The Refuse of All Things

by Keith Knight

1 Corinthians 4: 11-13, “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

As human beings, we are often driven by our desire to be accepted, supported, and honored for our individuality and innate worth. So when we encounter a situation in which we are treated poorly, we are offended and incensed that we aren’t treated with the proper respect we deserve. This happens in parenting, work, relationships, politics, commerce, and every corner of our lives. Even as Christians, we are often offended when the world at large treats us as though we are archaic, uninformed, and useless to society. We are driven to remind people why we are important, and why we deserve to be esteemed rather than excluded.

When our children encounter situations in which they are derided, mocked, or bullied, we demand that actions be taken, sometimes even coaching our children on how to ‘stand up for themselves.’ I’ve done this at times with my own kids. But….are we missing something? Are we longing to be accepted at the cost of forsaking the essence of the Gospel? Please hear me out…..

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he speaks to them sarcastically about how they are ‘kings’ while the apostles are ‘a spectacle’ to the world. His point, is that the church at Corinth had become so enamored with being familiar with the ways of the world that they’d sacrificed the uniqueness that comes with actually being the people of God. They’d compromised the call of the Gospel to hold on to a standard of living enjoyed by the world around them. They needed to be reminded of what it means to really be followers of Christ. Ultimately, he refers to the apostles as ‘the scum of the world, the refuse (trash) of all things.’

Wow. Let that sink in. Paul isn’t telling them that to be a Christian means to be in good favor with the world. He’s telling them that being about the Gospel puts you in a position where the world system says ‘you’re irrelevant.’ He’s crying out that there must be an understanding that to ‘follow Jesus’ actually means to ‘take up your cross’ daily. To be paraded in front of a world that is spitting at you, telling you to save yourself, rejecting and mocking you, and stealing what they can from you for their own glory. THIS is the reality that Jesus explains to his followers when he tells them ‘a servant is not greater than his master; if they hated me, they will hate you too.’

In the past week, I’ve seen so much that has broken my heart, but in truth the biggest is the clarity that there are so many who profess to ‘follow Christ’ but will do anything to avoid being ‘rejected’ as the world’s trash. But Paul actually tells the Corinthians ‘be imitators of me.’ In essence, Paul is asking believers to accept the reality that following Jesus means that we brace ourselves to be the ‘throwaway’ people of the world, but he also gives us a guide for HOW we shall live that reality:

  1. BLESS when reviled. – If someone is mocking you for following Jesus and honoring God – respond by praying for them in the same manner Christ did when he said on the cross ‘Father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.’  Our children DESPERATELY need to understand this also.
  2. ENDURE when persecuted. – If our response to people being upset with us is to panic and either fight back or retreat, we will face a hard existence. As we learned in Hebrews, we look to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who endured for us that we might be saved. Don’t give up, and don’t give in.
  3. ANSWER GENTLY when slandered. – Listen. Scripture says that the ‘natural man cannot appraise spiritual truth.’  Fighting with people who reject God’s authority and trying to protect the good name of Christians who are being slandered is often just going to give you ulcers. We speak truth, but we are gentle, because we are not afraid of facing the same rejection that our Savior faced for us.

We NEED to be honest with each other about the reality of what it means to actually FOLLOW JESUS. It means that we are going to be the ‘scum of the earth’ eventually. We cannot be the darlings of the world, even if we feed the homeless, tend to the weak, and open our arms to the orphan, because ultimately the Gospel IS about repenting of our own way, and turning to Jesus, and the majority of the world will reject that kind of exclusivity. If you feel like following Jesus is making your life difficult, and marginalizing you from others, take heart: because that’s EXACTLY what it did for all those who have lived for the Gospel. 

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