Sunday, 15 December 2013

Scum of the Earth - 1 Corinthians 4:8 - 13

Last week the image was of the king in the victory parade giving out gifts to all. Here in 1 Corinthians Paul employs the same image but this time the focus is not on the front of the procession but on the end. The end would be where the prisoners of war were strung along, paraded and pilloried, sure to meet an ugly death in the arena. In both chapters the Christians are in view, but clearly the 'feel' of the image is quite different!

To the world Christians (especially leaders) are a laughing stock. Why do they forego safe incomes in cause of service to God? When the world offers them so much why do they accept less? They are ill treated, yet put up with it. Surrendering job or even housing security, they devote time to projects and seem to work themselves to the bone. They are nuts!

Paul pulls no punches, his Greek words are clear enough - as he sees it Christians are the scum, the garbage, the scapegoat, the dirty stuff left over that no one wants to see. This is your reality if you live in North Korea today, or other oppressive places. You'll get the most menial jobs, but Christian pastors will embrace this as part of their service.

Yet there is truth in this passage for UK Christian leaders too. Note the dialogue of this passage is with other Christians, and Paul contrasts himself with them. The harsh reality is that ill-feeling and attack can come from within just as it can from the world. My own experience over the years confirms this.

So an additional requirement for a leader such as an elder must be for someone so ridiculously sold out for Christ that they somehow embrace the prospect of being at the end of the procession, downwardly mobile to scum-hood! Responding to curse with blessing, facing the prospect of persecution, they must maintain kindness when people are muttering about their leadership.

All this raises our key question:

[OUT] Are you dying to success?

This is how Paul saw it! Yet he also saw it as God's way - the same way as Christ who gave up everything to be born in a makeshift manger, living purposefully to be led to a cruel death, a scapegoat on the cross. Somehow in actively facing rejection, slander and humiliation God's power is miraculously seen.

The Christian call therefore is to empty ourselves, to die to normal success criteria, to live with being the scum. Christian leaders must lead by example ... at the back of the procession.

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