Renouncing the World
Gracious Lord, may You be blessed and praised forever. I lift Your name on high.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:1-21
Scripture taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
There is a noticeable mood change in this passage; the apostle moves from severity and irony (1-13) to tenderness (14-21). There is a time for both approaches but we need tact and wisdom to know which line is the more appropriate in any given situation.
The context of the Roman Empire can be seen at a number of points in this chapter. The reference to servants (or slaves) entrusted with a responsible task (1,2) reflects the way in which members of the elite delegated responsible roles to trusted slaves. An even clearer allusion to the contemporary world is seen in verse 9, where the claim that Christ’s apostles have been put “on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena” obviously reflects the brutal practice by which prisoners from the nations subdued by the Roman legions were paraded in chains at the end of triumphal processions in Rome, before being publicly executed (compare 2 Cor. 2). In drawing an analogy between the plight of these people and himself and his fellow apostles, Paul contrasts the kind of leadership the Corinthians seem to admire with his own experience as the servant of the crucified Christ. Is this hyperbole, exaggerating his sufferings for dramatic effect in order to get the point across? The following description of his actual hardships would suggest not; he speaks of being hungry and thirsty, of wearing rags and being homeless, and of being cursed, persecuted and slandered. Perhaps most shockingly, he sums this up by describing the way the world views him and his colleagues as “the scum of the earth” and “the world’s garbage” (11-13, Phillips).
The contrast between Paul’s understanding of the “way of life in Christ Jesus” (17) and that of the Corinthian believers finds parallels today. While we should not seek to develop what has been called a martyr complex, this remarkable passage compels us to ask whether we have been seduced by the spirit of an age which encourages the pursuit of personal happiness and well-being and the avoidance of all risk and danger. Like the first readers of this letter, we may have some hard thinking and praying to do!
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (16). How might you do this?
Patient Lord, so often I seek to save my own life, rather than losing it for Your sake. Show me situations today where my loss will bring others gain.