Jude Nothing Before It’s Time (1 Cor. 4:1-5)
Judge Nothing Before It’s Time
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Bible majors at Christian universities tend to have a reputation for being self-righteous and argumentative and maybe a little prideful. That was true when I was a student at Faulkner University and based on what Jewell and Ana have said, it seems to be true of some Bible majors at Freed-Hardeman as well. It is certainly unfortunate for the stereotype to exist, but it is also unfortunate for it paints with a broad brush a lot of young men who are simply seriously about knowing the Bible and teaching and encouraging others to know the Bible and be faithful to it.
Little did I know at that time, nor could I have known at that time, what it would take to be a full-time minister of the gospel. But I did want to know the word of God and I was serious about taking the word of God seriously. Yes, friends of mine and I would often sit around in the student center arguing - or discussing loudly - finer points of Christian teaching. I would suggest to you that that is a necessary past-time for young preachers because we will get questioned about those very things at some point during our ministry. We must come to some kind of conclusion on various questions and Bible professors, who have the wisdom of maturity, aren’t always available for those kinds of discussions.
Yes, sometimes those discussions got out of hand and it might have sounded like that small group of Bible majors thought they were the only ones going to heaven. It is not unusual for such a group of Bible majors to be called “Pharisees.” Generally, that criticism came from people who really didn’t understand what Jesus actually criticized in the Pharisees. It wasn’t because they were concerned about the finer points of doctrine; it was because they bound their traditions on others to the neglect of expressing fairness and mercy and faithfulness.
I was part of a group that someone nicknamed the “Saving Seven,” implying that we seven (and I don’t know if we numbered actually seven or not) thought we were the only ones going to heaven. One of my friends, in response to that, jokingly suggested that we print up T-shirts that said, “The saving seven are neat and swell; the rest of you are going to hell.” He did not really believe that nor did any of us. As I have gotten older, I have decided that joking about hell in any context is not funny.
If you remember Daren Fantroy, or ever met him, who use to preach at North Central… he was a year or two older than me and he was one of those students that everyone looked up to. There were times in our heated discussions when he would interrupt us by saying, “Are you going to heaven?” Of course, we would say “yes” or “I hope so” or something similar. Then he would ask the same thing to the next person who had been arguing; they would give the same response. Then he would say something like, “Then let’s get along and be united on what the Scriptures teach.” That’s why Daren Fantroy was well-respected. I wish he was still at North Central; I would love to have fellowship with him again. And we wouldn’t have to share Cody with them every couple of months.
Judging is a natural human response. There are things we have to judge. We are called to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). We are required to “examine everything and hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). But too often, we judge on superficial matters, matters of opinion, or what we prefer or like, etc. The text we are going to look at this evening is focused more on judging based on matters of opinion than matters of faith.
First, let’s get an idea of what Paul has said so far…
GOD REQUIRES UNITY AMONG HIS CHILDREN - 1:1-17:
After introducing himself (ver. 1), Paul says he is writing to saints who “in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ver. 2). He extends them grace and peace and then mentions that he prays for them (ver. 4).
In verse 5, Paul writes that it is in Christ Jesus that Christians are “enriched” in their speech and knowledge as the “testimony concerning Christ” (another word for the Gospel) was confirmed among them so they were not lacking in any gift as they awaited the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 6-7).
Christ will confirm Christians - that is, keep us strong in the faith (ver. 8) - and blameless until Christ comes. And we know this is true because God is faithful (ver. 9).
Verse 10 begins the first rebuke Paul gives to the Christians - they were divided and division is wrong. Let’s read 1:10-13:
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Some of the Corinthians were giving too much importance to who baptized them, so Paul states in verse 17 that God did not send him to baptize, but to preach. God doesn’t want man’s faith to be in man, but in Christ.
THE WISDOM OF GOD IS IN THE CROSS - 1:18-31:
Speaking of the cross, in a metropolitan city like Corinth, with lots of different religious groups, there were those who thought the message of the cross was foolishness. We have multiple religions in Flint, right? Not just various denominational churches but Muslims, and Jews, and Hindus, and perhaps others.
The wisdom of the world says that you can’t be saved through a man hanging on a cross. But “Christ crucified” is the wisdom of God (ver. 23) and it is the message of the church.
God’s plan for saving man is so far outside of human wisdom - God became flesh and then died for “flesh”? - that no man can boast before God (ver. 29). Jesus Christ - the crucified God/Man - is “wisdom from God” and our “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (ver. 30).
