1So let us be considered as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2Further it is sought in stewards that a person be found faithful. 3But with me it is a very little thing that I should be judged by you or by any human judge. 4For I know nothing against myself, but it is not in this that I am justified. It is the Lord who judges me. 5So that not before the time you should judge anyone until the Lord comes, who will also make light the hidden things of the darkness and will reveal the desires of our hearts. And then the praise will come to each from God. — 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Most of usâ€”perhaps all of usâ€”do not like to be judged by others. When someone else judges us, we are hurt, disturbed, and angry. The less fair we think the judgment is, the more angry we become. We may even think that the person doing the judgment is not such a wise or fair person, yet we are concerned about their judgment of us, and especially about its being passed on to others in the form of gossip.
It would be nice, of course, if we could just dismiss from our minds any criticism from people whom we don’t have any reason to respect. That would at least eliminate a good deal of our annoyance. I know that I have been criticized fairly recently by some people whose opinion means nothing to me directly, yet even so their criticism interfered with things I was needing to accomplish. Friends and associates dismissed the criticism as well, but that didn’t quite completely wash it from my mind.
The person who is judging is doing wrong (Matthew 7:1, as well as today’s text). There is a fine, but critical line to be drawn between necessary rebuke and invalid judgment. An important test of the difference is that necessary rebuke is normally given solely and directly to the person for whom it is intended. In most cases it is left there, the exception being a case of immoral behavior that requires action by the church community.
You can be certain that any criticism or judgment that is passed on or â€œleakedâ€ first as gossip is simply judgment and is not godly. But even words that pass these testsâ€”they are told first to the person responsible and are not used as gossipâ€”may still be criticism. Another question is whether you are trying to build up or to tear down. Is what you are saying to the person intended constructively, or are you just expressing your anger at their actions?
But our text today brings up another test. Are you trying to usurp God’s judgment and replace it with your own? If you believe that you can read another person’s spiritual state, then you are trying to do God’s work. You may certainly question a person’s actions, and under the appropriate circumstances you may have a duty to do so. But when you declare them outside of God’s kingdom, you overstep your authority.
It’s kind of a two pronged test. First, are you passing a judgment that only God can pass regarding someone’s soul or spiritual state? Second, will your action in rebuke stand up when you have to give an account to God? Rebuke is necessary, but the slightest bit of pride can derail it and turn it into divisive judgment.
Finally, in enduring the judgment of othersâ€”and do not doubt it, judgment will come your wayâ€”remember who your real judge is. It is very hard to cast this particular care on God, but you must remember that no judgment passed by those without the authority has any force, unless you let it!