God Gives and Judges; 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7

Main Point: Pride is destroyed through the understanding that God gives and God judges.

 We all face two great dangers. First there is the danger of feeling like failures because we have not lived up to our standards or the standards of another. And second, there is the danger of being judgmental because we have lived up to our standards or the standards of another. We can live in sinful guilt or sinful self-righteousness. And what is the remedy to all this? The commitment to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. We must rest our approval hungry hearts in the justifying grace of Christ. And we must commit ourselves to not go beyond what is written. God sets the standards for me and for you and for all of us. God sets the standards for pastors and for pre-schoolers. God sets the standards for moms and for ministers.

Understanding that God loves us and justifies us corrects the danger of seeking the approval of man. You are already approved by God! And understanding that God gives what we need and judges accordingly corrects the danger of pride.

Let’s unpack all this in the text: 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:7

I. God has graciously given us all things (1 Cor 3:21-23)

  1. All things are yours because you are Christ’s

1 Corinthians 3:21 makes an amazing statement, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours.” Romans 8:32 says the same thing, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

The context of the Romans 8 passage emphasizes two main things: love and justification. After assuring us that God will graciously give us all things the following verse says, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn. The remainder of the chapter proclaims boldly that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro 8:39). You are loved and justified.

Think about what has been done for you: God has given his own Son for you. Christ has become for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Co 1:30). There is now no condemnation for the greatest of sinners because Christ has taken our sin upon himself (Ro 8:1). And more than just taking our sins on himself Jesus gives us his status as sons (Ga 3:26; Ro 8:14). Through Christ you have been justified. You, sinner wracked with guilt are declared not guilty because you have been joined to Christ. In Christ you are dearly loved and finally justified.

But there’s more. Look again at 1 Corinthians 3:21, “For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” All things are yours because all things belong to Christ and you are Christ’s (ca Col 1:16). You do not need a man or a group or a club in order to have security and identity and worth. You do not need a man in order to validate yourself. You are Christ’s!

Now, in Corinth the people were trying to establish their worth by connecting themselves with a particular leader and then proving that their leader was the best leader. But here’s the problem

  1. When we choose teams we deny who we are and Who owns us

Imagine the owner of a great estate telling everyone that he belongs to the gardener. Imagine the owner of the skyscraper telling everyone that he belongs to the welder. We commit the same foolish mistake when we try to draw our identities from who we are with, how much money we make, the school we went to, or the car we drive. Look at 1 Corithians 3:21 again. “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

We must all derive our identities from Christ. You are Christ’s. You belong to the One who upholds the universe by the word of his power. You are friends with the One who must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet (1 Co 15:25). You belong to the One who defeated sin and the grave and he gives his life to you. Build your life and your sense of self on Christ.

Think about this: If it’s good enough for Christ it’s good enough for you. Verse 23 says, “and Christ is God’s.” You don’t have to read through the gospels too many times before you see that Jesus has an incredible sense of belonging. He knew His Father and what it meant to be His Son. He had great joy, perseverance, and purpose. It didn’t matter if everyone on this earth abandoned him he would never be alone (Jo 16:32). Knowing you belong to God and he will never leave you alone produces a great amount of security. It is precisely by reconciling you to God that Jesus gives you his peace (Jo 14:27).

For you or me to try to gain security in this life by attaching ourselves to anyone or anything other than Christ is such a waste and it will only leave us empty. Church, because Christ is everything and has given us everything there is no room for us to take pride in anything other than God. We are to boast about God. He has graciously given us all things in Christ. Trying to feel better about yourself or gain something for yourself because you belong to some man is just wrong. But it is also wrong to think you are superior because of Christ and then go around judging other unfairly.

