“A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries. In this regard, it is expected of managers that each one of them is found faithful. It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God.”
1 Corinthians 4:1-5 HCSB ( https://www.bible.com/72/1co.4.1-5.hcsb )
In the first five verses of chapter four, Paul is warning against judging ministers based on the outward appearances of their ministry. This was the problem that the people at Corinth were having and Paul has been addressing it since the first chapter. They became prideful because of the leader that they were following. Paul warns them not to “judge anything prematurely.”
It is so easy for us to get caught up in following the leaders of the church to the point that we become prideful. Maybe the leader of our church is a great teacher and gets to speak all over the world. Maybe our church holds conferences for other churches to learn about how “we do the ministry,” so that they can be more successful “like us.” Of course, nobody would come out and say it like this but it is easy to become prideful. As if being a part of the right church or under the right teacher, translates into us being some type of super-spiritual person.
Paul wisely tells us to not “judge anything prematurely.” The reason is that we do not know the heart or motives of the preachers and teachers that we sit under. Paul isn’t telling us that we should not respect them or that we should look at them sideways. Paul is saying that we should not judge them or their ministries one way or the other. We should not look at the well-known teachers and say, “Oh, they’re so spiritual or so great” as if to be successful in the ministry for God others have to reach their status. Some small-town pastors are more successful than some of the well-known pastors of the world because God looks at faithfulness.
Each pastor and church has its ministry that God has called them to fulfill. It isn’t about how many people the church leads to salvation in Jesus (as if we can lead anyone to repentance), or how big the church building is, or the size of the youth ministry, or how many missionaries have been sent out, or how big of a TV ministry the church has, or anything else that we use to measure success. Even though all of those things are good and the church should seek to expand as much as possible, that is not the way God measures success.
Paul says that God who judges looks at “what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts.” It is God that knows the mind and heart of a man. He knows what motivates and drives every church and every minister. Paul is saying that we should not begin to think too highly of ourselves or our leaders because we are unable to judge correctly. It is better to let God be the judge and let the praise come from God instead of ourselves.
As a side note, it should be mentioned that Paul is only talking about judging the success of the church or ministers. He is in no way saying that if a pastor is acting in an ungodly manner that we should just let him be and allow him to continue behaving in such away. If the pastor is participating in unbiblical behavior then he should be rebuked with the hope of repentance. If he refuses to repent then he should be removed from the office of pastor. Nor is Paul saying that if a church is teaching false doctrine that the greater Christian community should just let them be. In many of the letters written by Paul, we see him rebuking false teachers. The Christian community and Pastors should be engaged in calling out false doctrines that pertain to the main tenants of our faith.
“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the saying: “Nothing beyond what is written.” The purpose is that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over another. For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it?” 1 Corinthians 4:6-7 HCSB ( https://www.bible.com/72/1co.4.6-7.hcsb )
In the rest of the chapter, Paul gives us an example of proper humility and his fatherly concern for them. He points out the reason we should not be boastful is that everything we have, we have received. It is easy sometimes to fall into the humanistic trap of believing that we are self-made __(fill in the blank)_. We like to believe that our hard work is what accomplished our success. Yes, hard work and focus do play a part, but in reality, nobody becomes successful by themselves. We have all had help along the way. In the end, what Paul is getting at is everything you have and are comes from God. Whatever success we have we have it because of God.
May we all avoid the trap of becoming prideful about our church, ministry, or church leaders. Let God be the judge and strive to live and minister in such a way that we will be found faithful.