To God Be the Glory
“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 4:3, 4)
When we try to talk to others about how to live for Jesus, let’s be careful about using ourselves as an example of success. Such may come across as self-congratulatory and we know how effective those kinds of appeals can be. Others may look at our example and decide that they would like to aim for a higher standard of success. We may not be conscious of anything against ourselves, but this doesn’t mean we have achieved as much as we think that we have.
Ultimately, the Lord will be the judge of our actions, and any spiritual successes should be attributed to Him because we don’t know what might have happened without the abilities and the opportunities that He provided. We don’t know for certain all the ways that he may have been building hedges around us to protect us from ourselves or others.
This doesn’t preclude any and all recognition of the spiritual successes of others. Paul said: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17) However, Paul also said: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Paul freely admitted his authority as an apostle of Jesus and the change that had been wrought in his life by the gospel. It will be hard for anyone who has been changed by the gospel to avoid talking about personal experiences, both good and bad, and what they learned from them. Yet, in relating those experiences we must remember that the Lord is the judge and the Lord is the pattern. Being better than others is not our goal, and we all tend to have some blind spots when it comes to our strengths and our weaknesses.
These blind spots can be mitigated by using personal examples sparingly and always with the spirit of “I learned something about a weakness from this” or “I was reminded about the Lord’s love and providence from this”. On one hand Paul tells us that we can imitate his example. On another hand Paul said that he did not even examine or try to judge himself. The Lord’s word and His character will be confirmed by the experiences of those who live by faith in Him, but our experiences are not the measure of righteousness. We can all learn from our experiences and teach one another through them. When we speak of our personal experiences in a way that glorifies us, we have made our personal experiences the standard of righteousness. This should be avoided at all costs. To God be the glory…always!