Servants of Christ and their Work: Part 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
Putting the first two phrases together we have; “It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you. Those who preferred Apollos or Cephas over St. Paul, would of course give their reasons for this preference; and these might, in many instances, be very unfavorable to his character as a man, a Christian, or an apostle; but this was a small thing, since he did not seek his own glory, but the glory of God and the salvation of their souls.
Apostles were no more than servants of Christ, but they were not to be undervalued. They had a great trust, and for that reason, they held an honorable office.
or of man's judgment:
Or of man's judgment—Of any man's judgment. What he had just said, “that whatever their opinion of him might be, it was a matter not worth his consideration,” may seem to look like arrogance, or appear as if he looked upon them with contempt. In order to avoid this false impression, he says here that it was not because he despised them, or regarded their opinion as of less value than that of others, but that he had the same feelings in regard to all people. Whatever might be their status, character, talent, or learning, he regarded their opinion of him as a matter of the least possible consequence. He was not answerable to them, but to his Master; and he could pursue an independent course regardless of what they might think of his conduct.
It is comforting to know that men are not going to be our final judges. And it is not through having a favorable opinion of ourselves, or justifying ourselves, that we will become safe and happy. The person that would be faithful to Christ must pay no heed to the contempt of men for His sake. He must look upon it as a very little thing (if his Lord approves of him) what opinion men form of him. They may think very shamefully or very honorably of him, while he is doing his duty; but it is not by their judgment that he will stand or fall. And faithful ministers are glad that they have a more honorable and truthful judge than their fellow-servants; one who knows and pities their imperfections, though he has none of his own. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men; “And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam 24:14; KJV). The best of men are too apt to judge rashly, and harshly, and unjustly; but His judgment is always according to truth. It is a comfort that men are not to be our final judges.
Can, or should, every Christian today have the same attitude? Should we have no or little regard for what other Christians think about us, and just say he who judges me is the Lord? We can only say this, in the full sense that Paul means it, if we are apostles. If the Corinthians were to claim that Paul could not judge them, and that they would simply wait for God's judgment, Paul would remind them that he is a father to them, and has the right to correct their behavior.
yea, I judge not mine own self.
Paul exclaims, “I judge not my own self”—In other words, “I do not attempt to pronounce a judgment on myself. I am aware of my imperfections, and of being influenced by self-love. I do not believe that if I were to judge myself that I could be impartial, and trusted to do the right thing, since my opinion of myself would always be favorable.” He may have designed these words to soften what he had just said about their judging him, and to further show what little value can be placed on the judgments which man may form. "If I do not highly regard my own opinion of myself, I cannot be suspected of undervaluing you when I say that I do not respect your opinion; and if I do not highly regard my own opinion of myself, then it is not to be expected that I should set a high value on the opinions of others"—God is the only infallible judge; and since we and our fellow-men are liable to be biased in our opinions, due to envy, ignorance, or self-love, we should regard the judgment of the world as of little value.
It is certain, that as a spiritual man, he judged all things, and so he judged himself, his demeanor, circumstances, and condition; he examined his own heart and behavior, and was able to form a judgment of what he was and did; nevertheless he chose not to stand and fall by his own judgment. And since he would not accept his own judgment, even though he knew himself better than anyone else could possibly know him, he would not subject himself to their appraisal, or to any human judgment, by people who were strangers to him. “I will not judge myself, but I will leave that up to God, whose I am, and whom I serve.
There is a day coming, that will bring men's secret sins into the light of day, and reveal the secrets of their hearts. Then every slandered believer will be justified, and every faithful servant accepted and rewarded. The word of God is the best measure with which to judge men. Pride is usually at the bottom of quarrels. Self-conceit contributes as much as anything to produce unwarranted esteem for our teachers, as well as for ourselves. We will not be puffed up and pit one preacher or teacher against another, if we remember that we are all instruments, employed by God, and endowed by him with various talents.
4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
For I know nothing by myself;
Verses 4 and 5 could be considered together since they deal with the manner by which this faithful steward is justified, but that is not the method we have followed in the past; preferring to unravel one verse at a time. Paul says, “I know nothing by myself,” by which he means “I know nothing against myself;” but, this statement must be restricted to the subject of this passage, faithfulness in the ministry. It was the testimonial which a holy and faithful man could make regarding the integrity of his public life, and it is a pronouncement every minister of the gospel ought to be able to make. He was certainly a faithful minister of Christ, but he knew a great deal about himself; he was aware of his indwelling sin, and the corruption of his nature, which he sometimes found very strong and prevalent within him, and of the daily failings of life; but as far as his ministerial service is concerned, he honestly declared what he knew to be the opinion of God; he had done nothing that would offend God or men, his conscience was clear. He could not say this about his entire life, because before he met Christ on the Damascus Road, he was the greatest persecutor of Christians. Now he could say, “Others may accuse me, but I am not aware of anything that could condemn me, or render me unworthy of this office." It was this sort of total commitment that gave Paul the authority to make such a statement as “be ye followers of me” (I Cor 4:16; 11:1). Also, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27; KJV).
These two verses (vv. 4 & 5) present the three courts before which we all must appear. They may seem to be rather difficult verses, but actually they are not. They tell us that you have no right to sit in judgment on me, and I have no right to sit in judgment on you because we both are going to stand before a higher court.
1. The first court is the lower court. It is the court of the opinion of others. He says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or by man’s judgment.” Phillips, in his paraphrase, gives an excellent interpretation of this. “But, as a matter of fact, it matters very little to me what you, or any man, thinks of me …” (1 Cor. 4:3, PHILLIPS). That is not a literal translation, but it is a good interpretation. This is a striking statement, and it may sound as if Paul were antisocial. However, Paul was not callous or contemptuous of the opinion of others. He was not immune to the assessment of those about him. He defended his apostleship with great feeling when he was challenged by his critics. He was always hurt by false rumors. Right here in this very chapter he made mention of it: “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (vv. 11–13). You can see that Paul was very sensitive to the opinions of others; yet his life was not directed by them. They were not at the steering wheel of his life.
2. The second court is a higher court. It is the court of one’s own conscience. “Yea, I judge not mine own self.” Is conscience a safe guide? Paul says that it is not an accurate guide. We are to be led of the Spirit. Christians should have an enlightened conscience. When it rebukes us and tells us that we are wrong, we should obey it. However, our conscience can also approve our easygoing ways and can appeal to our vanity and can flatter us. Then we should beware of it. We all stand or fall before this court.