2020-5-10 Sound Judgment

Sound Judgment
1 Corinthians 4:1-21
May 10, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

O Lord, you have given us your Word for a light to shine upon our path. Grant us so to meditate on that Word, and to follow its teaching that we may find in it the light that shines more and more until the perfect day. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be 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 thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? [1]

The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of God stands forever. Amen.

Paul has been addressing one of the major issues plaguing the church in Corinth – factionalism. He has been addressing this issue since 1:10. The Corinthians have exchanged godly wisdom, the preaching of Christ and his crucifixion, for humanly wisdom, making pastors patrons and downplaying the cross. Last week we saw why Paul was so mad that they were doing those things. The reason that Paul is so mad is that the Church is the temple of God and pastors have been entrusted with the task of building up the temple with pure doctrine.

Here in chapter 4, Paul draws to close this section of the letter by addressing the problem underneath the issue of factionalism. The problem underneath the issue is that they Corinthians have misjudged the situation. They have misjudged the role of the pastor and they have misjudged their sufficiency. As we examine this chapter, we’ll see that by imitating Paul we will learn right judgment in the Lord. Our two headings this morning will be the misjudgment of the pastors and the misjudgment of our situation.

The Misjudgment of Pastors

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be 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 thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

The Corinthians have misjudged Paul and his ministry. Remember, one of the major issues affecting the church in Corinth is making pastors patrons. In making pastors patrons, they evaluate pastors like Paul and Apollos. They compare Paul with Apollos and Apollos with Paul. They judge Paul and Apollos. But their judgment was in error. It was misjudgment.

We’re not told here what their criteria for judging and evaluating their pastors was. But we get a glimpse of it in 2 Corinthians 11:6. There Paul writes, “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.” Corinth was a culture that loved rhetoric. It was common for Corinthians and other Greeks to sit in the lecture halls and listen to the rhetoricians speak and explain the various philosophies. It’s similar to how we like to go the theater and watch the latest movies.

Paul it seems was not the most eloquent public speaker. Some think he may have had a stutter or another speak impediment. That’s why he says in 2 Corinthians 11 that he is unskilled in speaking. The Corinthians were judging him on his rhetoric; they were applying human wisdom to judge Paul as a pastor. They misjudged Paul as a pastor.

Often we’re like the Corinthians misjudging pastors and their ministry. We often use humanly wisdom to evaluate a pastor and end up misjudging them and their ministry. We often judge a pastor’s effectiveness on whether or not there are more bucks and more butts. We often judge a pastor’s effectiveness on whether or not there are more dollars in the collection plate and whether or not there are more butts in the pews.

From a human perspective, that makes sense. If we think of pastors as patrons, then their main job is to make a congregation grow. If a pastor is a patron, then we have selected that pastor because we think he or she can provide for us and put us in a better position. Then we evaluate them to see if they’re actually putting us in a better position. And from a human perspective the way to evaluate and judge their success is by measuring the bucks in the collection plate and butts in the pew.

How does Paul respond to the judgment of the Corinthians? He says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be 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 thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

Paul says he doesn’t really care if he is judged by the Corinthians according to human wisdom. He doesn’t care that they judge him as a poor speaker. He doesn’t care if they judge him as spending too much time talking about the cross of Christ and not enough about the latest philosophy coming out of Athens. He doesn’t eve care if a human court judges him for being a Christian. In fact, he doesn’t even judge himself.

The only person qualified to judge Paul as pastor is God. One of the things we saw last week when we were looking at the previous section was that the work of each and every pastor will be revealed on the Day Christ returns. On that day, the work of every pastor will be revealed as either pure doctrine that endures or impure doctrine that burns. The only one qualified to judge that is God.

Kim Riddlebarger writes, “The Corinthians are not the masters of Paul, nor any of the others who had taught them. God is Paul’s master… Paul knows that God is the final and ultimate judge of his teaching, so even if he is personally hurt by the criticism of the Corinthians, he will not change his methods or approach because of it – unless and until God instructs him to do otherwise.”[2]

Paul knows that while the Corinthians judgment and comments might hurt him, their judgment is a misjudgment. They’re judging him and other pastors – like Apollos – with human wisdom and not godly wisdom. Paul knows the only appropriate judgment of him and every other pastor is to ask whether or not what they preach and teach is biblical.

If you judge me or any other pastor as successful by whether or not we bring more people in or more money in the collection plate that will hurt. It will sting. But at the end of the day we don’t really care. Pastors have been tasked with proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of how people feel about it or how popular it makes us. We know that at the end of the day God will judge us as to whether or not we have taught pure doctrine and used the appropriate materials to build up his temple. Every pastor longs for the day when they stand before God and hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant”. We serve God.

