The comfort of fear

I find myself drawn back to 1 Corinthians 4 like a moth to flame. I’m like a small child watching the scary parts of the movie from behind his mother’s skirts, afraid to look, but unable to look away.

The opening always draws me in, even though I know what’s coming: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God“ (v. 1).

What is he saying? Is he lifting himself or putting himself down? Perhaps both. And then comes the bit I love best: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.“ (v. 3).

He almost sounds like a judgement-free product of the 60s: I don’t care what you think of me; I am who I am, man! Don’t bother judging me, because I won’t be listening. I don’t even judge myself.

It’s so admirable and desirable, which is probably why the Boomers all went for it. Imagine it: really being free of the oppression of other people’s opinion—free, even, of the condemning voice in your own head. Being radically unaccountable to anyone, even yourself. Being able to say exactly what you’re thinking without caring who disagrees—expressing what you’re feeling without fear of censure—doing what you’d really like to do, without the Man coming down on you.

But then, without any foreboding music to warn me, I’m snapped out of my reverie by something truly frightening:

… I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (vv. 4-5)

Paul doesn’t care how others judge him not because there is no such thing as judgement (as the 60s stupidly assumed), but because there is one Judge, and his verdict, delivered at the time of his own choosing, is the only one that matters. His judgement is final and total, encompassing all evidence, seen and unseen, even down to the intentions of the heart. This judgement renders every other opinion otiose (‘otiose’ being an otiose word that means ‘serving no purpose’).

If all this doesn’t cause you to tremble, you’re either perfectly faithful in all you say, do and think in the service of Christ (unlikely!), or you’re not really paying attention.

It certainly causes me to be tremble, having written something in the region of a million words of Christian teaching over the past 20 years, not to mention the things I’ve “hidden in darkness” and the “purposes” of my heart!

But along with the trembling, there is the most curious and wonderful freedom and comfort—because if he alone is my judge, what do I care of the opinion of men? It is the Lord and Judge of the universe I serve—whose commendation I crave. Let others do or say what they may.

And if he is also my redeemer, whose crucified and risen Son is my intercessor, then in the midst of his searching judgement, there will also be forgiveness, salvation and glory.

One thought on “The comfort of fear

  1. I do love it when you (and the other writers) write posts on scripture in this way.
    Thanks for this one.

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