1 Corinthians 4:8-11 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign – and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. (NIVUK)
This may seem to be a rather strange passage. Believers in the church in Corinth had been ridiculing Paul because he upset their society. He was not culturally sensitive, intellectually fascinating and did not fit into the sort of celebrity role that they expected. They were in a spiritually dangerous position so Paul wanted them to see themselves as they were. He was intentionally ironic. Now, we do not usually think that sarcasm is a good way to communicate but these misled believers needed a potent shock to help them to see how ungodly they had become.
They thought that they already knew everything about following Jesus. Puffed up with their own arrogance, they did not need the apostles any more. How Paul wished that was true! But the way of Jesus is the cross before the crown. Paul likened the apostles to weak prisoners of war being humiliated as they were dragged through the streets at the end of the victory procession. Their destiny was to fight with wild animals and lose as the crowd cheered.
Ministry and discipleship are so different from the self-confident arrogance which marked the prosperous community of Corinth. Paul spelled out what it was like for himself: he was despised, ridiculed, thought to be a fool, weak, dishonoured, hungry, thirsty, beaten and homeless. And it was all because people did not want Jesus Christ to be their Lord; they hated Him and His servants. But by contrast, the young converts in Corinth imagined that they were strong and powerful, welcomed in society and rich enough to look after themselves. Poor deluded people!
It is a challenge to the church in every age. Our old human nature wants to be loved and accepted in a Christ-despising society. But that is not the purpose of the gospel: it is designed to challenge self-satisfied people who trust themselves. If ministries seek worldly affirmation they will miss their divinely appointed goal – the salvation of souls. If believers fear rejection by the world they cannot present Christ, whom the world rejected. So do not shape your lifestyle around praise and acceptance by society; those who do cannot be effective servants of Jesus.
Prayer: Loving God who deliberately sent Your Son to die. Thank You for the sacrifice of Christ for my salvation. I repent of resisting sacrifice and embracing the world’s idea of success for myself personally and in the churches. Please enable me to accept that I am different from the world around me and that suffering may be Your path for me. If it is, then may I bear it with love and trust in Jesus and not criticise believers who are going through a hard time. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.