I Do Not Judge Myself
Paul uses some form of the word “judge” at least 22 times throughout his letter to the Corinthians and makes several interesting statements about judgments. While a study devoted to each of these contexts would be both beneficial and thought-provoking, I want to focus on some of the lessons to be drawn out of the beginning of chapter 4, where Paul writes: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (4:1-5, ESV).
Contextually, Paul has warned the Corinthians that following men is a worldly way of thinking. Even if the Corinthians judge those whom they are following as faithful, this is a “small thing.” Certainly, they should be found faithful, but the Corinthians judgment is not what determines this, and even if they are found faithful, these men should simply be viewed as servants of Christ, not leaders in their own right. As Paul considers the judgment of the Corinthians being a small thing, he says that he does not even judge himself because he recognizes that the Lord will judge him. He doesn’t desire commendation from the Corinthians; he desires commendation from God. With this understanding of the context established, let’s think specifically about Paul saying “I do not judge myself” and the application to be made.
First, it is important to note this does not mean we cannot and should not “judge ourselves” in the sense that we make a decision about whether or not our thoughts and actions are proper. It is abundantly clear from this very letter that we must make these kinds of judgments; Paul expects the Corinthians to be able to make sensible judgments (5:12; 6:2-3; 10:15; 11:13). Other Scriptures (penned by Paul and otherwise) also make this clear. In his second letter to the Corinthian brethren, Paul tells them to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (13:5); this takes a judgment of self! He tells the Galatians to walk by the Spirit and not according to the flesh, listing the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25); we must look at ourselves and make a judgment about the way we are living. Peter says that, because we know the Judgment is coming, we should think very carefully about the lives we are living (2 Peter 3:11-12); again, this requires self-examination and judgment.
Accordingly, Paul does not mean that he does not judge himself at all; he means that he does not condemn himself because—upon making an examination of his life (a judgment)—he finds nothing to condemn himself with. In his words: “I find nothing against myself.” This leads us, then, to an important second point: declaring ourselves innocent because we have “found nothing against ourselves” does not make us innocent. Finding nothing against ourselves does not acquit (or justify) us!
Our judgment is not God’s judgment. In Paul’s judgment, he had “lived [his] life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1); yet, in God’s judgment, Paul had been persecuting the Lord (Acts 22:6-8). Only one of these judgments is true—and it isn’t Paul’s! Like Paul, we may live with a good conscience, judging ourselves to be pure servants of the Lord, but this does not mean that we are! Our judgment does not acquit us, justify us, or remove our guilt (whether we feel this guilt or not); only God’s judgment does this! His judgment is righteous (Romans 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:5).
Praise him that he has shared his judgment with us! We have already noted the necessity of judging whether our thoughts and actions are proper; if left up to our judgment, we would fail miserably (cf. Romans 2:1ff.). How do we know if it’s proper, then? Through his revealed judgment! The Judgment is going to be on the basis of the word he has given to us: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him-- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:48-50). If we want everlasting life, we must be justified by the words of the Father! Are you justified?