The Evaluation of the Minister
But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. (4:3–4)
Paul was not bragging or placing himself above other ministers or above any other Christian. What he said about his own attitude toward himself should be said by every minister and every Christian. It should be a very small thing to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is criticized or praised, whether by fellow Christians, by any human court, or any other of man’s tribunals. We can benefit greatly from the counsel of a wise, spiritual friend, and sometimes even from the criticisms of unbelievers. But no human being is qualified to determine the legitimacy, quality, or faithfulness of our work for the Lord. We are not even qualified to determine those things for ourselves. Matters of outward sin are to be judged as 1 Timothy 5:19–21 indicates. But apart from the discipline of sinning servants, we can make no absolutely accurate judgment as to the faithfulness of heart, mind, and body of any servant of God.
Examined and examine are from anakrinō, which means “to investigate, question, evaluate.” It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence, as the King James (“judged, judge”) suggests. Human court (anthrōpinēs hēmeras) literally means “human day,” that is, a day in a human court. No human being, or group of human beings, is qualified to examine and evaluate God’s servants. No Christian, and in this context especially God’s ministers, should be concerned about any such evaluation. Only God knows the truth.
We should not be offended when people criticize us, or show false modesty when they praise us. We should simply say with Paul, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Our focus is on our Lord Jesus Christ. We know that we are being transformed into His image because He says we are, not because of what we can see or what others can see.
A caring minister of Christ cannot be insensitive to the feelings, needs, and opinions of his people. He should not try to be. A sincere word of appreciation after a sermon is encouraging, and reflects spiritual concern and growth in the listener’s life. A word of helpful criticism can be a needed corrective and even a blessing. But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are or whether he is working within the Lord’s will. Because their knowledge and understanding of the facts are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect. In humility and love, God’s minister must not allow himself to care about other people’s evaluations of his ministry.
his own evaluation
Nor must he allow himself to care about his own evaluation of his ministry. All of us are naturally inclined to build ourselves up in our own minds. We all look into rose-colored mirrors. Even when we put ourselves down, especially in front of others, we often are simply appealing for recognition and flattery. The mature minister does not trust his own judgment in such things any more than he trusts the judgment of others. He agrees with Paul that his own evaluation may be as unreliable as that of anyone else.
Spiritual introspection is dangerous. Known sin must be faced and confessed, and known shortcomings are to be prayed about and worked on for improvement. But no Christian, no matter how advanced in the faith, is able to properly evaluate his own spiritual life. Before we know it, we will be ranking ourselves, classifying ourselves—and discover that a great deal of time is being spent in thinking of nothing but ourselves. The bias in our own favor and the tendency of the flesh toward self-justification make this a dangerous project.
Paul knew of no serious sin or deficiency in his own life. I am conscious of nothing against myself (cf. 2 Cor. 1:12). But he knew he could be wrong in that assessment; even as an apostle he could be wrong about his own heart. He, too, needed to remember to take heed when he stood, lest he should fall (1 Cor. 10:12). So he continued explaining to the Corinthians, yet I am not by this acquitted. But that did not let him matter either. He was not proud that he knew of nothing wrong, and he did not worry because he might be mistaken. His own evaluation, favorable or unfavorable, made no difference.
The only evaluation that makes a difference is the Lord’s. The one who examines me is the Lord. Only His examination counts. Paul had long followed the counsel he gave to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God” (2 Tim. 2:15). He was not concerned about presenting himself to others for approval, or even to himself for approval, but only to His Lord.
A minister serves his people spiritually only when he is a faithful servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God. And God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of that service.
4 Paul feels confident that he has been functioning appropriately in the discharge of his duties; his conscience “is clear.” He does open the door, however, to the possibility that he may not have been doing as good a job as he thinks; but it will be up to the Lord (kyrios, GK 3261) to make that final assessment. That is the only judgment he is concerned about. One would hope that every pastor could line himself or herself up with Paul’s perspective here. Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about what others might say about how we are doing, whereas our real concern should be with the Lord’s evaluation.
4:4 / The initial portion of this verse explicates Paul’s eschatological freedom from concern with judgment. The niv again fails to signal that Paul connects this statement to the preceding lines as a word of explanation by leaving the word “for” untranslated. Paul literally starts out, “For I am conscious of nothing against myself.” The statement registers a profound eschatological conviction, namely, that human consciousness (or “conscience”) is neither a valid nor an ultimate arbiter of divine truth. Even one who was attuned to the eschatological work of God in Christ was not in a position to allow conscience to pronounce a final verdict. Only the Lord can make the final judgment concerning the faithfulness of the steward.
