All people have to deal with being evaluated, by ourselves and others. This can be terrifying; for some, paralyzing. We can be overwhelmed with what others think about us. We can be obsessed with self-evaluation.
It is easy for an athlete to be obsessed with his coach liking him and giving him playing time. Many are consumed with whether peers respect them. An employee can live in fear, wondering what his boss thinks of him. Am I about to get fired? These thoughts and feelings are understandable yet quickly turn into sin.
Paul the apostle dealt with this. He had planted the church in Corinth yet church members seemed to turn on him. Some proclaimed Peter was a better leader. Others preferred Apollos. Part of 1 Corinthians is Paul asserting his rightful leadership role in the church.
In chapter four he makes astonishing claims that can free us from living our lives consumed with what others think of us. He starts by declaring that he ultimately lived to serve Christ, to fulfill all Christ wanted him to do. In verse three he essentially says, “I don’t ultimately care what anyone thinks about me.” Most of us know people who make such statements (even if we doubt they mean them). Paul writes this inspired by the Spirit, so it is true.
The last sentence of verse three is shocking. Paul says, “I don’t even judge myself.” Virtually no one talks like this.
This is not some hyper-grace theology that believes one can do whatever they want with no consequences. Paul takes his faithfulness to Christ very seriously. Paul immediately follows this implying, “I'm not aware of anything I'm doing wrong.”
This doesn’t mean that Paul believed he was sinfully perfect (Romans 7:14-25). He’s just not convicted of any clear sin in his life at that moment. (Psalm 19:12-14 speaks of a difference in “hidden faults” and “presumptuous sins.”)
Next he reasons, “Just because I’m not aware of any sin, that doesn’t make me innocent.” He knows the hidden depths of sin in human hearts. If that is true, how can Paul say so casually, “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, even myself!”? It seems flippant, haphazard.
The last sentence of verse four is the key: “It is the Lord who judges me.” There is a reason that all of us wrestle at times with living up to different standards whether they are set by others or by ourselves. The reason is “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
There is something written in our nature that knows that our lives are being evaluated by God. Paul teaches that even the godless know this is true (Romans 1:32, 2:14-15). How we face that final judgment is the real issue.
For everyone who has trusted in Christ, the judgment of God fell on our sin 2000 years ago on the cross. By His grace we are free from all condemnation forever. So, what sort of judgment is Paul looking forward to?
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and 4:5 refer to an evaluation of Christians’ lives after they die. The Bible doesn’t give us as much information as we would like. We know that all who are truly in Christ can’t lose their salvation and will reign in heaven with Him regardless of stumbles in life.
But Christians should be living to receive a final “commendation” or “praise” from God: “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21-23). Christians’ main concern in life should be to please Christ in all they do (2 Corinthians 5:9, Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 4:1, 2 Timothy 2:4). Is that truly your main concern in life?
If you live a life where you already rest assured that the ultimate Judge of the universe has forgiven you for all your sins, what joy, freedom and peace this should bring to your life. That shouldn’t drive us to a sinfully carefree life, but rather to a deep desire to please Christ in all we do, motivated by the joy we have in Christ. This should free us from an obsession of whether others like or respect us. Those concerns should fade to the background in light of Christ’s glory.
When the rest we already have in Christ, the joy we presently experience in Him, and desire for future commendation from Him conspire together in our hearts, we can truly live freed from all concern of what others think of us. We can also be free from the constant anxiety of self-evaluation. Like Paul and others before him we can “run in the way of” God’s commandments with our eyes fixed on Him, not others or ourselves (Psalm 119:32).
Imagine an athlete training for an Olympic sporting event with a world class coach who becomes like a loving, gracious father to him. During practice and even on the world stage, that athlete won’t ultimately be looking to the crowds to see how loud they cheer. Nor will the crowds’ “boos” necessarily dampen his spirits. Neither will he be lost in morbid introspection.
He will be listening to his coach, looking for his smile. The coach’s opinion of him will be so powerful he won’t care what others think of him. He won’t even care what he thinks of himself. He will live to please his coach.
God is our loving, gracious Father in Christ. He is our life coach and judge. This life is our race to run for Him. All that we do, big and small, should be done for His ultimate glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Reminding yourself often of this reality frees you from the fear of man, the potential depression of a failed venture or the pride that can result when men do praise our accomplishments.
How much time do you spend worrying what others think of you? How often do you self-evaluate? Whose verdict are you living for?