Apostles of Christ
1So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
Not long ago, my family began to pack up the things in our house, preparing to move to another city. At one point during the packing period, I walked into the room that served as an office for me and my wife. What I saw appeared to be absolute chaos. There were papers everywhere as though a tornado had just gone through. I was tempted to be a bit irritated before my wife reminded me that I should not judge a job that is half done. She was in fact, doing a wonderful job of organizing papers and throwing away excess and finished her job shortly thereafter. My problem was that I didn’t wait long enough to see what was actually going on. I was trying to judge the situation before the proper time.
This is something of the message that Paul is sending to the Corinthians. They are running around judging and obsessing over things from a worldly point of view. Paul was operating on the principles and values of the resurrection, the age to come, but they were still evaluating him by the principles of the present age. They needed reminding that there will be a final judgment at the resurrection where God will put all things to rights. Yet, there is a human tendency to want to grasp for justice now, through our own resources. The Corinthians were assuming that they had the wherewithal to properly judge that Paul’s presentation of the gospel was perhaps not up to par. Throughout this short section, Paul wants his readers to understand the proper point of view through which they should be seeing things.
In the worldview of the Corinthians, it was quite proper for them to judge Paul, since this is what audiences did with the speakers and sophists. They were judging not so much whether Paul was a legitimate servant of God, but they were judging the form of his ministry in both his words and his presence.
Paul begins deconstructing this worldview by putting straight what apostles really were. They were not like the sophists and great speakers of the day. Their aim was not to become rich or gather throngs of adoring disciples around themselves. In short, they were not the show. They were mere servants. The word Paul uses for ‘servant’ was that of the steward of a household, the one entrusted to oversee and take care of the valuables of the household. Paul says that, as servants, it is part of their vocation to prove faithful to their handling of the gospel. Paul doesn’t even mention things like eloquence and wisdom as necessary traits for a servant of God. Those are the worldly traits that the other citizens of Corinth would look for. In God’s view, however, the servants of God were to be faithful. In saying this, Paul alludes to the fact that it is God who has the ultimate authority over the apostles and the entire situation. Apostles and teachers do not own the treasure, they merely do what they’re told with it.
In verse 3, Paul hits the high note in this short song of rejection of the standards of the world. To do so, he turns to language that invokes thoughts of the final day of judgment by contrasting that day of divine judgment with judgment by humans in the present age. There is no point, according to Paul, for them to get all caught up in human judgments, when there will be a day when God will judge all things perfectly. In other words, they shouldn’t waste any time judging a job that is half done.
It is not that Paul is indifferent to what other people think of him or that he is being arrogant or unconcerned. Paul’s reasoning for his attitude is nothing as worldly as that; it is because it is the Lord who will judge Paul. He is the steward of the Lord, and will have to answer to no one about the form or effectiveness of his ministry except for God alone. He will determine Paul’s faithfulness. It is this view of the end (Paul’s eschatology) that determines the value of his present ministry and activity. Because of this truth, Paul understands that no human will judge him. Once we think we understand where Paul is going with that line of thinking, though, he goes one shocking step further. He says that he is not even capable of properly evaluating his own faithfulness. Paul realizes that even his own heart is deceitful and incapable of such a judgment. Paul confirms that his own conscience is clear, but that does not make him innocent (a word that means, in essence, ‘right with God’). The human conscience is simply unable to make such a determination. It is Christ the Lord, and He alone, that can judge such matters. Paul’s basic theology here, as he will make clear in the culminating chapter of this letter, chapter 15, is that Christians need to learn to live by the values of the certainty of the resurrection age. We are to live in the present but to view the world through the glasses of the resurrection. For Paul, the reality of the resurrection changed everything. It called those in Christ to live their lives by faith in the reality of the resurrection rather than by the visible things of the present world (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7).
Many have taken verse 5 out of context and forced it say something that Paul did not intend to say. When he says to judge nothing, this must be understood in context. To judge things before the appointed time means to judge from a human, present age point of view, rather than from God’s point of view. This did not exclude them from all evaluation. It means that they should avoid judging in the present age, things over which Christ has the final word. There is a balancing act, however, that Paul will pick up in chapter 5. There are some instances when, for the health of the Church, they must bring God’s judgment forward into the present age. When to judge and when not to, when to listen to criticism and when to dismiss it are things for which they needed wisdom from the Lord, himself, as do we in our churches.
Do you struggle between judging situations and people from the viewpoint of this present age or from God’s viewpoint? Paul says that our final standard in all matters should be the standard that God will use on the final day. This means realizing that some things must be left strictly to His judgment and other things must be carefully judged by His standard.