Thursday, March 7, 2024

Scum of the Earth (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

"To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless" (1 Cor. 4:11).

To grasp the meaning of these verses, we must put them into the context of Corinthian society. The church at Corinth lived in a wealthy, highly-intellectual culture. As a result, they took great pride in worldly esteem, and as is evident from their favoritism of various pastors, honored others according to their abilities not according to their faithful service to Christ. Paul obviously despised the pride and self-righteousness of the Corinthian Church. They thought themselves to be wise and highly-esteemed, so much so that they ridiculed Paul himself as being a foolish preacher. In this passage, Paul responds to such attitudes and opinions with biting sarcasm. While this is not a normal form of discourse, it is sometimes used in Scripture to get across a very important point, usually to dull-hearing, hard-hearted people who were so puffed up with their own importance that they fail to hear the message of God.

The Corinthians acted as if they had already become kings, already received the full inheritance of the kingdom, already were endowed with all wisdom so that they alone were qualified to sit in judgment of others. Paul sarcastically remarks, “How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!” This comment exposes the stark contrasts of the life of the apostle to the lives of those in Corinth. Paul’s ministry was difficult, wrought with danger, persecution and ridicule. While the Corinthians sat comfortably in their rich halls of splendor, enjoying the honor and esteem of men, the apostles were out on the roads, sometimes chained, hungry and thirsty, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. The world reviled them, calling them fools. But not so the Corinthians. They were honored in the sight of men, respected in their “wisdom.”

Paul’s scathing rebuke probably humbled many of the Corinthians who heard it, and it should humble us today. Look at all that Paul gave up for the sake of the Gospel: comfort, health, respect, honor, esteem. He was willing to become “scum of the earth” to serve his Lord and Savior. May we also be willing to become the least of all men that we might be called the greatest in the kingdom of God. The price might seem too steep for some, but remember that God is worth more than everything we own or receive from men.

Read Matthew 10. How would you describe the disciples ministry? While the specifics of Christ’s commands to His disciples are not necessarily applicable to ministers today, what general principles must be applied to teachers and pastors in all ages? What does this say to all Christians? What do you need to give up to follow Christ?