If you are going to “boast” or “glory,” don’t boast in Paul, or Peter, or Cephas… Boast in the Lord, just like Jeremiah said in 9:23-24.
PAUL’S RELIANCE ON THE SPIRIT - 2:1-16:
To illustrate the fact that God did not and does not want people to put their faith and confidence in man, Paul says that he, himself, did not preach with superiority of speech or wisdom (2:1). All he taught was “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2:2). Of course, Paul taught more than that; he did teach the organization of the church, for example, and the proper acts of worship. But they were all taught by Jesus Christ, the crucified. Nothing Paul taught came from Paul himself.
God does not want man's faith to rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (2:5). So Paul speaks, not the wisdom of men (ver. 6), but the wisdom of God (ver. 7). That wisdom was not fully revealed during the OT times (ver. 8), but it was promised (ver. 9). But, once Christ came, God revealed His wisdom through the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets of Christ (ver. 10-11). In this way, they could teach the wisdom of God by combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words (ver. 13).
But, men who have drank deeply from the wisdom of the world cannot accept the wisdom shared by the Holy Spirit (ver. 14). If we drink deeply from the wisdom of God, which is shared by the Holy Spirit through those inspired apostles and prophets, then we will have the “mind of Christ” (ver. 16).
FOUNDATIONS FOR LIVING - chapter 3:
Too many of the Christians in Corinth - those who were dividing up the church of Christ - were “men of flesh” (3:1), “infants in Christ.” Paul fed them milk as infants but too many of them still have not matured past the milk (ver. 2) because they were still thinking in fleshly terms (ver. 3). How did Paul know they were “fleshly?” Because there was jealously and strife among them. To illustrate that accusation, Paul says in verse 4: “one says, ‘I am of Apollos,’ then they are thinking in fleshly terms.
Both Apollos and Paul - as well as all Christians - are simply servants through whom others come to faith in Christ Jesus (ver. 5). My dad use to say everyone puts their breeches on one pant leg at a time. That was his way of saying nobody is more important than anyone else.
Verse 6 is a noted verse you should have highlighted: “I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase.” It doesn’t matter who does what, as long as souls are led to the truth of the gospel. We are united (ver. 8); we ought to be united. Yet, each one of us will receive our own reward according to our efforts to serve and glorify Jesus Christ. We work together with God; we are His field and His building (ver. 9).
Some of us lay a foundation (ver. 10), others build on it. But we need to be careful on what foundation we build. It must be Jesus Christ (ver. 11). False teaching does not produce true Christians. False teaching produces false Christians. If we do not build on a “thus saith the Lord,” or we might say “book, chapter, and verse,” then we are building on a false foundation. Paul mentions in verse 12: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw.
When challenges come, you’ll find out on what you built your foundation (ver. 13). If one’s faith is built on man, then that flimsy foundation will be revealed. If one’s faith is built on Christ, then that foundation will also be revealed.
The fact is, we are all as the church of Christ, the temple of God and indwell by the Holy Spirit (ver. 16). That means we are part of one another and there is equality there. But if someone harms another, through jealousy and strife which are the only two sins Paul has specifically mentioned so far, then the temple of God might be destroyed (ver. 17).
In the last paragraph of chapter 3, Paul is calling on Christians to have humility toward one another and toward the word of God. If you think you are wise, become foolish (ver. 18). Quoting two passages from the OT (Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11), Paul encourages the Christians, once again, to not boast in men (ver. 21). To quote my dad again, “the ground at the foot of the cross is level.” In verses 21-23, Paul emphasizes that equality among Christians and among preachers: “all things belong to you, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, things present, things to come. And you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” So, we are all in Christ; we are all in God. That’s equality. No room for boasting. No room for jealousy. No room for strife.
SERVANTS OF CHRIST - 4:1-5:
Now, all that introduction brings me to chapter 4…
Point #1 in this text: “Let a man regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” In this context, “mysteries of God” refers, it is a synonym for, the gospel of Christ - the salvation of man through Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
Luke uses the same expression in a phrase that I like, from Luke 1:2, where he says that the gospel message was “handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” This is not either of the normal words often translated “servant.” In other words, it is not “bond-servant” or “slave;” nor is it the word translated as “deacon.” This specific word, used 20 times in the NT, carries the idea of an “assistant.” In the gospel accounts and Acts, the word is often translated (NASV) as “officers,” denoting those who assisted the priests in keeping order in the temple grounds. In Acts 13:5, Luke writes that John Mark was the “servant” or “assistant” of Paul and Barnabas on their first mission trip.