Let us be on guard against judging men incorrectly because

II. We are not capable of final or omniscient judgments (1 Cor 4:1-6)

Let me offer a word of warning here. We are not capable of pronouncing final judgment over someone’s life but God has given us standards by which we can judge. And we have been given standards by which to judge pastors. You see, pastor’s are not untouchables or exempt from judgment. 1 Timothy 5:20 instructs the church this way, “As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” What we must do is not go beyond what is written. Judge what God instructs you to judge and do not judge what only God can judge. Let me give you the two main things you can judge and the one thing you cannot:

You can judge a pastor’s content

You can judge a pastor’s actions

You cannot judge a pastor’s motives

We are given our first two requirements in the description of Paul and Apollos in verse 1

  1. Pastors are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries

As servants of Christ pastors must obey Christ. This word for servant has been used to describe a soldier’s shield bearer who must obey his master’s orders or the under rower at the bottom of a ship who pulls at the oars as his master commands. The church must form its opinion of a pastor according to this description: Does he live as a faithful servant of Christ? Does he obey Christ’s commands? It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t do what you want, does he do what Christ wants? This is how to regard pastors: as servants of Christ and as stewards of God’s mysteries.

A steward is a person who has been given authority over the household of another. Today it’s the equivalent of a manager. There is an owner who has ultimate authority because of ownership and there is a manager who oversees the daily distribution of the owner’s goods. This means pastors are responsible for seeing that the mysteries of God are faithfully distributed to the members of the household. And the mysteries of God are the same as the secret and hidden wisdom of God in chapter 2:7. So we’re talking about the gospel and what it means to live according to the power of the cross.

Listen to how Jesus describes a faithful steward or household manager in Luke 12, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (12:42-43).

The main responsibility of a pastor is to faithfully distribute the gospel truth to the household of God. As slaves of Christ pastors must labor to give the church what it needs at the proper time. Therefore judge a pastor’s content. Be like the noble Bereans of Acts 17 who eagerly received what the Apostle said and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. To judge a pastor’s actions means to look at how he is living and see if it matches his message. Does he live in pursuit of the Christ he preaches? Does he live life in agreement with the cross? The requirements found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 instruct the church to judge a pastor’s life; carefully investigate what he is doing. Verse 2 says that it is required that stewards be found faithful or trustworthy distributing the master’s goods at the proper time. Is he faithful to God’s calling?

Now in response to this requirement, and subsequent judgment, verse 3 is truly amazing. Paul doesn’t care if they judge him. You see, when we understand who we are in Christ and when we faithfully obey Christ trusting Him to provide in us what He requires of us there is an amazing freedom of conscience. Look at verse 3, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” Precisely because Paul had lived as a faithful slave and steward he did not fear the judgment of the church. In fact, he did not even judge himself. Christ had equipped him, given him a task, and he had obeyed. If the church wanted to judge him and if the church wanted to say that he wasn’t as good of a preacher as the next guy that’s fine. He knew he had been faithful to God.

Verse 4 gives the reason for this amazing freedom, “For I am not aware of anything against myself.” He had faithfully discharged his duties. He had given to God’s people what they needed at the proper time. His conscience was clear. He was secure in Christ and it did not bother him one bit for people to say he wasn’t a good preacher. But notice this isn’t the mentality of an untouchable. He didn’t consider himself beyond judgment or immune from any judgment because he was an apostle. Paul understood that

  1. God will judge

Look at verse 4 again, “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” Paul was acutely aware of the fact that he would give an account to his Owner. God will reward Paul’s work in God’s field. God will test the work to demonstrate if Paul had built with gold, silver, and precious stones or with wood, hay, and straw. Because each one of us are fallible and cannot see the big picture or even the next picture we are not capable of pronouncing final judgments. We are not able to test the spiritual lasting ministry of anyone. We cannot search the motives of one another’s hearts so we must stop passing unbiblical judgments.

Look at verse 5, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes.” We may think that it is our day to judge. But we don’t get to sit in judgment over Christ’s servants. Instead of condemning a person because of our preferences or plans trust that God has already set the day for judgment and it is the day of Christ’s return. And when Christ returns, verse 5, “he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Here is the sobering truth that when each of us stands before God he will not simply judge us on what we have done but he will judge us on why we did it.

On this day of judgment by Christ and not on the day of judgment by man each will receive his commendation from God. Some of those we deem successful will be shown as wasters. Some who labor faithfully, unknown, and unappreciated will receive a great reward. Paul understood that the day of God’s perfect judgment was coming. So, he was content in response to the condemnation of the church he planted and the people he loved to leave the judgment to God. He didn’t walk around in self-righteousness claiming that he didn’t care because they were idiots. He lived knowing that the day of judgment is coming and God can be trusted to reward faithful labor and reveal shoddy work.

