Saturday, 24 May 2014
To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 1 Corinthians 4:11
In his words in this verse, Paul now contrasts the ironical statements made from verses 8-10 concerning how the Corinthians perceived themselves with the reality of how the apostles actually lived. The contrast is all the more striking when considering that the apostles were the schooled; they were the leaders; they were those who saw Jesus, were instructed by Him, and were granted His personal commission.
He notes their sad state and says that it persists “to the present hour.” This means that the poor living conditions of the apostles didn’t end with the establishment of churches, as if there were a sudden influx of power, prestige, and money flowing to them. Instead, despite what we today consider the exalted status of those early men of God, they lived in a state of deprivation. Paul says “we,” indicating the general lot of the apostles, were:
1) In “both hunger and thirst” – Those at Corinth went to church at someone’s home or elsewhere, they ate bread together, fellowshipped, and then returned to their homes for their regular life of food and drink, along with all the other benefits of a home. At the same time, the apostles were generally moving from place to place to spread the news of Christ. There were no guarantees of lodging and a meal and so hunger and thirst were a normal and expected part of their travels.
2) “Poorly clothed” – Some translations here say “naked.” The idea is one of clothing which is worn out from continual use, even to the point of being ragged. As travelers, they wouldn’t carry along a suitcase with changes of clothing, but would simply wear the same clothes continuously. In this state, they would enter a synagogue or congregation and speak to those who were wearing their normal clothes or even a set of clothes set apart for special occasions. Instead of being the height of fashion when attending, they would be the poorest dressers of all. This state wouldn’t be unknown to the Corinthians and they couldn’t claim Paul was making this up. They had seen him and Peter already and knew his words were so. As it was true with him, there is no reason to believe any other apostles were dressed any better.
3) “Beaten” – This is a customary theme of the book of Acts. It seems everywhere Paul went, someone was pulling at him, whipping him, slapping him, stoning him, or otherwise attacking him in some other physically offensive way. Even the high priest of Israel had him so abused –
“And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.” Acts 23:2
4) “Homeless” – The apostles were persecuted to the point where they would have to leave home and family. And the very concept of having a stable home was contrary to the type of ministry they conducted. They wandered about at the direction of the Spirit to whatever place was selected to hear the good news of the Gospel. The thought of a regular job and home probably never crossed their minds as they set their faces to the task ahead of them each day.
But Paul understood that these things had nothing to do with a right relationship with God. If anything, they strengthened it. Paul’s words of Romans 8:35 show that none of these things have any bearing on their intimate fellowship with Christ –
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Romans 8:35
In his follow up to this, in Romans 8:39, Paul says that none of these things, nor any other thing in heaven or on earth would be effective to “to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He will continue with his sobering words to those in Corinth, and thus to us, of the conditions they suffered for Christ. Let us not worry if the latte machine is broken at church Sunday. It is of little consequence.
Life application: Are you timid to go to church because you don’t have clothing which is as good as the others who attend? Or, do you wish the dirty person in the pew next to you would take a shower and put on better clothes when coming to church? It is with certainty that either perspective is wrong. The apostles themselves were surely in far worse clothing. Would they be accepted into your church today?
Old clothes and raggedy shoes on his feet
Who let this person into our church today?
When we shake hands and when we greet
To that dirty fellow, I’ve nothing to say
But didn’t Christ die for Him too?
Weren’t the apostles dressed worse than he?
Lord forgive my heart for making such a to-do
I’m sorry for such thoughts Lord, please forgive me
Lord God, help me to look past the externals of those around me – their clothes, their possessions, even their culture, color, shape, or smell. Whatever keeps me from seeing them as a person created in Your image, take that away and replace it with eyes that see them as You see them. And then give me the words to say which will lead them to You. Thank You Lord, Amen.