Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13
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.
Paul does not present a pretty picture here for what life as an Apostle is like. Starting with verse 9, we’ll look at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for more comment on the text:
(9) For . . .—This introduces the reason why he may well express the devout wish which he has just uttered for the coming of the kingdom of his Lord. The imagery of this passage would be easily understood by the Corinthians, familiar as they were with the arena. The writer, in a few striking phrases, pictures himself and his apostolic brethren forming the “last and most worthless” band brought forth to struggle and die in the great arena, where the whole world, including men and angels, sit, spectators of the fight. There is, perhaps, a slight contrast intended here between the Corinthians sitting by criticising, and the Apostles engaging actually in the struggle against evil—a contrast which is brought out more strikingly in the brief and emphatic sentence forming 1 Corinthians 4:10.
The Greek word for spectacle evokes the idea of a theater, but the rest of the text implies that the comparison is more akin to gladiator games. The witnesses to their spectacle are said to include the world, angels, and men. The audience is cosmic. Continuing to the next verse and looking at a comment from The Pulpit Commentaries:
We are fools for Christ’s sake. The irony is softened by the intervening sentences, and as regards the apostles there is no irony. St. Paul was called “a seed pecker” (spermologos) by the Epicureans and Stoics at Athens, and Festus in full court called him “mad.” Ye are wise in Christ. He could not say as before, “for Christ’s sake;” for even though he is using the language of irony, “the pseudo wisdom of the Corinthians had other motives.” We are weak. The consciousness of physical and personal weakness weighed heavily on the mind of St. Paul in moments of depression (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 13:4). Ye are honourable, but we are despised; literally, ye are glorious, but we are dishonoured. The word “dishonoured” also means “disfranchised.”
The renewed reminder that “the world” considers the Apostles to be fools works as a chide to the Corinthians because he tells them that they are honored. Those working hard for Christ’s sake should be deemed foolish in the eyes of the world. Returning to Ellicott for verse 11:
(11) We both hunger.—From the strong irony of the last verse, the Apostle here passes, in the pathethic and sad description which occupies 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, to show how intensely true that last word “despised” was, as expressing his own position, not only in time past, but at the very hour of his writing. Here still there is an implied contrast between their condition (“full,” “rich,” “kings,” of 1 Corinthians 4:8) and that of St. Paul himself.
Are naked.—The better reading is, we are in need of sufficient clothing (as 2 Corinthians 11:27).
Are buffeted—i.e., are treated like slaves, and not like “kings,” as you are.
(12) And labour.—While at Ephesus, whence this letter was written, the Apostle supported himself by working with Aquila and Priscilla at tent-making. This labour was no recreation or pastime with St. Paul, it was hard and earnest work. (See 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8.) That this labour was rendered more excessive from the Apostle’s characteristic generosity to others, we may conclude from the expression used in his farewell to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38), “Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.”
Being reviled, we bless.—A striking contrast to the way in which the Corinthians would act under similar circumstances, and yet a literal obedience to the teaching of the Master (Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44). Thus the Apostle became in the eyes of the world, “a fool” for Christ’s sake.
Paul continues with a description of the Apostles’ standing in the world. Reading in the present, with a knowledge of the Book of Acts and other Epistles, we know that he is not exaggerating in the letter. We also know that his words should elicit some shame from his original audience in Corinth. The wealthy Corinthians. We’ll conclude the examination of the commentaries in The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 13:
Being defamed, we entreat. The expression “we entreat” is very general. It may mean “we entreat men not to speak thus injuriously of us” (Calvin); or “we exhort them to do right.” As the filth of the world. The Greek word katharmata has a technical sense, in which it means “men devoted to death for purposes of expiation” (homines piaculares). The word perikatharnmta has the sense of “sin offerings” in Proverbs 21:18; Tobit 5:18. It is, however, doubtful whether this meaning of the word could have been at all familiar to Greek readers, and it is only in a very general and distantly metaphorical sense that the sufferings of God’s saints can be regarded as, in any sense of the word, vicarious. It is better, therefore, here to retain the sense of “refuse” (purgamenta, things vile and worthless). The offscouring of all things; perhaps rather, of all men. The word peripsema means “a thing scraped off,” and this word also was used in expiatory human sacrifices, where the formula used to victims thus flung into the sea, in times of plague or famine, was, “Become our peripsema“. Thus in Tobit (v. 18), Anna the wife of Tobias says, “Let the money be used as a peripsema for the child;” and Ignatius uses the phrase, “I am your peripsema.” From this and the similar phrase in the Letter of Barnabas,” I am the peripsema of your love,” it seems to have become a current expression of tenderness among Christians, “I am your peripsema.” But in this case also it may be doubted whether the sacrificial idea was present in the apostle’s mind. He is thinking of scenes which he had already faced and would have to face hereafter, when mobs shouted against him that lie was “a pestilent fellow” (Acts 24:5) and not fit to live (Acts 22:22).
Comparing himself and the other apostles to “the scum of the world” and “refuse”, Paul teaches that those following Christ most closely are abhorrent to the world. How then would that be received by listeners who are comfortable enough to have time and energy for the faction-forming that has occurred in Corinth? Certainly the hope of Paul is that the listeners repent and change their attitude and actions.
In the last few verses of Chapter 4, Paul explains that his hope is not to make the Corinthians feel ashamed, but he does want to admonish them. We’ll cover that in the next section.