I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the LORD who judges me.
-1 Corinthians 4:3-4
My heart – one that struggles to find security in God and what He says rather than lies from self or others – finds solace in these verses. In this season of life, I have found that the battle for a secure heart is more difficult than I anticipated. A fleeting comment, a wandering thought, or a questionable look all send my mind racing with desperate questions. Am I likable? Did I say the right thing? Do they view me as ‘good’ enough? You name it. I’ve probably questioned it at one point and answered it with an internal, self-deprecating assumption. There have been victories, and that is the good news! The journey through, though, has demanded my conscious efforts to fight the whispers of falsehood. Nonetheless, many thoughts are now prisoners of war to Christ.
At first, I got the vibe that Paul is putting off a “talk to the hand” attitude here, but that is not what is going on at all. He is actually speaking to a judgmental people in the church of Corinth, preaching that they have no leg to stand on when they attempt to criticize him as a leader. Paul responds with confidence, not in self, but rooted in God. It is the LORD who judges me. What does this actually mean?
In Greek, the word for “judge” is anakrino, meaning to determine the excellence or defects of any person or thing. It has the connotation of looking someone up and down and judging what is seen accordingly. It was also a word used in forensic science of ancient times, implying a scrutinization so detailed that it was thought of as an “examination of torture.” In these couple of verses, it is seen that other people, self, and God all have the ability to judge. The end results, however, are drastically different.
Anakrino implies two aspects of judgment – excellence and defect. I tend to swing towards the latter in my times marked by an insecure heart. It becomes second nature to focus on the deficiencies, to let the gravity of what people think weigh heavier than it should, and only ends up being exactly what the ancient peoples thought of judgment as – an examination of torture. I rack my brain until I have exhausted myself, spiraled into emotional confusion, and left to give into the fabrications that I know are untrue. Maybe this is why Paul knows not to judge himself or let himself be judged by his fellow Corinthians – he understands what it has the power to do. When insecurity speaks, it condemns.
Paul even states that his clear conscience is not what makes him innocent. Man’s sense of “innocence,” whether it is someone else’s or one’s own, is not what justifies us. Our idea of what is right states, “I have done my duty; therefore I am good.” I encourage my brothers and sisters, I volunteer on the weekends, I even led a Bible discussion – I have done my duty. Wouldn’t Paul of all people be the one to boast of this? Imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, tested in all kinds of ways, yet still sold out for Christ. But he doesn’t bring this up. Good deeds, though glorifying to God and definitely essential to the Christian walk, do not earn our innocence. This does not declare us righteous. Only God can do this. It is the LORD who judges.
But here’s the crazy thing – God’s judgment on those who are His, truly His, doesn’t swing the same way insecurity does. He looks at us and instead determines our excellence. He sees the faults, the imperfections, the shortcomings, and proclaims us good. He vindicates us through a perfect justice system, funneled through mercy and truth. Followers of Christ need not be afraid of judgment but can rather rest in it.
When I read 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, I find an incredible amount of relief in Paul’s words. As someone who struggles with insecurity in this season of life – I am sure everyone has in some way or another – I am reminded that it is God who judges. Not myself, not others, not society’s standards. And this isn’t to say, “Only God can judge me!” as a guised way of deflecting hard-to-swallow advice or correction that will lead to refreshing repentance. No, this is a scripture that frees the Christ-followers from human scrutinization and allows them to live in the grace of God’s justice. The verdict for believers? You are righteous and accepted, no matter who says otherwise.