8 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! 9 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. (1 Corinthians 4:8-13 (ESV)
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.”
Paul gives a bit of insight as to what it means for him to be an apostle. He feels like a spectacle to the world, angels and to men. He knows the world looks on to see this as utter foolishness. Paul risks his life every day for the gospel. He has suffered, and suffered again. His life doesn’t look like a success story. Today we look back and are amazed at the success Paul had. At the same time, mission execs and gurus would be rather appalled by the meager numbers.
This is in many ways what is happening. Those who have become Christian by the work of Paul, are now thinking they know better than Paul. Paul knows better. He knows what it looks like. He knows it looks like he is going about the task of evangelism in a counterproductive way. The Corinthian’s are opening up to culture, bending to it to make things more palatable. It is the perennial temptation of the pastor or congregation. In Corinth’s case, it was the use of more ecstatic worship practices that mimicked the ecstatic practices of the temples and soothsayers of the culture. Speaking in tongues to replace the Oracle of Delphi. It was allowing women to preach and teach with the public authority of the church. This too was reflecting and appealing to the culture in which they lived, where women often took the more prominent role in religious rites. When those who had more scruples about listening to what the scriptures say and what Paul taught concerning him, they appealed to religious experience and being moved by the spirit. But then how does the Spirit tell them to do something different than what the same Spirit is telling Paul?
We have to wrestle with that today. This same sort of fanaticism is constantly being appealed to. The Spirit is moving us they say. It’s funny how in the church the Spirit is always conforming to society, but in the scriptures it never is? Is it really the Spirit, or is indigestion? That’s crass. It’s a well-deserved crass question to be asked. At times, but it is also a bit more materialistic in outlook than I like. The truth is there are many spirits out there, and many that would lead us astray. They often appear as angels of light. The Spirits need to be tested, and the only thing we have with which to test them are the words of a fool, a fool for Christ. We have scripture, in other words. Paul was given the Holy Spirit. This we know. We know even as the other Apostles recognized his ministry and apostleship. His words seem foolish. But it was precisely the foolish things that God chose to shame the wise. That’s the way the cross works. We don’t always understand it, but we have no choice but to believe it, to follow it, to trust it even as Paul did. When it comes to “growing the church” we first have to take into account what the church is, sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd and listen to him.