Waiting On God’s Judgment
[1st Corinth. 4]
In today’s Bible study we will explore First Corinthians chapter 4. This chapter is actually a continuation of the apostle Paul’s train of thought, where he was taking the early church at Corinth to task over multiple divisions from within. He makes the point that it doesn’t matter which individual church the early Christians belonged to because they were worshiping the same God having been saved by the blood of the same Lamb of God. St. Paul then goes on to state that these things are not up to him anyway. After all, it is God who is in charge of all things, with Paul regarding himself as a mere servant rather than an overseer.
“So then, men ought to regard us as servants in Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, 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.” (1st Corinthians 4: verses 1-5 NIV)
The first thing we notice here is that Paul is setting a very high standard, not only for himself but for all who are called to preach and teach the Gospel. Being trustworthy is absolutely essential to being a servant of Christ because those persons are being “entrusted with the secret things of God”. Notice that this act of being entrusted can only take place after one has placed his or her complete faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. So if we want to serve Jesus, and if we want to be “entrusted” by God, we must learn to place our faith in Him first, and only in Him. The truth of the matter is that God loved us first, and He did so by sending his only Son to suffer and die for our sins, only to have Him rise up from death three days after He was buried. Paul wrote elsewhere to the early church that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. If God is willing to extend His forgiveness to all of mankind, then it is our responsibility as Christians to accept it unconditionally, and so to trust Him unconditionally. Otherwise it is tantamount to disrespect of God.
The apostle Paul then put this into further perspective when he wrote that he couldn’t care less about being judged by other people. He does not even judge himself either, but instead leaves it all up to God through the blood of Christ. But Paul then brings up a very important point here when he writes, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent”. It’s easy to be going through life at whatever speed we feel like while feeling pretty good about ourselves. We do not steal, murder, lie, worship false gods, we don’t date married people, and we do our level best to not break any other of the Ten Commandments. We try to love God all we can and to love our neighbor as ourselves, just like Jesus said. But just because we can’t find any fault with ourselves, and just because we commit our lives to Christ, striving to live as free from sin as we can, doesn’t means we will never sin again. For example, it is possible to sin and not know it, or to not realize our mistake until after the fact. All we can do at that point is to confess our sin privately to God and to prayerfully ask Him for forgiveness with humility and a contrite heart. When one is finished with God, the very next step is to go to the person they have sinned against and, as far as it is possible, be reconciled to them. If they forgive you, you both have something to rejoice about. If they will not forgive you, forgive them anyway, expecting nothing in return. Then and only then will God give you the full credit you deserve for asking forgiveness. Paul then continues this train of thought in verse six.
“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘do not go beyond what is written’. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (I Corinthians 4: 6-7 NIV)
In verse 6, Apollos was a reputable leader in the early church at Corinth. Although I don’t know the exact position Apollos may have held, he worked with Paul off and on throughout his ministry. But Paul is warning the church, “Do not go beyond what is written”. There is a similar warning at the very end of the Bible in the book of Revelation that says, “I warn who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book” (Rev. 22: verse 18 NIV). This is a crystal-clear warning to stay within the Bible during our walk and our service with the Lord and to not add any additional meaning or superfluous teaching to it. This especially applies to those who preach and teach the Gospel since they all, including myself, will be held to a higher standard when being judged by God after our lives end. Speaking of ending I will now, with God’s help, finish today’s lesson beginning at verse 8.
“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings – and that without us! How I wish you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle for the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (I Corinthians 4: verses 8-16 NIV)
Paul finishes this chapter by reminding the early Church of what it means to be a follower of Christ. To have Christ is to have everything one could ever need. Paul then repeats the theme that is present in all his teachings, which is to warn the church about being too preoccupied with material things and financial gain. When we have Christ as our Savior, we are rich. We have everything we need to get us through this life and into the next, and the next life is the one that really counts because it will last for eternity. To be a follower of Jesus can mean blessing those who curse us, to endure persecution and to risk being ostracized for His name, and to answer kindly to those who slander us. This is not to shame us but to warn us because we each have a stake in God’s kingdom, and Paul is exhorting us all to do all we can to abide in His kingdom and grow in our faith. As Paul wrote, we have ten thousand guardians in Christ in the Spiritual realm, and he was that church’s spiritual father. In this ministry I assume the role of spiritual father to all my friends, followers and groups that receive these messages. And we can do this together by imitating Paul as he imitated Christ, who is the head of the Church. We will all be better off when we start doing this individually and collectively as a church as we jointly build up the body of Christ. Let’s all start doing this today while we give all the glory and praise to Jesus.