The Judgments Of Life
Sermon preached by Dr. Harold Lindsell, Sunday, August 9, 1964.
Our subject is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter four, the first five verses. You may remember the background against which this particular Scripture was written. The Apostle Paul had been a missionary to the city of Corinth, and arising from his missionary endeavors there had been formed a Christian church in that great city.
The people of Corinth were a very gifted people, and like all gifted people they were subject to differences of opinions and temptations. As a consequence of the problems which arose in this church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote them a letter. In the third chapter of this Epistle we learn that one of the problems at this church was a problem of division. This division was occasioned over the people who had come to minister to them. They were somewhat sectarian. Some of them said that they were followers of the Apostle Paul, some were of Peter, and some said they followed after Apollos. Now Paul was deeply concerned that the church not be divided because of the ministry of certain individuals.
In chapter four, the apostle speaks with respect to the judgment that is made upon the ministry of men. Now it is true that this particular Scripture has primary reference to ministers of the Gospel, but I do not think that it is inappropriate to extend its reference to all Christians. It is from the words which the apostle speaks here that we get the title “The Judgments of Life.”
In this Scripture we are told that we cannot always be sure that the judgments which are made are right and proper. Paul is very discouraged because of the differences of opinion among these people at Corinth. They are selecting one over another, and by the very act of selection they are rendering judgments for or against the men whom they select or reject. Paul, therefore, gives this word of counsel about judgment, and he lays down a basic biblical principle that ministers of the Gospel are stewards of the grace of God. We who are in the ministry are bondslaves to Jesus Christ. Elsewhere Paul also tells us that we are bondslaves to the people of God. We are servants of the Lord and servants of the Lord’s people.
Paul lays down this basic principle that “So far as my life is concerned I have but one responsibility and that is that I should be found faithful in the discharge of my office.” In chapter four he says “Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.”
Now, of course, you are familiar with the fact that in the social life of Paul’s day a steward normally was a slave. He had control over the stores of the master’s house; and Paul likens the minister of the Gospel, and I think we can also liken every Christian as a steward of God—one who in the true sense holds the mysteries of God, who takes care of the stores of God and is a slave to the Master—and of that slave it shall be required of him that he be found faithful. Paul does not say that I must be successful in order to be faithful. He doesn’t say that you or I must gain a great reputation, or earn much of this world’s goods, or give forth more than we are capable of giving forth; but within terms of our gifts and our limitations, in terms of what God has placed within us, it is only required of us as stewards that we use what God has given and that in the use of these things we be faithful.
Now against this principle of faithfulness, the apostle goes on to say that men are judged and that there are three judgments of life with which we should be familiar. There is, first of all, the judgment of the world; there is, secondly, the judgment of self; and then finally there is the judgment of God.
Paul, in the Scripture, says this in verse three of chapter four “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man’s judgment.” Now every one of us judges. I think that the Apostle Paul is saying to us that it does not make any difference what you say about me, because ultimately the judgment of this world is not the decisive judgment.
I think Paul would have us know that the judgment of the world is oftentimes a frail and faulty judgment. Men do not have that apostolic ability of looking deep into the heart of a man to determine what his intentions were. It is true that you may look upon my outward act, and my outward act to you may seem to be faulty. If you render a judgment to me according to my outward act you may decide that I have done that which should condemn me. Paul would have us know this truth: That the outward act must also be related to the inward intention—and the motivation of a man’s heart is equally important. So, it is possible for me to do something which would call down upon my head your judgment. But which, if you understood the motivation of my heart you then would not judge me as harshly as you would only when you look upon my act. Paul is saying that the judgment of this world is not a true judgment, and that Christians are not to be concerned with what people think.
Secondly, Paul says, “I judge not mine own self.” He says “I know nothing by myself” that is, I have nothing of which I have any consciousness which would cause me to blame myself, or to judge myself. Paul is saying “my conscience is absolutely clear. As far as I know my heart and my life, I stand before you as a testimony to an unblemished character.” He goes on to say that even though this be true, that my heart does not bear witness against me, yet, Paul says, “I am not hereby justified when I have the testimony of self unto my own righteousness.” You see, it is possible for me to justify my conduct when my conduct should not be justified. It is easy for me to look upon myself in a way that I would not look upon you. It is easy for me to give my conduct a virtue which my conduct does not deserve. It is more difficult to look at you and to give virtue to your conduct the same way that I would give virtue to mine.
Now Paul says if the judgment of the world is not satisfactory judgment it is also true that the judgment which I make upon myself is not a judgment which will stand in the sight of God. It will not be sufficient because my heart is not right. I do not see myself as I really am. I give to myself a virtue which I do not really possess. Even when I have done my best there is a deceptive quality about me of which I am not consciously aware. I’m not either so good as some people think, nor as bad, but to be sure I’m not as good as I think myself to be.
Take an illustration from the Scriptures. You remember when Saul became king of Israel he was sent by the prophet of God to fight the enemy of the people of God. He was commanded to slay not only all of the enemies but also all of the animals owned by the enemy. He was to take no spoil from the battle. He was to come back empty handed. You remember that when Saul returned the prophet Samuel met him and asked him this question: “Hast thou done the will of God?” Saul testifies to the purity of his own character, and he says “Yea, Samuel, even now have I done the will of God.” Samuel asks the second question, “What meaneth then the bleating of the sheep?” How is it Saul, if you have done the will of God, why is it I hear the sound of the bleating of the sheep? Then Saul answers that they had been brought back to offer as a sacrifice unto the Lord. Immediately the word of Samuel in judgment falls upon Saul, for Samuel says “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams.” Then the judgment was pronounced and Saul lost that which was given to him of God. You see, my judgment is not always a true judgment. I cannot always see myself as I really am.
Paul then speaks of a third judgment. There is first the judgment of the world, which he does not regard. There is the judgment of self whereby he is not justified. Then Paul says, “He that judgeth me is the Lord.” There is the third judgment which is the judgment of God. There is that judgment that comes from Him Who knows all things—the One Who sees deepest into the heart of each of us, that One Who knows our downsittings and our uprisings. That One Who knows me in my deepest yearnings and also in my deepest thoughts. That One, of whom the apostle says, that when the Lord comes He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness. He will make manifest the counsels of the heart, He will drag everything out from within. He shall see me as I really am, and then shall I see myself as also I really am.
I think Paul says that you and I ought to be slow to judge. That we ought to be humble as we render judgment. I think Paul would have us not presume on the motivations of other people, not to be envious or discouraged. I think Paul would want us not to be tormented by the things that people say, but within the sanctity of the heart and a desire to know and do the will of God, we should bring all of life to bear in such a way that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and seek to do His will.
What are your judgments? How do you look at life? How do you judge other people? How do you look at yourself? Let us not be concerned with the world of self, but let us think only what God thinks, and let us try to see ourselves as God sees us. Let us conform our lives to His will in such a way that at last we shall receive of Him the one decisive judgment, and be happy to hear Him say “well done, good and faithful servant,” for it is required of a steward that a man be found faithful.