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
Who was this man Paul—perhaps one of the smartest, wisest men who ever walked the earth—and why did he write these things? Whenever I read his letters, I wonder how he must have been like in real life. I imagine Paul to be very intellectual and academic, perhaps a bit intimidating, a no-nonsense man who was well-connected and famous in the most elite of circles. He was, at one point, feared because he led the prosecution of the early Christians; so I imagine Paul as a very serious man, who got quite scary when he was proving a point.
He had everything the world could offer, and he threw these all away, when the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to him. He would leave everything behind to follow, live for, and even die for Jesus; and his epistles would form much of the New Testament, and offer direction and guidance to the establishment of the church.
Despite his accomplishments in the faith, Paul knew that the world would think him foolish. He didn’t mind being called a fool. The present reality is similar in that Christianity—biblical, orthodox Christianity—is folly to the world, standing in opposition to the current tides of thinking and way of life.
But Christianity has always meant to offend. Jesus was particularly offensive. He called things for what they really were and did not sugarcoat sin just because the sinners were powerful people.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m being too nice—and by being nice, I may be too afraid of what the world will think of me, afraid of offending others. But as a Christian, should I mind being called the “refuse of all things”? I think not. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10a).”