“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.” (1 Corinthians 4:11–13, NASB95PARA)
Today we are returning to a portion of the verses looked at in the last post to look at some specific responses brought forward by Paul in the midst of the attacks of others.
First, he wrote, “when we are reviled, we bless.” The word revile has the meaning of railing against. It is an intense and persistent attack. It is a relentless going after that goes on and on. And, what did Paul say the response of the apostles was when being attacked this way? He said, they “bless.” The Greek word is the one from where we get our word “eulogy,” and it means to celebrate with praise or to speak well. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they praised their persecutors, but it does mean that they praised God who had them wrapped firmly in His hands in the midst of persecution allowing them to respond in His peace. Peter wrote this of Jesus who was their personal example, “and while being reviled, He [Jesus] did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:23, NASB95PARA)
In Acts we see the example of Paul and Silas after they had been arrested, beaten with rods, thrown in prison where they had their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:19-24). The jailer had been given orders to keep them safely there. We continue to read, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” (Acts 16:25–32, NASB95PARA)
He then added, “when we are persecuted, we endure.” Again, we find the word “we,” but we really don’t have to look any further than the example of Paul who in verse 16 told them, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” We saw how he responded when beaten and arrested in Philippi, and also what God did as a result with many coming to Christ. In 2 Corinthians he wrote to many of these same people that heard this current letter of a much longer list of that which he endured for the sake of the gospel of Christ. “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23–28, NASB95PARA) Paul continued to speak of these struggles he endured and even a personal one that he had requested that God remove. Then in chapter 12, verses 9-10 he wrote this, “And He [Christ] has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10, NASB95PARA) Paul knew what it was to endure, and as an apostle chosen by the One who endured the cross for us, Paul wrote that we are to do likewise in following their example.
Then Paul wrapped it up with, “when we are slandered, we try to conciliate.” Slandered is the Greek word blasphemos, and it simply means to hurt or injure fame. It is to speak evil of someone’s character, while “conciliate” or “entreat” (ESV) has the meaning of encouraging, exhorting, comforting, consoling. Rather than using their words to tear people down, Paul said that he was about building them up and using his words to bringing people together. And, this is exactly what he was seeking to do in confronting their dissension over who they followed. Paul instructed them in truth that was to reframe their thinking and help them to align their hearts with one another in Christ.
It did not matter for Paul to win in human terms. He did not have to get the last word and make the best cut. He knew that in this world there was going to be persecution and he was committed to enduring every form of it to forward the gospel of Christ to the glory of God.