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1 Corinthians 4:10–13

“We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (v. 13).

Despite the fact that Paul had planted the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1–11), at least some people in that church had come to oppose him by the time he wrote 1 Corinthians. That much is clear from 1 Corinthians 4:1–7, where Paul speaks against those judging the motives of his ministry and those who failed to put themselves in the same category as Paul and Apollos—as servants of the Lord. Some opposition had to do with the suffering and apparent weakness of Paul, for Paul likens himself and the other Apostles to Roman prisoners of war, who were paraded before their enemies defeated and disgraced before going to their deaths (vv. 8–9).

Yet, Paul certainly does not make this comparison because he believed his weakness made his ministry invalid or less than the work of other believers. In fact, Paul gloried in this apparent weakness, because it exalts the wisdom and strength of God, who turns worldly wisdom on its head by working through what the world calls foolish and weak (1:27; 2 Cor. 12:9–10). That God brings salvation through the apparently foolish and weak work of Christ on the cross and the proclamation of the gospel by seemingly foolish and weak messengers magnifies the power of the Lord, for only He could accomplish great things through what the world despises.

So, Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10–13 lists the many trials and weaknesses evident in his ministry but not to agree with his opponents that his ministry may be invalid. Instead, it is a form of his boasting in the Lord. It is as if he is saying, “Yes, all this about our suffering is true, and it actually proves our Apostolic commission.” That is what Paul says more or less explicitly in 2 Corinthians 11:16–12:10, so it is what we are to think of his list of sufferings in today’s passage.

Many in the Corinthian church had what scholars call an “overrealized eschatology.” That is, they thought all God’s end-times blessings were supposed to be a reality before the return of Christ. Thus, they were prone to look down on Apostles such as Paul who were anything but successful in the world’s eyes and whose suffering made it seem as if they did not rule with the authority Christ promised (see 1 Cor. 6:2). However, that view misses the fact that in their sufferings, Paul and other Apostles looked far more like Jesus the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 than those who had it easier. Far from supporting the low estimation of Paul held by some of the Corinthians, Paul’s suffering confirmed his Apostolic call.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Suffering and the gospel ministry go hand in hand. Sometimes this suffering is less intense than at other times, but proclaiming the gospel always invites opposition from some quarter. It is good for us to recognize this so that opposition will not catch us off guard. Let us especially pray for our Christian leaders, who often face the greatest suffering for the gospel of all.

For Further Study
  • Genesis 37
  • Hebrews 11:32–40

Becoming a Spectacle to the World

Our Resolute God

Keep Reading Providence

From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue