1 Corinthians 4:8-21
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.
I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
The Good News required characteristics that would have been shocking and even repulsive to the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day. Despite the very real dangers and hardships Paul endured to teach and demonstrate the humble reality and quality of Christian life (4:11-13), the Corinthians had misunderstood the gospel and misidentified what it means to be great in God’s Kingdom (see Matthew 23:11-12, Luke 22:24-27). Paul observed the critical divine nature of humility and loving-kindness was woefully lacking among the Corinthians.
Using the language of the gospel while refusing to relinquish their old actions had serious consequences. Paul saw that their boasting served to build up their egos instead of the Body of Christ; denied others’ true spiritual gifts and the movement of the Spirit in their community; misrepresented the true gospel message of loving-kindness; left marginalized members of the community vulnerable to neglect and persecution.
The Corinthians’ dangerously misguided arrogance infuriated Paul, but how to cut through the cool rationality of their small-mindedness? His sarcasm in verses 8-10 is a rhetorical tool used to name just how absurd the Corinthians’ unspoken assumptions were. The takeaway for us is that sometimes we must stand up and name pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness, particularly when they set the stage for the marginalized to be neglected or harmed. Naming unspoken assumptions with honesty may fly in the face of politesse and “being nice,” but we are called to serve a greater cause than “going along to get along.”
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty and indifference to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer for the Oppressed, BCP, pp. 826