1 Corinthians 4:9-13
“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 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 this world.” (1)
I have questioned why, when coming back from a difficult missionary placement, I felt so beat down and small. I expected that when I arrived back in my church, I would be warmly welcomed, perhaps asked about the work, my experiences, and what the Lord was doing there. I was not, which left me feeling even more rejected than I had been.
It made me question if the only valid ministry in the eyes of the church was one that didn’t leave you poor and needy, cursed by people and disliked. That is what it seemed. The church I had been a member of for 8 years didn’t mention my ministry when I came back, even though they had sent me out in prayer, and I felt as though the church leadership was ashamed that I had been beaten down by it and was in need of healing. I felt my weakness was deemed to disqualify the work that had been done.
Even during my time on the missions board at my church, I heard the believers say that a missionary’s poverty on his arrival back from the field was his own mismanagement of money. Thankfully this was not about me, but I certainly took it to heart since I came back quite poor. It was not considered that it was just the nature of serving people with all that one has, that one gives up much of earthly comfort.
That is why these 1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses seem so tremendous to me. I had figured that the apostle Paul had the support of his churches and enough income not to struggle; or else he had enough faith that God would give him what he needed in great measure. So…all was not easy for Paul and the other apostles.
It also seems in Paul’s letter, this great gap between apostles/missionaries, and the general church body has been present since the beginning of the church. And that—even with the miracles God has provided for the church and the Apostles—they still didn’t live in abundance, and did struggle and face trials. Real ministry does not necessarily look glorious to the world, or even the church, but it is the call of the apostle.
Even the prosperity philosophy of the church was present back then, as the Corinthians call themselves “kings” according to Paul. There is truth that the Lord blesses his people. But many people of the Lord didn’t prosper according to the world, and cannot be a standard to judge someone’s closeness with Jesus. Even Jesus himself did not have any earthly prosperity, and yet he was walking in his calling. God provided his needs. He did not give him castles of gold on the earth during his first coming.
An apostle’s work requires him to give up much, to prosper God’s kingdom. In a way, it is like the priests of the Old Testament, whose portion of wealth was in the Lord God, not earthly treasures. This call is not a call for everyone, but it is for some, and it is important for the church to acknowledge and understand these few people who live a very different lifestyle for the kingdom of God.
And if you are a missionary or apostle, be encouraged that your struggles are not for nothing, but have been preceded by those who have walked in faith before you. We do walk by faith and not by sight, and we also remind ourselves that the struggles on earth will not compare with what awaits us in our true home in the kingdom of our God.
(1)The Holy Bible, New International Version ®, 1973, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN. Pp1335-1336