As the niv translates, a clean conscience does not make me innocent. While that rendering is accurate, it stops short of the full sense of Paul’s statement. The verb translated “make … innocent” is often rendered “to justify,” “to make righteous,” or “to put in a right relationship [with God]” (Gk. dikaioō). Paul at least means to say that having a clean conscience does not guarantee that he is right with God. Human opinion can never guarantee such a relationship. Only divine action achieves and ensures that humanity and God are in a right relationship. This theological conviction has stimulated Paul’s engagement with the Corinthians from the beginning of this letter, as he denied the value of their quest for human wisdom over against an absolute confidence in the work of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the best way to render this important verse is as follows: “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, but in this I am not made right with God—the one judging me is the Lord.”
Paul informs the Corinthians that he was accountable to the Lord for his faithfulness to the gospel. His point is clear, although as interpreters recognize, the identity of the Lord is not immediately apparent. Paul mentioned God in 4:1 and refers to God explicitly in 4:5, so that some commentators argue that the Lord is God. That conclusion seems ill-advised, however, for it is Paul’s normal pattern to use “the Lord” (without an identity specified) in reference to Jesus Christ. Moreover, in the following verse Paul writes of the coming of the Lord, a clear indication that one should understand “the Lord” in this section to refer to Christ. Thus, in 4:4 Paul informs the Corinthians that because Christ is his judge, he does not judge himself, for although he is not aware of failure in his faithfulness, his own opinion does not justify him in God’s sight.
4:4. Paul admitted that his conscience was clear, but this did not support his own innocence. It did not matter if Paul thought he was blameless, just as it did not matter if the Corinthians thought he was blameworthy, because it is the Lord who judges. He did not reject the appropriate use of discernment between good and evil people. In fact, he went on to judge one of the Corinthians in the very next chapter (5:3) and to instruct the Corinthians to judge between matters within the church (5:12; 6:2). Rather, as the next verse makes clear, he spoke of the ultimate judgment of a person’s life—the judgment of one’s eternal destiny.
4. I am not aware of anything against myself, yet not for this reason have I been justified. But the one who judges me is the Lord.
- “I am not aware of anything against myself.” In the Greek, the word nothing is placed first for emphasis, and so Paul is saying emphatically that his conscience is clear; he is unaware of any wrongdoing (see Job 27:6). The comment should not be interpreted that he has silenced his conscience. Rather, he means that with respect to his apostleship, he has been a faithful servant who dutifully has fulfilled all his tasks. By contrast, John Albert Bengel keenly observes, “He whom conscience accuses, is held to adjudge his own cause.”
- “Yet not for this reason have I been justified.” The lucid wording of this clause expresses a profound truth. If Paul had been justified on the basis of his apostolic faithfulness, he would be teaching a righteousness that could be earned. Justification, however, can never rest on good works performed by man (Titus 3:5), for then the mediatorial work of Christ would have been insufficient or incomplete. On the basis of Christ’s perfect work, man is fully justified.
Paul writes the verb to justify in the perfect tense: “I have been justified.” He indicates that he has already been declared righteous, not because of his own works, but because of Jesus Christ. In his life, Paul demonstrates that he is diligent in his apostolic work, yet with his diligence he did not achieve perfection (compare Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:12–13).
- “But the one who judges me is the Lord.” Jesus Christ is the judge, who himself has fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17) and is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4). He has a right to judge Paul, for through the Holy Spirit Jesus commissioned him as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1–3). Jesus judges Paul with respect to the apostolic service Paul performs in his ministry. The Lord assigns, supervises, and evaluates the work Paul must accomplish, whether in periods of frustration (see Acts 18:6–10) or in times of impending hardship (Acts 23:11). Hence, Paul tells the Corinthians, he is responsible to the Lord (compare 2 Cor. 5:10).
4:4 When the apostle says “I know of nothing against myself,” he means that in the matter of Christian service, he is not conscious of any charge of unfaithfulness that might be brought against him. He does not mean for a moment that he does not know of any sin in his life or any way in which he falls short of perfection! The passage should be read in the light of the context, and the subject here is Christian service and faithfulness in it. But even if he did not know anything against himself, yet he was not justified by this. He simply was not competent to judge in the matter. After all, the Lord is the Judge.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 100–102). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 291). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 87–88). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 60–61). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 131). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1757). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.