“You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:8–16, NASB95PARA)
These verses were a long time coming in this letter, and when they came they came pretty strong. Those to whom Paul was writing had become boastful in their allegiances and their position within those allegiances. They were acting as if they had it all and were in need of no one or nothing else. As Paul indicated with a strong hint of sarcasm, they had become kings all on their own. They had seemingly gone beyond their teachers to achieve their own status of rule and reign. Unfortunately, this place that they had gone to was not a spiritual one, but as he had written earlier was one of the flesh. They were doing church in their own strength according to their own way. And, they really weren’t listening to what they had heard from the very teachers who they used the names of as points of status.
Oh, how great it would have been if they had achieved spiritual maturity and were in a place where they could reign together such that the apostles could even share in it with them. But this was not the case and this is not how God has chosen to work. It is here that Paul turns his attention from their false haughtiness to the reality of the life of the apostles like himself. Rather than using exalted men, God chose to use persecuted men to further His kingdom.
In choosing His apostles, Paul said that he thought God had put them on exhibit as examples of the way we were to walk and serve. All of creation was watching these men. Both the men and women who they walked among and God’s created angels both those who were obedient and those who had been cast down as cohorts with Satan. These were the men personally given to Christ by the Father, and Jesus had kept every single one of them except for Judas who was specifically chosen to turn. This even included Paul who was later added, and who was penning these words. All of them had a big target on them for the enemy, but that did not sway them from doing the task that God had given them. And, while Scripture does not record the manner of death for each of these men, church history has many traditions that reflect them indeed suffering the condemnation and martyrdom of which Paul spoke.
They may have been sentenced to death by man, but God had their lives firmly in His hands and their sentence of life was proven the moment that each of them stepped out of their bodies and into His presence. The world may have looked at them as fools for having suffered all that they did for a result that they could not see, but these men knew just how rich they were, and they were faithful to the call. All of those who had seen their own glory in their lives and had adulation upon adulation piled upon them conversely discovered just how little this really meant.
Let’s read again just how he described the difference…. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”
I can hardly imagine anyone answering this advertisement for a position with the perks stated: fools, weak, without honor, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless, toiling with your own hands, reviled, persecuted, slandered, scum of the world, dregs of all things. These men clearly endured a lot, more than they thought they had signed up for in the beginning. When Jesus called most of them they had no idea what was ahead, except for possibly this one man, Paul. It was Paul that was called by the already crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended Christ. It was this one man, Paul, who stood there watching and condoning Stephen’s stoning and was moved to do the same to others.
We read in Acts chapter 7 and 8, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he [Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” (Acts 7:54–8:3, NASB95PARA)
It was Saul who was out in front of this great persecution of Christ’s followers, and it was as he was engaged in this cause that Jesus stopped him in his tracks and changed the course of his life. We read about this in Acts chapter 9. “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:1–9, NASB95PARA) For three days he waited until God sent Ananias to him. Despite what Ananias had known of Saul, he listened to these words of the Lord, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15–16, NASB95PARA)
And sure enough, Saul (or Paul) came to know suffering along with the others, but they also knew that their suffering was in the greater context of doing it for Christ’s name’s sake. Later to the Philippian believers Paul would write, “although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:4–11, NASB95PARA)
This was Paul who was uniquely qualified by God to write to these believers and call them to account for their falsely placed loyalties and twisted view of what it was to be a Christ follower. After having confronted them in such a strong way he added, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Paul loved them. He had invested greatly in them, and as one who had become their spiritual father through the gospel of Christ, he was writing to them to set them on a right course for growing in spiritual maturity. As a father would set straight his children Paul was writing to them not to shame them but to give them greatly needed help and direction. There may have been many men who had come across their paths to teach them, and they indeed had been wrangling over which one of them they should listen to the most, but Paul was uniquely qualified to give them this most needed admonishment such that they would not be torn down but encouraged to set a good and right course for the future.
With this he added in verse 16, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”