***We are fools for Christ … We are weak … we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. ***(verses 10-13)
Paul speaks here with a voice we don’t often hear. Speaking to the Corinthians, he loads up his tone with sarcasm and irony. “Already you have all you want!” he says. “Already you have become rich! You have become kings … you are so wise … you are strong! You are honoured …” (verses 8, 10). He wants to shake them up, to cause them to have a clearer, more sane, estimation of their true position. No, they have not yet fully arrived. Rather, they still have much further to go. Yes, they are rich in spiritual gifts, but that’s not the end of the story. Indeed, their pride and complacency are getting in the way. Paul will speak more to this in the succeeding chapters.
But now he draws forth a living example from his own life and that of the other apostles. Instead of living in strength and wealth and honour and ease, they have experienced exactly the opposite. Paul and the apostles are considered “fools for Christ” (verse 10). They are perceived as weak and dishonourable, their dishonour being fully visible in their poverty and their need and in the brutal treatment they have received from the world around them.
How can this be? Aren’t they apostles? Aren’t they leaders in the church? Aren’t they servants of Christ?
Yes. Indeed. Servants of Christ. Of course. Having taken on the ministry Jesus had given, they took on the very experience and attitude of Jesus himself. He who was rich, for our sakes became poor – so, the apostles weren’t surprised when they experienced it, too. He who was exalted, came down. He who was all-powerful, submitted to the weakness of the cross. He who was worthy of all honour, received instead such dishonour, “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 54:3). Homeless? *“The Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” *he said (Luke 9:58) – so, too, the apostles. Hungry and thirsty? Think of the temptation in the wilderness and the parched mouth of the cross. Rags? Worse yet – his garments were divided among his persecutors as he hung, stripped, on the cross.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” Paul will say in another place (Philippians 2:5). He and the apostles embody that directive.
But further, they are living the very teaching of Jesus in the stressful strain of life. Jesus had said to turn the other cheek. He’d taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And so, these servants of Christ acted accordingly. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly”(verses 12-13).
Is this an intense form of discipleship meant for apostles only? I don’t think so. Paul is bringing all of this forth to awaken the Corinthians from their stupor so they can see this life is not a time for prideful complacency, but rather for laying aside rights as did Jesus himself, embracing humility and a willingness to serve and a love for others even in the face of persecution and hostility.
Paul’s life speaks not only to the Corinthians. It speaks to us. Are we listening?
Dear Lord, you didn’t cling to power and strength and position, but chose instead to come down for our sakes. Praise your name. Now, by your Spirit, help me, like Paul, to embrace the attitude that was in you as you went to the cross. Please dissolve away my own pride and complacency. Fix my eyes afresh on you. Amen.
Reflect: In what situations right now are you being counted as a fool for Christ, weak for his sake, dishonoured that you might honour him? Where are you called to “work hard” as a servant of Christ? Where do you need to extend blessing rather than a curse? Place it all in Jesus’ hands, asking him to strengthen yours.