For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
1 Corinthians 4 (NIV)
If there’s anything we Americans don’t care for, it might be weakness, or at least that would be close. And what we do hold in high esteem and celebrate is strength. But God’s way in Jesus is once again entirely different.
Reading through 1 Corinthians right now (slowly) has reminded me of where and how God characteristically works. And it’s not in our comfort zones in which we feel at home, and ready to go. Most often it is in the places, or through the experiences in which we feel largely lost, and not at all sure that we can make it, at least thinking we’re up against it.
But those places can actually be the most freeing. For one thing, because troubles in this world are inescapable, and so are the attacks from our spiritual enemy, the devil. There’s no escape from that, so to learn to live under that well, can be liberating. But I’m talking about a grace received and experienced which somehow let’s God’s strength become evident even in our continued weakness. As we receive the needed strength to go on and live in God’s will in Jesus.
Paul, as seen in this passage, was definitely up against it. His life was one of suffering for Christ, and being molded into Christ’s image through that suffering. When all hell seemed to be broken loose against him, the end through God was that all heaven would be poured out on and through him, and his co-workers with him.
I seem to live all too often for my liking in that realm where there is not only plenty of trouble, normally one issue I’m dealing with at a time, but plenty more nearby, but in which I also am not comfortable and at peace. That’s when, of course, I need to draw near to God in prayer, which I do largely through pondering scripture throughout the day as much as I can. And from the above passage, simply choosing to accept and even embrace the weaknesses which seem inherent both in myself and the circumstances of life. Of course I’m not talking about accepting and embracing sin, which we need to continue to confess and turn away from. Even that can be the means of helping us to find God’s grace in Jesus which we so desperately need.
And so let’s accept what not only we ourselves don’t find good, but what others might find lacking in us, as well. Not in the way of offending others ourselves by our own fault, but in the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness, the way of the cross, and the way of God’s kingdom in Jesus, even the way of triumph in him.