Yesterday, we began thinking about the fruit of faithfulness. Before applying it too much to ourselves, as a fruit of the Spirit, we took note of God’s faithfulness, as well as defined this character quality. Here’s our definition:
Faithfulness is such a rich concept that it will be helpful to consider a 3-part definition.
- Faithfulness is the steady quality of being trustworthy, loyal, and dependable.
- It flows from personal integrity, and is governed by personal faith in Christ.
- A faithful person endures hardship and can be counted on as true and reliable.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, God tells us that He judges us on the basis of faithfulness. He does this by revealing two important truths.
Faithfulness is God’s expectation for servants of Christ (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
Paul makes it clear in these verses that God viewed him and his coworkers in two ways: as servants and stewards.
- We are servants of Christ. The word “servants” (hyperetes) means “under-rowers” and refers to the ones who rowed in the lower part of a ship. These were the ones who worked in the stinky part of the ship and were most unnoticed by others. The word was later used of domestic workers, and referred to service of a lowly kind. We are under-rowers for Christ, completely subject to His authority.
- We are stewards of biblical truth. The word “steward” (oikonomos) is a compound word from oikos meaning “house” and nomos meaning “law,” thus “the law of the house.” It refers to the manager of a household. In Paul’s day wealthy landowners would entrust one of the slaves to be in charge of the others. They were given the responsibility of running the estate and were accountable to answer to the owner. (See Matthew 25:14-30).
There is one requirement for a servant and steward of truth: that he be found faithful (from the Greek word pistos, which means faithful and dependable. Faithfulness is God’s expectation for servants of Christ.
Faithfulness will ultimately and only be judged by Christ (1 Cor. 4:3-5).
Paul exalts Christ as the final Judge. But first he makes it clear that other people are not the judge of our faithfulness, nor are we ourselves.
The final judge is not another person (v. 3). It [was] a very small thing that Paul should be judged by the Corinthians. In other words, he is saying, “In light of the fact that I am a servant of God, your judgment of me is irrelevant. In the end, whether or not you approve of me doesn’t matter.” In hoity-toity Corinth, Paul was being judged for not being as intellectual as they thought he should be in their city of philosophy and human wisdom. The Corinthians needed to understand that as God’s servant and steward, Paul answered to Christ, ultimately. They were not his final judge. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Paul thought pastors were untouchable. Pastors are part of a plurality of elders who hold one another accountable to God’s Word. That is one mark of a healthy biblical church. But, in Corinth, Paul was dealing with fleshly-minded believers who were taking him to task for not being exactly the guy they thought he should be. The word examined means to question or interrogate. It was used of a judicial examination before the final verdict was given. So Paul was saying, “It is insignificant to me that you should interrogate and cross-examine me and set yourself up as the jury and the judge.” Paul knew that God’s judgment in the end would be just. This does not mean that he was not deeply hurt by their judgment and criticism, but that in the end it didn’t really matter what they thought of him.
The final judge is not one’s own conscience (v. 3b-4). Paul continues I do not even judge myself. He did not allow himself to be too introspective, because he knew that his own mind was weak and sinful and, therefore, could not accurately assess himself and his ministry. So Paul concluded, “My judgment and the judgment of others is irrelevant. The only judgment that matters is that of God.” By writing I am not aware of anything against myself, Paul was stating that his conscience was clear. As far as Paul could tell, there was nothing in his conscience to justly condemn him. Still, he said, “I am not thereby acquitted.” Even though his conscience did not condemn him, this did not mean he was not guilty of some sin that he was not presently aware of. This is a demonstration of his humility as a servant.
The final judge can only be the Lord (v. 4b-5). “It is the Lord who judges me,” Paul concluded. What really matters in the end is not what others think of us, or even what we think of ourselves (for both of those are tainted be some corruption), but what God knows is true of us. And one day, God will judge all. At the Great White Throne Judgment, all unbelievers will be judged and then cast away from God’s presence for eternity. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, every believer will be judged by God on the basis of faithfulness. Rewards will be given to the faithful, while the good works of the self-centered go up in a puff of smoke.
Therefore, because Christ is the final Judge, verse 5 says, Do not pronounce judgment before the time. Believers must postpone their judgment until the Lord comes. A day is coming in which Christ will judge all. If you postpone your judgment of another person’s faithfulness until that day, then you can be sure the judgment will be true. On that day Christ will do two things.
- First, He will bring all things to light all things, even those hidden in darkness. Darkness does not refer to evil deeds or wickedness, but that which is hidden from the human eye. God will bring the attitudes and actions of church leaders and church members to light and God will be the final Judge.
- Second, Christ will give praise as deserved. Each one will receive his commendation from God. By referring to each man, Paul is reminding us that these truths apply to everyone. The principles of this passage apply to every person. On that final day every believer will get the praise he deserves from God. This should give us incentive and motivation to press on in service for God in faithfulness. We must not look to this life for our praise. If we do, that is all the reward we will ever get.
If you look to this life for your reward you will always be disappointed, and will rob yourself of future reward. Be committed to being steadfast and persevering in serving the Lord in whatever capacity He directs and, in the end, He will give you praise. Therefore, every believer’s longing should be to one day hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”