So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
4 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 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. 4 oFor I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 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.
“All things are yours.” The Corinthians have been accused of tearing the body of Christ asunder by affiliating themselves with Paul, or Apollo, to the exclusion and in opposition to the rest. Such ‘boasting among men,’ though, no longer has any basis: it is no longer intelligible. The ‘boasting’ which arises from such partiality is in part derived from the notion that goods are of a limited quantity: to be of Paul distinguishes one, in this manner of reasoning, precisely because it gives a person a claim that someone else does not have. But what happens if “all things are yours?” Boasting falls to the ground.
Of course, this moment in 1 Corinthians precedes and prepares the way for the triumphal conclusion of Paul’s argument in Romans 8. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?” In Romans, Paul frames the list of creation negatively: death, life, angels, principalities, the present, future, powers, height, depth, nor any other created thing can keep us from God. The framing casts them under a shadow: the creation groans, Paul tells us there, for the revealing of the sons of God. But in its groaning it threatens to undo us, to make us doubt the security of the promise we have been given in Christ. (Who among us has not been moved by the sufferings creation so wantonly inflicts upon us?)
Here in 1 Corinthians, though, the relationship to such matters is framed positively, as is indicated by what Paul leaves out—namely, the principalities and powers, who are so central to the shadows that would seek to block God’s great and glorious light. All these things are ours. We have a claim to them, the freedom to identify with them without being possessed by them. Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the cosmos or life or death or the present or the future—all basis for anxiety or fear or frustration or dissension has been removed from us, for these are yours and you are Christ’s and Christ’s is God’s.
Paul has, of course, just named himself as among those who are possessed by the Corinthians. No wonder, then, that he turns immediately in 4:1 to specify his own role within the community: he is a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. Paul will, when necessary, name the basis and grounds of his authority within the community. But such an assertion can only be raised in a secondary position. The naming of his authority has a derivative status to his position as a steward and servant. He is one under authority, whose life is ordered to and structured by his faithfulness to what he has received. It is required of such a steward that he might be found faithful (4:2), else they violate the principle and grounds of their existence.
As a servant of Christ, though, Paul is directly beneath his authority—and is not, in that way, immediately subject to the authority of the community. It is a minor thing, an incidental matter, for him to be judged by them or by a human court. He neither judges himself, nor knows of anything against himself. But his acquittal, his confidence, is derived wholly and exclusively from his willing submission to the judgment of God: “The one who judges me is the Lord.” “Judge not,” Jesus tells us in Matthew—and here, Paul sounds the same theme. Do not “judge before the time,” before the kairos, the day of the Lord’s coming. Only note here that the tacit acknowledgment is that the church will be also judge with the Lord at the right time. For then it shall know all that can and should be judged, as all that is hidden will be revealed and the secrets of the heart laid bare before ourselves and the world.
Only then will each be commended by God. Note that the judgment on the interior recesses of a man’s soul follows the assessment of his works. “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward,” Paul told us in above in 3:14. That will happen when the “Day will disclose it.” In both, each is judged just as such. We are not assessed or regarded on the basis of another, but only on our use and stewardship of the offer God has made to us in giving us life. Within the framework of Paul’s thought, the interior, secret deeds within the heart of man are as important as what he does, and are the basis for the praise of God. But this invisible, private life of the individual before God has an external order and aim: it is as a steward and servant of the mysteries of God that Paul is judged. Whether he performs his task, and does so faithfully, includes his inner life—but is not, and could not be, fulfilled only by it.