World English Bible translation
4:9For, I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last of all, like men sentenced to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men. 4:10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have honor, but we have dishonor. 4:11 Even to this present hour we hunger, thirst, are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place. 4:12 We toil, working with our own hands. When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure. 4:13 Being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the dirt wiped off by all, even until now.
The divisions that existed in the Corinthian church were the result of pride. Each group wanted to be better than the other was. Each group wanted superiority. But such an attitude exists because people do not understand the way God operates. We don't naturally think as God thinks. His ways are not our ways. So when we act according to our human natures, we invariably wander into sin.
To show the truth of this, Paul continues to use the apostles as examples of this principle. Now, in the hierarchy of the early Christian church, the apostles were regarded as the men of highest rank. Christians listened to them. They followed their advice. They were well respected and for good reason. These were men selected by Christ to advance the gospel. They were God's chosen messengers. That's what the title means. They were chosen to go forth with a message from God.
So Paul wants to remind the Corinthians what being the highest in the kingdom of Jesus Christ means. Being called as an apostle means hardship and deprivation. It meant giving up your own life in order to pursue the life of Christ. It is not possible for everyone to be an apostle because not everyone could endure what the apostles were called to endure. Most of them were martyred. All of them endured great sacrifice in the name of Christ.
But we are not called to be apostles, so does this passage really mean anything to us? It should because the basic principle is the same. Those who advance in God's kingdom must be willing to sacrifice. God strips away the earthly from our lives. He lays our hearts bare before He can clothes us with Christ. The more we would choose to advance in God's kingdom, the more we must be willing to sacrifice. The more we must be willing to endure.
That does not mean that there is not great compensation for work in God's kingdom. God rewards those that serve in His kingdom. But the rewards are not of this earth. The apostles communed with God. They did great deeds in His name. The Spirit of God confirmed their work. They were able to see more clearly the hand of God that is at work in this world.
But it is this very thing that separated them from other men. Work in God's kingdom forces us to be different because God's kingdom is different. The rules of this world don't apply there and visa versa. This world says take care of yourself first, save something in reserve, and that you have to keep the other person down in order to get ahead yourself. God's kingdom demands that we take care of other people first, expend all of ourselves holding nothing back, and that the only way to advance oneself is my holding other people up.
So, before you seek to advance in the kingdom of God, it's a good idea to see if you are willing to pay the price. Are you willing to give up this life, in order to gain the life of Christ? Are you willing to be rejected by everyone, in order to be accepted by God? Are you willing to work for low pay, long hours at thankless work in order to achieve riches in heaven, eternal life and the gratitude of your loving Heavenly Father? That's the choices God calls us to make for the sake of His kingdom.
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