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About twenty years ago, my family attended a religious conference. The speaker at one of the evening meetings wasn’t very good, so my dad passed me a note explaining how he would’ve preached the same text. I jotted down my own thoughts and handed the piece of paper to my sister, who did the same. Only my mom had the good sense to stay above the fray.
Now that I am no longer a senior pastor, I often find myself evaluating what’s happening in church services. Are the buildings clean and well-kept? Is the sound system set at an appropriate volume? Are all the lightbulbs working? Does my son like the kid’s program? Will my wife and I fit in at this church? And is the preacher making sense and keeping me interested at the same time?
I’m a tough crowd.
In fact, I’m Corinth.
The Corinthians played favorites with their leaders. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t favor Paul, who had founded the church. This favoritism resulted in division both among the Corinthians and between the Corinthians and Paul.
The Corinthians were looking for a successful minister. In their culture, success in religion was determined by philosophical insight expressed with rhetorical excellence. In the preceding verses, Paul argued that faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ was the true measure of a minister, not success. In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, he then went on to say this about Corinthian judgmentalism:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by 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.
Paul’s indifference to the force of the Corinthians’ critiques is a result of a proper understanding of the nature of ministry. Ministers of the gospel are responsible to Jesus Christ for how they preach their messages, not to their congregations for how impressive a figure they cut behind the pulpit.
That’s why Paul – rightly – didn’t care a rat’s patootie about the Corinthians’ evaluation of his ministry. The Corinthians were not his judge. He was not even his own judge. “It is the Lord who judges me.” At the Great Day of Judgment, Jesus Christ “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.”
So back to me. When I find myself critiquing the churches I attend, what darkness is hidden in me? What motives lie deep in my own heart?
I am only a servant. Judging my fellow servants is a waste of my time, because only one opinion counts, and it’s not mine. My time would be better spent seeking God’s praise than critiquing other pastors’ faults.
Your time would be too.