The right way to judge whether or not a pastor is effective is to ask whether or not they preach the word. Do they explain what the text says? Do they show how all of Scripture points to Christ? Do they apply Scripture to your lives? Do they teach pure doctrine? If a pastor does those things, then you can judge them as doing the task entrusted to them.

Paul has applied the truth that only God can judge to himself and Apollos.

The Misjudgment of our Situation

The Corinthians also have misjudged their situation. Paul writes:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

They were boasting in that they had made themselves something financially and possibly even boasting that they had contributed to their salvation. They were boasting in human wisdom. The Corinthians have an inflated view of themselves.

The Corinthians have misjudged their current situation. Corinth was an upwardly mobile city. Corinth was a seaport connecting east and west. Because of the trade, there was money to be made in Corinth. Many of the people living in Corinth were freed slaves, former Roman soldiers, and freemen. They had come to Corinth or stayed in Corinth because there was money to be made.

Maybe some in the congregation had risen from pauper to prince. Maybe some in the congregation had risen from poverty to palace. And in having made their fortune, they misjudged their situation.

They believe they have made it. They believe they have reached the pinnacle. They’re satisfied with themselves. They’re secure and self-sufficient in their own eyes. They have everything they want.

Jesus uses similar language in Revelation when speaking to the church in Laodicea. There he says, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They’ve misjudged their situation by taking credit for their economic standing and their faith. That is the height of worldliness. They don’t realize how dangerous a position they are in by boasting of their success and their affluence. They think they’re on solid ground but in reality they’re on sinking sand.

Compare that with Paul. Paul is exhibited like someone in the arena or the zoo. He is put on display and mocked. Paul has endured attacks on his life. He was stoned on his first missionary journey while in Lystra. He received 39 lashes five separate times. Paul didn’t always have a place to rest his head at night. And occasionally he had to work in addition to his ministry. When he first arrived in Corinth, he didn’t take a salary from the fledgling church he was building up. So to have food on the table he made tents.

Paul isn’t mentioning these things to complain. He’s not griping against how things aren’t go well for him. He is being somewhat sarcastic when he says that the Corinthians have become rich and are kings. But he isn’t complaining about his social status.

So then why does Paul mention these things? He mentions these things to show his complete dependence upon God. He trusts that God will judge his preaching and his teaching. But he also is completely and utterly dependent upon God. Paul knows his situation. He knows that Jews hate what he teaches; that they find it a stumbling block. He knows that the Greeks think him foolish and out of his mind for believing that God would take on human flesh to redeem his people. Paul knows that he is completely and utterly dependent upon God not just for his ministry to thrive but even for his daily needs. Paul correctly judges the situation.

Like the Corinthians, we are well-to-do. Even though we are experiencing a pandemic and questions surrounding the economy, Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the world. While we may not be 1 percenters, by the standards of most people throughout the world we are wealthy.

Because we are relatively wealthy, we often misjudge our situation. We think we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. We think that the reason we are successful is because we have worked hard and are self-made.

And often that mentality seeps into our faith. We begin to think that we played some role in our salvation. We think that somehow we have earned salvation by what we have done or by having a certain amount of faith.

But the truth is all that we have is a gift from God. Our financial success. Our families. Our faith. All of those things and more are given to us from God. We have what we have because God has given it to us.

Let us not misjudge our situation. Let us judge it rightly as Paul does. Just as Paul was dependent for God to provide for his needs, let us trust that God provides for our needs. He may be pleased to use our hard work as the means by which we receive those things. But ultimately he is the one who has given us the ability so that we can work.

Let us trust that God is the one who provides for salvation. We cannot accomplish it or contribute anything to it. God alone saves. And he has saved through his Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ never sinned but died bearing God’s judgment for sin and rebellion so that we might have his righteousness and life. Let us trust that he has borne all of the consequences for our sin. Let us not think we have contributed even one percent to our salvation.

These last few sermons have touched on tough topics. Paul has addressed issues that need to be resolved, very serious issues. But he doesn’t do so because he hates the Corinthians. On the contrary, he does it out of love for them. He writes:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Brothers and sisters, I may have admonished you in these last few sermons. I may have corrected some of your views regarding wisdom. I may have corrected your understanding of the pastorate and the church. If in correcting you in those areas, I offended you I’m sorry. I love you and desire to see you be built up in the faith just as Paul desires to see the Corinthians built up because he is their spiritual father. May we have a right judgment regarding pastors and their success. And may we have a right judgment regarding our situation.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 4:1–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Riddlebarger, Kim (2013). First Corinthians (p. 109).Powder Springs, GA: Tolle Lege Press