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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 4:8-13

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

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Last week’s verses illustrated why pride is a sin. The Corinthians were ‘puffed up’ one against another in their church divisions.

Paul continues his correction of this behaviour in today’s reading.

The Corinthians were proud of themselves, thinking they had it all — materially and spiritually — as if they ruled the world and did not need Paul (verse 8). Paul adds a bit of sarcasm: would it were so, then he and the other church leaders there (e.g. Apollos) could share in that glory.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

There is a very elegant gradation from sufficiency to wealth, and thence to royalty, to intimate how much the Corinthians were elated by the abundance of their wisdom and spiritual gifts, which was a humour that prevailed among them while the apostle was away from them, and made them forget what an interest he had in all. See how apt pride is to overrate benefits and overlook the benefactor, to swell upon its possessions and forget from whom they come; nay, it is apt to behold them in a magnifying-glass: “You have reigned as kings,” says the apostle, “that is, in your own conceit; and I would to God you did reign, that we also might reign with you. I wish you had as much of the true glory of a Christian church upon you as you arrogate to yourselves. I should come in then for a share of the honour: I should reign with you: I should not be overlooked by you as now I am, but valued and regarded as a minister of Christ, and a very useful instrument among you.” Note, Those do not commonly know themselves best who think best of themselves, who have the highest opinion of themselves. The Corinthians might have reigned, and the apostle with them, if they had not been blown up with an imaginary royalty. Note, Pride is a great prejudice to our improvement. He is stopped from growing wiser or better who thinks himself at the height; not only full, but rich, nay, a king.

John MacArthur has a somewhat different outlook. He thinks that the Corinthians were boasting in their good teachers, including Paul:

They weren’t boasting in themselves so much, they were boasting in this good man, Paul, and you’d almost think that’s all right, but that’s how subtle Satan is when he takes a good thing, twists it into a pride issue, and then Paul unmasks it as something very vile. Satan is very deceptive.

MacArthur explains that the Greek and Roman languages had no words for ‘humility’, although they did have words for ‘pride’:

The Roman language, you know, and the Greek language had no word for humility. Had a word for pride, alazoneia, for one. Had no word for humility. You know why? They had no conception of that. It was nothing even to be thought of that a man would be humble. Christianity and the Old Testament Judaism really invented that word. Because humility comes with a proper perspective of God in Christ. If you don’t have God in Christ and all you can do is compare yourself with other people, there’s grounds for thinking you’re better.

Paul says that the Lord chose His Apostles to be the least of all people: ‘a spectacle to the world’ (verse 9).

MacArthur tells us what ‘spectacle’ meant in that era:

He says, “We’re spectacles for I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death, for we are made a spectacle unto the world and to angels and to men.” He says, “You people are really something. You’re the heroes, we’re the criminals.”

He chose a very vivid picture. When a Roman General won a victory, they had a procession they called a Triumph, capital T. And what they did was the Roman general would come into the city and he would parade his victorious army through the streets and in would come the army with all the falderal and all the pomp and the whole bit. They would come parading into the city. He would demonstrate his triumph and his achievement by showing off his troops.

Way at the end of the line of troops there would be a little band of captives. They would probably be the best of the captives. They would be all chained together. They were sentenced to death, and they would die in the arena when they would fight the beasts. Following the great Triumph, the people would move to the arena. In would come the little captives. At the end of everything, they would fight and be consumed by the beasts.

History tells us that there was a common phrase, te morituri salutamus. We who are about to die salute you. And in would come the captives and they would die. And Paul says the word “spectacle” and that’s what it refers to. “We are the spectacles, you are the great generals, you Corinthians, conquering everything, parading with all the falderal, showing off your trophies, and we’re the little group of chained captives who have to go and die.” Boy, that’s sharp language, isn’t it? “You’ve arrived. You’re the heroes, we’re the spectacles. You flaunt your pride, your privileges. You reckon your achievements and we just serve and die.”

Henry has more:

Note, The office of an apostle was, as an honourable, so a hard and hazardous one: “For we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men, 1 Corinthians 4:9. A show. We are brought into the theatre, brought out to the public view of the world. Angels and men are witnesses to our persecutions, sufferings, patience, and magnanimity. They all see that we suffer for our fidelity to Christ, and how we suffer; how great and imminent are our dangers, and how bravely we encounter them; how sharp our sufferings, and how patiently we endure them, by the power of divine grace and our Christian principles. Ours is hard work, but honourable; it is hazardous, but glorious. God will have honour from us, religion will be credited by us. The world cannot but see and wonder at our undaunted resolution, our invincible patience and constancy.” And how contentedly could they be exposed, both to sufferings and scorn, for the honour of their Master! Note, The faithful ministers and disciples of Christ should contentedly undergo any thing for his sake and honour.

