There’s an old proverb that says something like, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” What it’s getting at is that, if you are unaware of a problem, you can’t get bent out of shape worrying about it. Something along the lines of another saying that’s been around for a while, “ignorance is bliss.”
You don’t have to noodle on the proverb very long before you know it’s just not true. From disease to two-faced relationships, like walking in a minefield unaware, we can probably come up pretty quickly with a number of scenarios where not knowing about something is eventually going to cause great harm. Another example is something I came across in one of my readings this morning.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he’s dealing with divisions in the church. Divisions centered around a growing celebrity culture within the church. Not so much identity politics as identity superstars. Chloe’s “people” are ratting out other people who are saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas.” And the really “spiritual” people have their own tribe as they smugly declare, “Well, I just follow Christ” (1Cor. 1:11-12). To which Paul responds emphatically to all, “Is Christ divided?”
After addressing the danger of divisions in the church in chapter three, in chapter four he continues by saying, in effect, don’t put us preachers on a platform, instead consider us as servants of Christ. I’m not a superstar to be followed, I’m just a steward called to be faithful (4:1-2). And in that context, Paul writes:
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. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
(1Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)
For Paul, what his “fans” (or his critics) thought about him really counted for very little in the grand scheme of things. But what hits me is that he says that not even his own self-evaluation was a basis for confidence in his performance. That even if “I am not conscious of anything against myself, I am not justified” (CSB). Rather, it’s what the Lord knows that counts. It’s what the One who searches hearts finds in the heart that is the final determiner. Stuff that only the Lord knows. So, putting it another way, what I don’t know can still hurt me. Hmm . . .
I have heard so much about conscience over the past couple of years as the ultimate and final arbiter for doing, or not doing something. And to be sure, the Scriptures warn us about cauterizing our conscience (1Tim. 1:18-19, 4:1-2), and encourages us to act out of a clear conscience (1Tim. 1:5). But if I’m picking up what Paul is laying down, it’s that our consciences aren’t infallible, they aren’t the sole test of our faithfulness. Ultimately, it is the Lord who judges me.
Okay, what do you do with that? Here’s a case where something you don’t know can certainly hurt you. But rather than experiencing fear, uncertainty and paranoia because of the realization that we can’t rely only on what we think we know about our actions and motives, it should bring about a degree of humility and dependency.
It’s what kept Paul off the pedestal people were trying to put him on. It’s what kept him from an inappropriate degree of self-confidence and self-reliance. Just because Paul wasn’t aware of anything that might disqualify him “from being a good guide”, it didn’t mean much (MSG). Instead, Paul says, count me but a servant of Christ. Consider me just a steward of the mysteries of God (4:1).
A servant. A steward. If that’s what we know, if that’s how we regard ourselves, then, as much as we can know, it won’t hurt us. Instead, it will keep us abiding in the vine. It will keep leading us to the cross. And it will eventually usher us home where we hope to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
Only by His grace. Only for His glory.