I Corinthian 4:5 is a great reminder of why you & I are not to judge someone’s ministry too early. The verse reads:
“Therefore do not go on judging before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
Importantly, Paul is NOT saying that we can’t make judgments about clear-cut sin. He does that himself in the very next chapter, saying that he had “already judged” a man who was living in blatant immorality. Rather, in context he is speaking about making judgments about God’s servants, like himself and Apollos. This scripture points out two important reasons why we are not capable of rendering final judgment about them:
— First of all, we do not know “the things hidden in the darkness.” Our perspective is very limited. We can’t see everything that there is to be seen. People do things which are hidden from us, or say things outside of our hearing. We don’t have enough information to fully judge many ministers.
— Second, we also do not know “the motives of men’s hearts.” Even when we DO have all of the physical evidence, we don’t know WHY someone does what they do in ministry. What was their motive; their intention? The heart is vitally important to God — more than the mere “deed” itself — and the heart is exactly what you & I have NO ability to read! Thus we are absolutely unqualified to render judgment on much of what God’s servants do.
God, on the other hand, does have these abilities. He sees everything hidden in darkness. As Psalm 139:12 says, “darkness and light are alike to Thee.” And God reads hearts: “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” (Jeremiah 17:10)
So Paul commands us: “do not go on judging before the time.” Again, that does not mean we are to ignore blatant heresy or immorality. But as for judging the final effectiveness of one’s ministry, we need to leave that up to God. He has all the information that we do not. Rather, let us spend our energies on serving Him ourselves from our own hearts, even in secret, so that when we are judged, our praise will come to us from Him!