Judging Christian Service
1 Corinthians 4:1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (NKJV)
The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey. The church was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered in Corinth for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52. Paul wrote this letter during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia (present day Turkey) in A. D. 54-56.
Paul had started the church in Corinth and had stayed on for one and a half years before turning it over to Apollos to run. It has come to Paul’s attention that there is dissension in the church because some of the new converts are following Paul while others are following Apollos.
In this passage Paul has a warning for those Corinthian believers who were trying to elevate the teachings of Paul’s over those of Apollos, or vice versa. He writes “This, then, is how you ought to regard us” (v. 1a). The “you” is to whom the letter is being written, which are the Corinthian believers. The “we” are the teachers of the Corinthian believers, primarily Paul and Apollos. This is a clear reference to how the Corinthian believers should regard their teachers.
Paul refers to Apollos and himself as both being “servants of Christ” (v. 1b). Paul and Apollos are servants to Christ because they have been called by Him to the ministry of teaching. Those who serve Christ in ministry should always have their calling confirmed. For example, my calling has been consistently confirmed by my discipling pastor, all those who taught me in seminary, those who Ordained me to the Gospel Ministry, and all the doors that the Lord has opened in my twenty-two year ministry from the time I received the calling from Christ Himself on November 22, 1996.
Those who answer Christ’s calling to the teaching ministry are “entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (v. 1c). The “mysteries” refers to the Gospel, the writings of the New Testament writers. Those who are called to be good stewards of God’s Word are “entrusted” with the Word.
Teachers of the ministry are trusted by God to be “faithful” to His teachings (v. 2). This does not mean that their verbal or written commentaries on Scripture must all be identical. The Holy Spirit brings to mind different things to different teachers at different times. However, all teachers should be faithful to the Gospel teachings.
Paul states that he cares “very little” about the opinions of others, or himself, regarding his teachings (v. 3a). These opinions carry little weight with him because none of these opinions count in the long run. Neither those being taught, nor a court of law, nor the teacher himself is qualified to judge the faithfulness of those who have been called by God to teach (v.3b).
Paul has a clear “conscience” concerning the faithfulness of his teachings (v. 4a). He believes in his heart that his teaching is being faithful to the Gospel. However, since he is not qualified to judge his own ministry, he is still not sure that he is “innocent” in being faithful to the Gospel (v. 4b). God is the only One who is qualified to judge the faithfulness of His teachers (v. 4c).
In conclusion, Paul warns us not to judge the ministry of others (v. 5a). We should withhold our opinions “until the Lord comes” (v. 5b). God will “expose the motives” of His teachers (v. 5c). We are not qualified to know the hearts of those who teach the Gospel. In His own time, God will judge them and then will reward those who have been faithful to Him (v. 5d). God is the only One who truly knows our hearts.
I believe that most ministers of the Gospel share Paul’s ambivalent feelings regarding his faithfulness to the Gospel. I know that I do. We feel that we are faithful and that our motives are pure, but God’s opinion is the only one that counts. Obviously, though, Paul’s faithfulness has been made known by the Lord by the Divine authority bestowed upon his writings.
We also have opinions regarding the faithfulness of other ministers. We are to keep these opinions to ourselves. When it comes to Christian service God’s opinion is the only One that counts. He is the only One who calls us, so He is the only One who is qualified to judge us.
Online Bible Commentary