(I Corinthians 4:9-13, continued)
There are times when a minister or elder in Gods church has his fainting spells. He then acts the part of a poor soldier in the fray, and nothing is quite so unseemly in a soldier. For it is expected of a good soldier that he endure hardships. Without these accompanying hardships there will be no victory march, when we shall hear from the lips of our Savior, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of thy Lord, which is prepared for thee from the foundations of the earth.”
Paul was not a bad soldier. Presently he will say: I have run the race, I have kept the faith, and for me is laid away the crown of life!
How well Paul endures under trials and tribulations we hear from his pen in these verses we shall consider today in this essay,
It was written not as a vain display of proud boasting, but as it were by a “father” to his children, that they might learn to imitate his example rather than that of wicked strife and vain-glorying, resulting in party-strife and schism.
Although Paul’s motive is not to injure or to put the Corinthians to shame, he nevertheless “shows up” their sinful walk and boasting by citing to them his own conduct in the church in general, and particularly at that moment in Ephesus.
Writes he, “For, I think, God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we me made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak but ye are strong: ye have glory but we have dishonor. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless: being defamed we entreat; being persecuted we endure: we are made as the filth of the world, the of scouring of all things, even until now.”
Let us notice the following here:
In the first place, let us notice, that Paul presents the place of the church in the world as being a battle field, where the good fight of faith must be fought and won. The church in the world labors and toils in much persecution. And, as such, Paul and the Apostles with him have a unique place of suffering for righteousness sake. It is given them of grace, to be sure; it is nonetheless a place which causes the heart to cry out, and to be of such spiritual temper, that any sham battle is “shown up” for the nothingness that it is! A battle field! As such it is also a grand pageant. Nay, it is not simply a pageant of child’s play, something which simply has “scenic enrichment!” It is really the exalted pageant of God’s church being the light of the world, and, as such, hated by the children of the Evil one. It is really God displaying the handiwork of grace in Christ Jesus in the midst of this present evil world; He maintains the enmity which He has put between the two seeds!
Concerning the particulars of this pageant, as given by Paul, in the text, we should notice the following salient points:
1. That the stage of this pageant is none other but the “world,” the entire “Kosmos,” the heaven and earth and all things that are therein.
2. That the spectators of this divine display are both angels and men.
3. That the characters of this “spectacle,” this pageant are the church, but that the chief place among them is assigned to the apostles. They have the place of highest honor with God, yet in the eyes of the world they have the most ignoble place.
4. That the director of this “spectacle” is none other but the Lord of Lords, who worketh all things according to His Counsel and Providence.
To the latter we must add, that God makes this display in the “drama” of history. In the all-wise purpose of God, the Devil and all his hellish host must serve the purpose of God in displaying his handiwork.
Such is the exalted, drama of history in the church in the world. How far is this not removed from the mockery in Corinth, which pretends to be some millennium already arrived at!
With what arresting effect Paul here “shows up” all evil party strife, which will not take up the Cross of Christ to follow Him!
Unto what does God “set forth” the apostles in the arena of the world where angels and men behold? Was it for a vain strutting in a parade, some scenic enrichment? Nay, it was that the preciousness of the faith of the saints, and, in particular, of the apostles, may be unto praise, honor and. glory of God in that day. Here we take the shoes from off our feet.
It is the path where saints have trod, do tread and shall walk upon the highway of God.
Here is the patience of the saints. Here the Apostles are “appointed unto death!” They sit in death-row! They die daily. Presently they stand upon the lighted stage in the Church in the world, and the cry will be heard, as the grand finale: to the lions! And the church will cry to these Apostles: morituri salutamus! (We salute the dying).
That Paul “deems” is the place in the history of the world, the history of the church accorded to apostles.
For look at Paul in the concrete!
Look at him in his relationship to the church; and particularly in his relationship to the Corinthians! In a threefold set of contrasts he sets his relationship forth as apostle to this church. Says he:
1. We are “fools” because of Christ, and ye are “prudent” in Christ. This is certainly a piece of irony. Paul is certainly accounted a “fool” in the world, in the esteem and eyes of wicked men because he preaches the everlasting gospel, the Word of the Cross, which is to them that perish foolishness. However, the Corinthians are “prudent” in Christ. Had not the mysteries in Christ been revealed to them through the preaching of Paul. And is it not, therefore, true that Paul’s being a “fool,” fool in the eyes of the world, a “spectacle” is the reason for the “prudence” of the Corinthians in Christ Jesus. Yes, Paul dies daily that they might live. Such is His assigned place of God. It is the principle of his appointment, his being set forth unto death.
2. “We are weak and ye are strong” writes the apostle! Indeed, Paul was very weak in Corinth. But God supplies His strength through the preaching. And so the faith, the strength of the Corinthians does not rest in the strength of Paul (weakness) but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Here again is the principle of Paul’s being appointed of God to death.
3. Yes, “ye are honorable” and I have dishonor.” Surely Paul has the “dishonor” of preaching Christ, which is to them that perish foolishness. Yet, by that “dishonor” the saints come to honor and glory! Such is the lot of all the prophets. Thus the children of Jerusalem are gathered. Thus Zion is made glorious; she can put on here beautiful garments; she can be ready for the wedding day—when it comes!
Yes, even in his relationship to the church Paul is a “spectacle.” And that for the sake of Christ! Let is be fully understood. Such is the divine pageant!
And look at Paul in his efforts to eke a livelihood from toils as a tentmaker. He works with his own hands. O, the ox that treadeth out the corn should not be muzzled. But look at Paul as he treads out the corn of the infinite riches of the Kingdom of heaven! We thirst! We hunger! We are scantily clothed! We are beaten with fists, and we never know from day to day where our home shall be!
And what was his offence that he should thus fare?
Listen: he is an apostle! He is appointed unto death. Hardly has a place in the world while he is not yet killed. You can see that by all the standards of the world and the flesh in the church he is in death-row!
Wherefore also the rest is true of Paul. He is in every sense a “theatre” of God in the world. He walks in the footsteps of Christ his Lord. How he has learned and learns daily that it be enough to a servant to be like his master. Paul is not simply a preacher who has “taken up” the ministry. He is a chosen vessel to stand before kings and the Gentiles. He is separated unto this ministry from his mother’s womb. And Christ has been revealed in him, so that what he now lives, he lives by faith of the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him.
Wherefore, he is indeed “reviled.” Unbelieving Jews and Gentiles rail at him, heap abuse upon him. Yes, simply because he is an apostle, accounted a “fool” for Christ’s sake. And when they do this to him he in turn “blesses” them, he speaks well of them. No eye for eye and tooth for a tooth! He is “persecuted.” He is actually pursued so that he must flee for his very life’s sake. When this is his lot he does not murmur; he simply endures it patiently. And when he is ill-used, defamed, then he does not repay in like coin, but simply entreats them not to do so.
May men and angels take notice!
Here is one, who once was injurious to the church, one who himself persecuted the church of God!
But God set him forth appointed unto death.
From this exalted place in the divine pageant Paul can really say in sincerity that he means no injury to the Corinthians.
From “little people” one has much to fear. But not from a Paul, whose life is poured froth as a drink-offering to God. He is in this as a “father” to the Corinthians. They may have many teachers, but only one “father.”
Yes, he is accounted as the “off scouring” of the world, yea, as the filth of the world.”
Be it so.
But in the eyes of the Corinthians he is to be acknowledges as a minister of Christ, as one who has brought them forth in the faith.
Doth not Scripture say: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Hebrews 13:7.
They run the race to the end. Presently they shall be taken up in glory. Then the scene shall change; God shall wipe all tears from their eyes!