So, we have the right to judge content and life. But we cannot judge motives. We can’t see the depths of a person’s heart. So, if someone sins he is to be rebuked (Lk 17:3). But if someone doesn’t do what we want him to do we must remember that he is responsible to Christ and God will judge him. We don’t get to judge based on our desires or pet issues.

Now what is important to grab onto here is that this truth is for your benefit. You get the benefit of knowing how to live and faithfully discharge your responsibilities under God your judge.

III. All of this is for your benefit (1 Cor 4:6-7)

Look at verse 6, “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.”

  1. What has been written is sufficient

God has told us what we need to know about ourselves and others in relation to his standards. It is our responsibility to go as far as God says go but do not go beyond what is written. The particular command they were told to not go beyond was “that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” Because they were judging incorrectly they were getting inflated egos; harming themselves and harming one another.

Men and women have the uncanny ability to judge themselves and others according to unbiblical standards. We start to think that people are thinking this or that about the way we do everything. Here is a great benefit for you: do not go beyond what is written. Take God’s requirements for a particular role and rest in Christ as he provides everything you need to meet those requirements. Don’t go beyond what is written. Don’t compare yourself favorably or unfavorably to the husbands, wives, moms, dads, business men, artists, or whatever who are around you. You belong to Christ. You be faithful to him and let the people talk.

In Christ there is the freedom to know what God requires of you and there is the freedom to not judge yourself by others. This is what the gospel does

  1. The gospel produces freedom not bondage

Paul writes in verse 7, “For who see 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?”

What is true for Paul and Apollos is true for the rest of us. Think this way

1. You are a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries

We are told in 6:18, “you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” You are a slave of Christ and as such you must embrace your God-given roles of child of God, neighbor, friend, church member, husband, wife, son, daughter, mom, dad, grandmother and grandfather. In every avenue of life live as a slave of Christ. You belong to him and that is the best news ever. In Christ you have already received everything you need for life and godliness (2 Pt 1:3). Now as you depend on Christ and live according to the wisdom of his cross be a steward of the mysteries of God. Open your mouth and speak of Christ. Do not speak in defense of yourself. Speak of Christ and faithfully unpack God’s wisdom for each situation.

2. Be free from false guilt

Wouldn’t you like to gather with a group of your peers and not wonder or worry what they think about you? Don’t you want to say with the Apostle, “I am not aware of anything against myself”? You can in Christ. When he becomes your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption he sets you free from guilt. He will forgive you of your failures and strengthen you for the future.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Not the freedom to do anything you want regardless of God’s will. No, ours is the freedom from the past and the freedom to faithfully and joyfully embrace the future. Church, Christ is not for you in heaven after you die. Christ is for you right now. Be free from guilt because Christ has paid your penalty in full.

3. Be free from other’s opinions

Wouldn’t you love to honestly say with the Apostle, “it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court”? When you know Christ is for you and in him you have been given all things why do you worry about what other people think? Now it might be because of sin and the encouragement and exhortation of your Christian brothers and sisters is right and good. But fear and anxiety over the opinions of others often has more to do with the fact that we have stopped listening to what God says about us and started seeking the approval of man. We must care exponentially more about what God thinks of us than what others think.

In Christ there is freedom from worry and anxiety concerning other people’s opinions. That is certainly for your benefit. Next

4. Be free from pride

You might not care what others think about you and you may think that you have done everything right simply because you are a self-righteous. You know you are self-righteous and pleased with your religion when you think only a little about the day when God will judge your secrets and your motives. When we live openly before God it frees us from pride because we see all that he forgives us for every day. It’s hard to judge other people when they fail to meet our standards when we know we have failed to meet God’s standards. These things have been applied to Paul and Apollos so that you will be free from pride and so that you will

5. Make Christ your boast and joy

Do not boast in yourself; you belong to Christ. Do not boast in your accomplishments; every accomplishment is due to the grace of God given to you. What do you have that you did not receive? No one sees anything different in you. You’re just like us. You are in desperate need of grace and you are deeply loved by the Father. Boast in Christ. He is your every-thing and in Him is everything you need. He is glorious; the only Son of the Father. He has become our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. My prayer is that you have much to think about and much to thank Christ for. Let us go to the Father and boast of Christ.

4, To God Be the Glory


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