Some form of the word " judgment" appears 4 times in these three verses (although the word really has more of the idea of investigation than the final banging of a gavel – that’s why the NAS translates it "examine”), which highlights the activity of skeptical, destructive criticism. Another way of reading it might be “It’s a very small thing to me to be cross-examined by you.” I think these verses are particularly noteworthy in the blogosphere, if for no other reason than for just how bold a response it is to those who are acting as judge. It's hard to imagine recommending that someone respond to another believer’s criticisms by saying, “Honestly, your opinion means very little to me – in fact, they mean next to nothing. So anyway . . . thanks!”
Yet that's effectively what Paul did.
In doing that, he was NOT saying: 1) that he doesn’t care about how what he does affects other people. This is the same Paul who wrote those famous words about love (13:1-13) in the same letter he wrote this.2) that Christians can never judge anything about one another. Again, in the very same letter he wrote about people engaging in open, obvious sin, saying “Do you not judge those who are within the church? The implied answer is “yes, you should!” He goes on to rebuke them for not having judges to judge between fellow believers in ch. 6.3) that he has a “the Lord told me” get out of jail free card which exalts his behavior above accountability.
But what he was up against wasn't loving believers holding one another accountable for their sin - it was the same kind of overbearing, finger-pointing, camel-swallowing, gnat-straining, foaming-at-the-mouth, fault-finding false judgment that Jesus rebuked in the Pharisees. Those who have been blogging for long know what this is like, those who don't even know what a blog is should probably just take a moment to thank Jesus right now. If you're unsure about what this looks like, and have a stomach that's a bit too sensitive for checking out some of the fire-and-blogstone for yourself, just take a peek at Matthew 23:1-13. Jesus illustrates the the problem well with those in His own day who were "sitting in the seat of Moses", "tying up heavy loads" to lay upon people without "lifting a finger" to help, and in all other ways barring people from the kingdom of heaven.
However the Corinthians were evaluating Paul, we know that their determinations of the value of his ministry (and their arrogant assumptions about God's evaluation of it) didn't mean much to him because, as 1 Co. 4:1-2 said, he's Christ's slave, not theirs. It’s only on the “day of the Lord” that these things will be made known, and the Corinthians will be standing next to him, not over him.
But Paul wasn’t just saying that the Corinthians had no right to judge these things – look again at verse 3: he said that even he HIMSELF had no right to judge. That’s a profound thing to think about. God is judge not just because it’s His sovereign right and not yours (even though that’s true), but because He’s the only One wise enough to do it. So it’s not just that you shouldn’t judge other slaves of Christ, you should realize that you CAN’T really judge them – you can’t even judge yourself!
In 1734, during Jonathan Edwards' pastorate in Northampton, somewhere close to 300 people came to Christ – men, women and even children. Edwards said that “some came some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors.” In writing about what he experienced in his ministry, leading these people and discipling them, he said this:
I know there is a great aptness in men who suppose they have had some experience of the power of religion, to think themselves sufficient to discern and determine the state of others by a little conversation with them; and experience has taught me that this is an error. I once did not imagine that the heart of man had been so unsearchable as it is. I am less charitable, and less uncharitable than once I was. I find more doings in wicked men that may counterfeit, and make a fair show of piety; and more ways that the remaining corruption of the godly may make them appear like carnal men, formalists, and dead hypocrites, than once I knew of. The longer I live, the less I wonder that God challenges it as his prerogative to try the hearts of the children of men, and directs that this business should be let alone till harvest. I desire to adore the wisdom of God, and his goodness to me and my fellow–creatures that he has not committed this great business into the hands of such a poor, weak, and dimsighted creature; one of so much blindness, pride, partiality, prejudice, and deceitfulness of heart; but has committed it into the hands of one infinitely fitter for it, and has made it his prerogative.Those who others regard as "mature, godly and discerning” are often the ones who turn out to be hypocrites. And those who appear “weak, immature and gullible” are often the ones who grow in grace beyond everyone’s expectations. Edwards came to learn that “victorious Christian living” really is ultimately all about keeping your eyes on your own work, being faithful in your own service, with the earnest desire that it will please your Lord, to whom you will give an account when He returns. And that means you shouldn't necessarily care for the "authoritative" praises or condemnations of other insignificant slaves, even if they have dressed themselves up as popes, and they certainly aren’t out to get their master’s job as Lord and Judge. God help us to be faithful slaves.