1 Corinthians 4:1 is actually the only time this word is used outside of Matthew-Acts. I think Paul uses it to suggest the idea of equality and the idea of service. All servants of Christ are equal. We are just servants of Christ and stewards of the gospel of Christ. A “steward” is a manager. The word is translated as “treasurer” relative to Erastus in Romans 16:23. Elders are referred to as “stewards” in Titus 1:7, but all Christians are “stewards” of the gracious gifts that God has given to each of us (1 Peter 4:10).
The idea of “stewardship” includes four components:
1) An owner;
2) A steward;
3) Something to be guarded or managed;
4) A day of accounting or reckoning.
When it comes to spiritual matters, God is the owner; you and I are the stewards; what is to be guarded or managed is the gospel message and our response to it in attitude, words, and actions. And, of course, as we studied this morning, there will be a day of reckoning, a day of accounting. We will give an account to God whether we have used our stewardship wisely. Or, faithfully, notice verse 2…
Point #2 in this text: Stewards must be found faithful. NASV translates the word as “trustworthy.” The word is used 67 times and is related to the word “faith.” There are lots of synonyms for “faithful:” trustworthy, full of faith, dependable, reliable. It is also translated as “believer,” and would denote one who is a Christian for if one is faithful to the word of God, then he or she will become a Christian. God has to be able to trust us… remember in Revelation 14:5 that those who are among the 144,000 are said that “no lie is found in their mouths.” Stewards must be faithful.
Point #3 in this text: We do not judge each other. Isn’t that great news? We will not stand before anyone else, any Christian (or non-Christian for that matter) on the day of judgment. That’s good news from the perspective that some people are harder on us than is fair. It’s bad news from the perspective that most people would be easier on us than God will be. Nobody expects to go to hell. Everyone thinks they are going to heaven and everybody thinks most everyone else is going to heaven. Only a few people, like Adolph Hitler, deserve hell. That’s the mentality of most people.
In this text, I suspect that Paul is drawing a contrast between himself and Apollos. You know that Apollos was a fiery preacher, fervent in spirit, based on Luke’s description of him in Acts 18:25. We have already read that Paul wrote in 2:1 that he did not preach with “superiority of speech or wisdom.” In that same context, he said in verse 3 that he preached among the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and his message and his preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom” (ver. 4).
If you had a choice between listening to Apollos preach or Paul preach, who would you choose? I certainly prefer to hear someone who is going to keep my attention for 30 minutes. Mainly, though, I want to listen to someone who is going to help me understand the word of God better.
The problem in our text is not between Paul and Apollos, but between Corinthian Christians who were “lining themselves up” behind either Paul or Apollos. They were suffering from “preacher-itis.” We will also learn, especially in 2 Corinthians, that Paul had his critics in the church at Corinth who did not want to accept his authority as an apostle.
But when it comes to his Christian service, Paul says it is insignificant to be “examined” by the Corinthian Christians. In fact, it would be insignificant for him to be “examined” by any human court. Paul writes that he isn’t even his own judge!
Point #4 in this text: The Lord Jesus is the one who examines. Paul writes that he doesn’t know of anything significant against himself. Now, he has already criticized himself in chapter 2 and in chapter 15, he will write that he was the “least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle” (15:9). Paul is open to critiquing himself. But in whatever way the Corinthians were wanting to critique Paul, he says he doesn’t know anything against himself. But that doesn’t mean he is “acquitted.” The word means “vindicated” or “justified.” Instead, Jesus Christ is the one who examines Paul.
Jesus Christ is our only judge. He is the one who will decide our eternal fate. That’s why it is important for us to study His word and be consistent with His word. That will be what our “final exam” is over: John 12:48.
Point #5 in this text: “Therefore” shows that Paul is drawing a conclusion. Don’t judge people - especially fellow-Christians - before the time. Jesus Christ is coming and He will bring to light the things hidden in darkness. That is something that none of us can do. Jesus is coming and He will disclose the motives of men’s hearts. That is something that none of us can do. When Jesus comes again, those who have been faithful to Jesus Christ, who have been faithful to His word, they will receive their praise from God. Now, to paraphrase my mom, “Nobody died and left me (or you) in charge.”
God is the one who judges; God is the one who praises. Therefore, we need to seek the praise of God rather than the praise of men.
Take home message: We are stewards of the gospel and our response to it. We must be faithful in that stewardship. We cannot judge each other; Jesus is the one who judges. So let’s not judge one another.