The church at Corinth probably caus-ed Paul more anxiety than any other church within his knowledge. In con-trast to “false apostles” who were doing such damage by preaching “another Jesus” and a different gospel, Paul was able to point to his abundant labours for Christ as attesting his true apostleship. In addition to his outward trials, he wrote of “that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches”, 2 Cor. 11. 28 r.v. The church at Corinth was responsible for much of this anxiety.
Under God, the Corinthians owed their salvation to Paul and much to his pastoral care. They might have “ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet … not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel”, 1 Cor. 4. 15 r.v. As their spiritual parent he had a godly concern fort heir welfare. He did not seek their support, but them-selves, “I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the child-ren”, 2 Cor. 12. 14. As a true parent, Paul could say, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you”, v.15a. His self-sacrificing labours were un-appreciated by them, for he had sadly to ask “If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less ?”, v.15b r.v.
They impugned his apostleship which, for the sake of the truth he preached, he was obliged to defend, “Am I not an apostle? … have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord ? are not ye my work in the Lord?”, 1 Cor. 9. 1. They, at least, were the “seal" of his apostleship, v. 2. Some among them alleged that Paul’s service was not disinterested, but motivated by self-advantage. Paul maintained the right of those who preached the gospel to live by it, v.14. Nevertheless, he had not used that right, “lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ”, v.12. In criticizing Paul’s motives, the Corinthians called into question the stewardship he had received from God. As a “steward”, Paul acted as a manager in God’s “house”, viz. the local church, 1 Tim. 3. 15. He was accountable to the Lord and not to the Corinthians for the way in which he discharged his stewardship. Much as their criticism wounded him, he could write “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment … he that judgeth me is the Lord”, 1 Cor. 4. 3, 4. By the Lord’s judgment he would stand or fall, not by theirs. It was none of the concern of the Corinthians to judge him, since Paul was directly responsible to the One who had appointed him.
Paul himself was not aware of being at fault in his stewardship, but he did not account that as vindicating him,- “For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord”, v.4 r.v. The Lord alone would be the judge of Paul’s stewardship, not the Corin-thians, nor even Paul himself. From this Paul exhorted the Corinthians to forbear from criticizing him, since it preempted the prerogative of the Lord, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come”, v.5. The Lord’s coming will be a time of manifestation. He told His disciples, “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known”, Matt. 10. 26. His coming will effect this, when He “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels (i.e. purpose, will) of the hearts”, 1 Cor. 4. 5. Accordingly, “praise" will be awarded, or withheld. Manifestation is the dominant feature of the judgment seat of Christ, which will follow His coming, “behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be”. Rev. 22. 12. In 1 Corinthians 3. 13, the “sort" of work of those who build upon the foundation laid in the local church will be manifested, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it … of what sort it is”. According to whether it corresponds to “gold, silver, precious stones” or “wood, hay, stubble" it will “abide” or “be burned”, be rewarded or cause the believer to “suffer loss”, vv. 14, 15. In 2 Corinthians 5. 10, “the things done in his body … whether it be good or bad" will be judged, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”.
In 1 Corinthians 4. 5 it is not the “sort" of work, or even “the things done in the body" which will pass under review by the Lord, but the hidden motives, the springs of con-duct, which man cannot rightly judge of, but only the Lord Himself, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come”. He is the only competent Judge. His eyes are as a flame of fire, and there is no creature “that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do”, Heb. 4. 13. The fire to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 3. 13 and 15 may be an allusion to that aspect of the vision presented to John in Revelation 1.14. Much that may be approved by men will fail under that scrutiny, and much that has escaped their notice or fallen under their criticism will be approved by the Lord in that day.
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