"I care very little if I am judged by you...."
I Corinthians 4:3a
A number of years ago an angry congregant came in my office with a list of my 'faults'. I knew tension had been building for some time but wasn't aware of the specific issues. Almost as soon as he sat down, he blurted out "I don't have any respect for you!"
Not exactly what a pastor wants to hear, but sadly not an unheard of conversation, either.
"What's the problem, brother?" I asked.
"For starters, it's the way you keep your desk", he replied.
OK. Guilty. If you have ever been into my office you will know I have a messy desk. The old adage rings true, "a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind." I agree. My mind is so cluttered that I have a hard time navigating it most of the time. If that frustrates you, imagine what it does to me!
"I believe a pastor should be professional and have a respectable office", he added.
Now the curious thing is that I had just been at this brother's place of work the week prior, though he was out of the office when I stopped by. I had planned on leaving a note but his desk was so cluttered I figured he would never find it. When I pointed this out, he became even more furious.
"How dare you?" He exclaimed. "That is not the same thing, you are a supposed to be a man of God, and I believe a man of God should have a clean office!"
We talked for another 45 minutes or so before he eventually stormed out of my very messy office. Throughout the meeting this brother's tone was angry and biting, especially as he listed all the immoral and sinful qualities he associated with having a messy office. I wish I could tell you I convinced him he was being silly. I wish even more I could tell you I shrugged it off and went about my day with confidence.
The reality is that I wept.
After he left I shut off the office lights, sat on the floor behind my cluttered desk, pulled my knees up to my chest, and started to weep. His words and accusations, which I knew were foolish and false, still hurt. The anger in his eyes towards me cut like a knife. The loss of relationship and friendship felt like a hole in my chest.
While it was right to mourn the loss of a relationship, the reality is that I suffered from the same problem as my brother. To him, my messy desk had become a very big thing. To me, his accusation had become a very big thing. In reality, both were small & insignificant. And we were both being disobedient to Scripture by treating a small thing as if it were a big thing.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul states two basic facts. First, the Corinthians were supposed to regard him as "a servant of Christ". Second, many at that church refused to do so (vv.2-5). Paul was being judged. He wasn't being judged according to the standards of God, which is always appropriate. In fact, in chapter 5 Paul makes perfectly clear that we are to judge (i.e. confront) other believers who are engaging in sinful behavior. But the problem here was that Paul was being judged according to human standards.
He wasn't Apollos. He wasn't Peter. He wasn't Jesus. And some in the Corinthian church despised him simply on those grounds.
In love, Paul directly and bluntly confronts the situation: "I care very little if I am judged by you." A more literal translation would read, "It is a very small thing to be judged by you."
I see many in the Christian community breaking under the weight of not meeting someone's expectations. I am not talking about when a dear brother or sister in Christ lovingly confronts us over a sin issue (oh how I pray that such confrontations continue and that we would all have the humility of accepting this much-needed rebuke). But I am talking about the needless guilt we feel when we don't measure up to someone's personal, arbitrary standards of how to live.
This doesn't mean that we don't listen to such criticism. But it does mean, ultimately, that the standards, opinions, and judgments leveled against us by others isn't that big of a deal. It is small. It is tiny. It has no bearing on eternity. It has no effect on our holiness. It is something that is fine to think about but need not occupy much of our thoughts.
But there is a very big thing that is supposed to occupy our attention. In v.4, Paul says "it is the Lord who judges me". He wasn't being flippant. He wasn't saying "I don't have to listen to you and I can live anyway I want." But he was saying that pleasing other people isn't nearly as important as pleasing God.
Paul chose to spend his mental and emotional energy living in a way that pleased the Father. Everything else was small, very small, in comparison.