“With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
So writes Paul to the Corinthians.
One of the key statements here is that, even though Paul knows nothing against himself, he reminds us that this is not what justifies him in the sight of God.
No matter how much we do and say and think and act out all the right things we cannot justify ourselves. Justification comes by grace through faith. It is of God, not of ourselves.
Paul even declines to judge himself, since our justification comes though faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not through good works.
A very small thing
In this way he counters those who deem to judge him. He dismisses the judgment of critics as ‘a very small thing’.
What do they measure their judgment against? Their own standards? The law which was superseded by grace? Are they justified by their ability to judge and criticise? Clearly not, since they are held to the same standards by which they judge others, according to Christ.
Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
So the level by which we are judged is measured against the judgment we level against others. To judge others we should judge ourselves capable of judging with a perfect conscience, or, Christ says, we would be judged by God to be a hypocrite.
Even the ability to judge doesn’t justify anyone in the sight of God, nor does it spiritually condemn anyone, because our justification isn’t defined by those who judge, however pious they consider themselves. They, and we, are all subject to the same criteria for salvation, which has nothing to do with law and everything to do with the mercy and grace of God.
We are justified by faith, not by law. We are justified by God, not by men. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This, he says, is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Righteousness is imputed to us who believe in him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification.
‘Imputed’ means it is accredited. It is granted. Such is the mercy and grace of God. In spite of our transgressions, God grants righteousness through faith in him. Jesus was made to be sin for us so that we could be made the righteousness of God in him. We are justified.
Justification is ‘the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him’. Freedom from guilt makes a person innocent. Who will judge an innocent person?
Judge nothing before the time
Better, then, to refrain from judgment of men and, rather, let them know what Christ has done for them at the cross and resurrection to release them from all guilt, and, therefore, judgment.
Better to live a justified life through faith in Jesus Christ and leave judgment to God at the appropriate time. This way we are freed up to tell people what Christ has won for sinners at Calvary. Most know they have fallen short. Most know their guilt. Most know the problem. Our job is to present the solution.
Better to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Once we have received Christ as Lord, we have a lifetime of walking his way. Disciples are constant learners. None of us knows it all. The good news is that even though we are a work in progress we are empowered by the Spirit to minister the gospel that releases others.
As Paul says, “Judge nothing before the time.” There is a judgement, and there is a time.
James, too, cautions against judging one another.
James 4:11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
This not to say there aren’t times when we need to measure doctrine and practices against the Word of God or test every spirit whether it is of God. But when we make judgmental claims against others we are setting ourselves up for the same measure of our own conduct.
Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
There will always be arguments about what or who we should or shouldn’t judge. Paul is clearly saying we should refrain from judging a brother. Test the spirits, examine doctrine, do all things decently and in order, but resist the temptation to make rash and unworthy judgments about people. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood’ (Ephesians 6:12).
Our primary task as disciples is to introduce people to Christ through the preaching of the gospel, and, as they respond and receive him as Lord, to make disciples. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces them of righteousness, sin and judgment as we publish the good news. This is a full-time project for each of us.
Justified by faith
Paul wrote the letters to the Corinthians, in part, as a defence against critics, as well as pastoral letters which addressed and corrected some of the issues in the Corinthian church of the time. Hence his reference to judgment.
Some people thought he was not a genuine Apostle. They measured him against their own criteria and not against the clear call of God on his life, which still influences us today, and is the greatest proof of all of his credentials.
Paul is remembered. His critics are not. Paul’s work goes on. Theirs is used as an example of what not to do.
So from his time to today the advice remains. “He who judges me is the Lord”. All will be revealed at the appropriate time. Judgment is one thing. Justification another.
We will all be judged, whether by man or God. We are all being judged, and will always be judged as long as we are in this earth, but one key thing remains which brings the judgment of others into perspective.
We are justified by faith.