In America, we have many unspoken expectations out of life. The quest for the American dream consisting of a life of plenty, affluence, and luxury is still very much alive. We want a life of comfort, ease, and abundance. While these desires and aspirations are not bad or evil, the truth is that throughout history, most true followers of Jesus Christ rarely experienced these things. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul gives a rather sobering picture of what life as a first century Apostle was like.
“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.”
~1 Corinthians 4:11-13
This was Paul’s life. He was the great missionary and first century church planter, author of most of the New Testament, and extraordinary hero of the faith, but his life was far from luxurious. It was hard, filled with suffering, and required much sacrifice. I believe Paul’s summary puts the challenges, hardships, and trials of his life in a proper perspective. He stated that he and his fellow ministers were like the scum of the world or the refuse of all things.
Scum and refuse. Neither one of these are valued or sought after. In fact they are both elements that people reject, discard, or seek to eradicate. Living near the ocean, the word scum makes me think of the dirty foam that often rides on the top of the waves and comes to rest on the beach. It’s smelly and ugly with a greenish tinge to the off white substance. Meanwhile, refuse is literally garbage, unwanted trash people throw away and never think about again.
These are the images Paul uses to convey his place in society, and it’s not a flattering picture. This was the life Paul was called to live. He went from a life of prestige, prominence, power, and wealth as a Pharisee in Israel to a traveling ministry living like the scum of the earth. But this was the life God called him to and was all part of the story of how God used him to change the world.
So what does this mean for us? Must we become the scum and refuse of the world? Do we need to forsake all creature comforts and abandon a life of ease? Is that the extreme we are called to live as followers of Christ?
Living a comfortable life is not bad. In fact, God often blesses us with wealth, plenty, and a life of ease. However, we cannot live for and seek after these things alone. God will give or take away as He sees fit, we must simply be open handed with what He gives and be perfectly content living in plenty or in want. While not all of us will be called to live as Paul did, we must be willing to. Should the Lord direct, we must be willing to become the scum of the world and refuse of all things for the sake of Christ.
As the world gets darker and the way of Christ becomes more counter-cultural, we should expect to be reviled, looked down upon, and even persecuted for our faith. Therefore, let’s be ready and willing to sacrifice our personal comfort for the sake of Christ and be prepared to join the ranks of Paul and countless other Christians who have passionately lived for Christ and been rejected as scum or refuse by the world. And whether we’re living in plenty or in need, let us remember the example of Paul and testimony he gave us in Philippians 4.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
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