Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"When God Gives a Grade"
I Corinthians 4:1-16

by Dr. Ernest “Skip” Parvin
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Milan, TN

Dr. Ernest “Skip” Parvin

          I am proud to be associated with Union University. Not only is our school excellent academically, but also unapologetically Christian. Union seeks to develop the whole person - body, mind and spirit. Students at Union have the advantage of getting to know their professors personally. However, at the end of the semester, the primary concern of each student is not whether they liked the professor or if the professor liked them.  A student’s primary concern will always be, “What is my grade?”

            Did you know God gives us a grade?  In II Corinthians 5:10, Paul declares “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”  The Christian life is filled with joy and satisfaction. However, at the end of our lives God will give us a grade evaluating how we lived for and served Jesus.

            In verse one of our scripture, Paul describes a Christian as both a steward and minister of the “mysteries of God.” The word “steward” refers to our accountability to God for the talents, time, and resources that He entrusts to us to do the work He assigns to us. “Ministry” refers to our calling to touch men’s lives by sharing God’s love and care. Christians are accountable to God for both. Our passage describes four spiritual criteria God uses when He gives a grade.



God gives us a grade based on our faithfulness.  Jesus said “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).  Jesus was faithful in ministry.  Just like Jesus, Christians are to love God and serve others. We serve God as stewards and we serve men through ministry.  But unlike the Corinthians, a faithful believer should seek God’s approval not men’s.  In verses 3-4 Paul addresses possible types of judgment that we may face:

A. The judgment of men. Verse 3 says “But with me it is a very small thing that I be judged of you, or of man’s judgment…”  There were basically four groups (cliques) at Corinth that apparently spent a great deal of time passing judgment on the actions, motives, and spiritual qualities of others. Undoubtedly Paul was not spared their criticism. His response was that pleasing men cannot be the motivating force in the Christian life. In describing Paul, Dr. R. G. Lee said, “Self-sacrifice was his life’s law; Calvary was his life’s passion. Paul was as courageous as he was faithful. Paul was as indifferent to criticism as he was stubborn for righteousness.”1

If a Christian’s enthusiasm for service depends upon the approval or applause of men, he is headed for discouragement and defeat. Servants of Christ will be misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged. Sometimes even their character will be dissected and assassinated. If our strength is derived from pleasing men, we are headed for a miserable existence and ultimate failure.

B. The judgment of self.  In verse 3 Paul continues by saying, “Yea, I judge not mine own self.” Why? Because we may draw false conclusions by being too accommodating of ourselves or too hard on ourselves. Thinking too highly of ourselves can result in pride, in self-righteousness, and ultimately in uselessness. Being too harsh on ourselves can result in self-condemnation. Satan loves to put Christians on guilt trips about service. After all, he is the great accuser of the brethren constantly berating Christians about their failures. But the Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

           C. The judgment of God.  The last sentence in verse 4 says, “But he that judgeth me is the Lord.”  A believer answers only to the Lord. And God’s judgments are always constructive and corrective, never critical or condemning.

               Then Paul makes a marvelous statement in verse 5. He says that we should  “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.”  We are not to pass judgment on the quality of service rendered by another Christian or even ourselves. When Jesus comes, He will reveal the truth of the impact and fruit of our ministries and will show the sincere intentions of our hearts so we shall “have praise of God.”  That’s why we should always seek to please God, not men, for God promises that service for Him always produces fruit.  The Bible says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). 


II.  HUMILITY  (v. 6-10)

God gives a grade based on our humility. In verses 6-10, Paul warns that the believer should not be “puffed up” (v.6), for what we are and all we have are gifts from God (v.7).  In fact, we should love the Lord so much and be so grateful for his mercy that we are willing to be made “spectacles” (v.8) and “fools for Christ’s sake” (v.9).

            The Corinthian Christians were seemingly preoccupied with status, prestige, and being identified with the right group.            Position and popularity were overly important to them and each group insisted their group was the best. Their attitude was totally opposite from the teaching of Christ and the spirit of Paul. In verse 1, Paul said “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ.”  The word minister literally means “under rower,” a galley slave on a ship. In Paul’s day, large ships were propelled by two rows of a series of long oars manned by galley slaves. These galley slaves were the lowest class of society. But the oarsmen of the lower deck called “under rowers” were the virtual dregs of society. These lowly slaves labored in obscurity for the master or owner of the ship and even though they were held in lowest esteem, the ship could not sail without the work of the galley slaves. Though seldom seen, they were the real reason the ship sailed. 

            Paul was willing to be viewed by the world in the same way, as a galley slave for Jesus, a spectacle for God, a fool for Christ’s sake. He was willing to labor in obscurity for the Lord and His kingdom in order to please God and to do His will. In contrast to those who desire honor and recognition for themselves, to honor and glorify Jesus should be the believer’s holy ambition.


III. SACRIFICE (v. 11-13)

God gives a grade based on our sacrifice. How do we really sacrifice for Christ?  What kind of price are we willing to pay to serve God, or to minister to others? Many Christians think that sacrifice is persevering when the service goes past noon or being last in line at the restaurant. But Paul describes sacrificing believers who “both hunger and thirst and are naked and are buffeted” (v.11) and having no permanent home, are “reviled,” “persecuted,” and “defamed” (v.12-13). Christians today are enduring some of the greatest persecution in history, especially in Muslim and Hindu countries. These men and women are willing to be tortured and killed for Christ’s sake. While Christians in America seem to strive more for comfort and convenience, Jesus looks for those who will take up their crosses and follow Him!


IV. EXAMPLE  (v. 14-16)

Finally, God gives us a grade based on our example. Paul challenged the Corinthian Christians to follow his example, not that of the carnal leadership at Corinth.  He knew that someone is always watching a believer to determine if a Christian’s walk matches his talk. Therefore, we not only have a responsibility to please God by living for Him, but we have a responsibility to show others what a true believer is like. Paul clarifies this further in I Corinthians 11:1 by exhorting, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  Dr. R. G. Lee wrote: “We must never forget that we, as Christians, are living epistles read and known of all men (II Corinthians 3:2, 3). And such epistles must be legible. God expects such.”2

The day will come when believers will stand before God to receive a final grade based on their faithfulness, humility, sacrifice, and example. With expectant hearts we hopefully await the Lord’s loving declaration of “Well done!” Those words will make every act of service, sacrifice and suffering worthwhile.  What grade will He assign you?


Written by: Dr. Ernest “Skip” Parvin, Pastor
First Baptist Church
Milan, Tennessee



Ernest “Skip” Parvin has been Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Milan, Tennessee since 1994. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Alabama, a Th.M from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a D. Min. from Luther Rice Theological Seminary.  He and his wife Jeanie have two children, Nathan and Leslie.


1 Lee, Robert G., “By Christ Compelled” in the Robert G. Lee Sermonic Library, Christ for the World Publishers, Orlando, FL 1981, p. 32.

2 Lee, Robert G., “Robert G. Lee’s Sourcebook of 500 Illustrations”, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids; 1972, p. 116.