Sunday, 25 May 2014
And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 1 Corinthians 4:12
Paul continues to relay the plight of the apostles as they set forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Not only did they hunger and thirst, wear poor clothes, and receive ill treatment, they also didn’t impose upon others who may have recognized their plight. Instead, he says they “labor, working with our own hands.”
In Act 18, it is noted that Paul was a tent-maker and worked in that job while travelling in order to pay his way. In Acts 20, he even notes to those in Ephesus that he “provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:34). In other words, he not only worked to pay his own way, he paid for those he travelled with as well.
In similar words, he wrote in both his epistles to those in Thessalonica concerning his personal labors and the reason for it. From his first letter, we read this –
“So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8, 9
Despite this, and maybe partly because of it, he notes to the Corinthians that they were “reviled.” As common laborers, they would have been looked down on by many whom they encountered. All they would see is a poorly dressed, smelly person who claimed to have a message of salvation and freedom. What a paradox! What a contradiction! They would have been the brunt of jokes and taunting. And yet, despite being reviled, they in turn would “bless.”
Following the words of the Lord to those He instructed, they showed that this was the way to win true and sincere converts to the message they preached. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus gave this admonition to His followers –
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
This blessing of those who came against them was from the wisest Counselor of all and proved to be the true door to opening hearts and minds. But not only did they bless when reviled, Paul continues by saying that “being persecuted, we endure.” The blessings were given and regardless of whether the persecutions continued or not, they endured. They kept blessing, they kept praising God, and they continued to proclaim their message.
In their persecution a greater reward was promised. Again from Matthew 5, we learn of the blessing for those who are so treated –
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11, 12
Although these words were spoken by Jesus, under the law to those under the law, they are confirmed in the apostle’s actions and by the words of Peter to those he addressed in his first epistle –
“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 1 Peter :14-16
Though there are no apostles today, there are missionaries who carry on this type of work in areas which have never before heard the good news. They have the words of the Lord, the examples of the apostles, and the history of many generations of missionaries who have gone before them to be assured that this is the right approach to evangelizing those who have never heard the good news before. It is an awesome and blessed life that far too few consider in this world of ease and luxury.
Life application: Take time to pray for those who are in the mission field. They are doing a task which has continued on for 2000 years and which is the only hope of life and blessing for those they encounter.
Lord, as I sit at my desk, enjoying the morning and surrounded by the familiar sounds and smells of life, I know that there are some who have given up on these things for a great and awesome cause. They may be lonely, hungry, dirty, or in peril, but they are sharing Your word to a world which so desperately needs it. Today, I pray for those faithful souls who have given up so much for the wondrous gospel message. Please be an ever-present comfort in their lives as they serve You. Amen.