Corinthians 6). We are to judge the doctrinal truth of what we are taught (Acts 17:10-11).

There are also things we must not judge. We are not to judge the convictions of a brother in the Lord, since these are not matters of biblically defined sin, but of liberties (Romans 14:4). Neither are we to judge or speak against a brother in any matter which the Scriptures have not defined as sin, and for which we have no biblical support. To do so is to place ourselves above the Word of God and to pass judgment on God’s law and God, the Lawgiver and the Judge (James 4:11-12).

When God calls upon the saints to judge, they do so in God’s behalf (Matthew 18:18-19). When we wrongly judge, we judge in God’s place (James 4:11-12). In our text, Paul is forbidding men to judge in God’s place, passing judgment upon those things which God alone can judge. The judgment which does not belong to men is that which will be done by God in the day of judgment, when He returns to the earth to establish His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We dare not “go on passing judgment” before “the time” (4:5). This judgment is God’s judgment alone, because it is that which only God can perform.

Human judgment is temporal and incomplete; it is not final, nor can it be. Consider this. During the recent elections, television networks continued to give updated results, as the precincts closed and votes were counted and reported. After a while, certain trends became apparent, and winners were “predicted” and announced as such. While such predictions are usually accurate, the final outcome cannot be determined until all the precinct voting places have closed and all the ballots have been counted. Our judgment is not the final verdict. Such pronouncements belong only to God.

Paul instructed the Corinthian saints to cease judging their fellow servants because they did not have sufficient data on which to base a judgment. The arrogant, boastful Corinthians who were judging actually thought they were wise enough to judge in God’s place. They based their judgments on outward appearances, which is a very dangerous thing to do (see Luke 16:15). Later Paul insisted that not all gifts produce visible results (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). The boastful Corinthians preferred the gift that were visible because they felt it put them in higher esteem that their fellow-saints.

One thing remains vague in what Paul says, something we must infer from the context. What judgment is Paul instructing them to cease? It seems evident that it is making a final and decisive judgment on the success and quality of the ministry of an apostle of God. Paul warned these Corinthians, who are also mere servants of Christ, not to continue passing judgment on the service of the apostles, condemning apostolic leadership, while choosing to follow a particular favorite leader.

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