Pursuing that thought, Paul says that the Corinthian laity could reap the rewards of honour while church leaders such as Paul were held in disrepute (verse 10).

MacArthur notes the sarcasm in that verse:

Look at it, verse 10. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise,” sarcasm again. “We are weak, but you are strong. You are honorable, but we are despised.” Oh, the sarcasm there. “We go through the world and what does the world think of us? They think we’re fools,” and they did. In chapter 17 of Acts in verse 18, the Athenians who were the brilliant people, the Athenians who had all the philosophies, the Athenians who knew everything in terms of a solution to man’s problem, they heard Paul and they said, “What does this babbler know?”

And Paul said in 1 Corinthians earlier that “the preaching of the cross is to the world” – what? – “foolishness.” “They think we’re fools.” Back in Acts chapter 5, Peter and John preached and the Sanhedrin said, “What do these people know? They’re hicks from Galilee. They’re not even from uptown, Jerusalem.” And then the apostles were considered weak. Paul said he had a thorn in the flesh, that his body was constantly infirm.

You read 2 Corinthians 11:23 and all the things he endured. The pain, weariness, watchings, hunger, thirst, shipwrecked, being stoned, being beaten with rods, all of the things that he endured, he was weak and he was a beaten man physically so many, many times. And then he was despised. You remember he went into Lystra and Iconium and Derbe and Antioch and Pisidia and in those towns, he was thrown out of town. He was stoned and left for dead. He was chased all over Macedonia. That’s how the world treated them, “But you Corinthians, why, you’re wise and strong and honored.” Sarcasm, sarcasm.

Henry says:

The Corinthians may think themselves, and be esteemed by others, as wiser and stronger men in Christ than the apostles themselves. But O! how gross is the mistake!

Paul continues, saying that he and the other church leaders had poor attire and could never be assured of their next meal or lodgings (verse 11). Furthermore, they were manual labourers, earning just enough to get by (verse 12).

No self-respecting Greek (e.g. Corinthian) would perform manual labour. Their slaves took care of that.

As such, Paul and other church leaders were looked down upon as the lowest of the low.

MacArthur tells us:

“We’ve been beaten up. We have no home, no dwelling place. We labor, working with our own hands.” And, of course, to a Greek, working with your hands was dishonorable. That’s why they had slaves.

Henry reminds us that Christians in that era were also blamed for natural disasters, with their leaders being the first to carry that opprobrium:

It is reasonably thought by the critics that an allusion is here made to a common custom of many heathen nations, to offer men in sacrifice in a time of pestilence, or other like grievous calamity. These were ordinarily the vilest of men, persons of the lowest rank and worst character. Thus, in the first ages, Christians were counted the source of all public calamities, and were sacrificed to the people’s rage, if not to appease their angry deities. And apostles could not meet with better usage.

The leaders’ behaviour, in obedience to Christ, demanded that they bless those who curse and persecute them (verse 12). Because they appeared outwardly weak, society treated them as if they were filth, the sort one might scrape off a shoe in disgust (verse 13).

Henry notes that such men were imitating Christ, who suffered similarly, and ultimately through His horrifying death:

They were the common-sewer into which all the reproaches of the world were to be poured. To be the off-scouring of any thing is bad, but what is it to be the off-scouring of all things! How much did the apostles resemble their Master, and fill up that which was behind of his afflictions, for his body’s sake, which is the church! Colossians 1:24. They suffered for him, and they suffered after his example. Thus poor and despised was he in his life and ministry. And every one who would be faithful in Christ Jesus must prepare for the same poverty and contempt. Note, Those may be very dear to God, and honourable in his esteem, whom men may think unworthy to live, and use and scorn as the very dirt and refuse of the world. God seeth not as man seeth, 1 Samuel 16:7

Note, The disciples of Christ, and especially his ministers, should hold fast their integrity, and keep a good conscience, whatever opposition of hardships they meet with from the world. Whatever they suffer from men, they must follow the example, and fulfil the will and precepts, of their Lord. They must be content, with him and for him, to be despised and abused.

That has been true since the earliest days of the Church and is still true today.

MacArthur says:

It’s easy to get along in the world if you don’t speak the truth. But, boy, when you start hitting the world with the truth, you’re going to get a reaction because the world doesn’t want to hear. And since Satan is the god of this world, the prince of the age, he’s got the system to the place where it won’t tolerate the Word of truth. And somebody who boldly proclaims the Word of truth is going to be set apart and they’re going to be considered as filth and offscouring. There’s no place for exalting ourselves, people. We are in this world as pilgrims. Man, we’re on a journey.

Paul’s reprimand continues next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 4:14-16

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