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When We Are Faced With Persecution
The Coliseum of Scorn
The twenty first century is saturated with coliseums of shameful scorn. One can scarcely venture through the highways of life without catching a glimpse of the monstrous spectacles. The casual and naïve passerby is often tempted by the alluring sight and finds himself or herself asking, “Who could be so despised and scorned, to be placed in such a predicament?” The shortsighted passerby quickly answers his own question by saying, “Surely the poor souls in the coliseum of scorn are the crooked business men, the lying lawyers, the egotistical entrepreneurs, or the manipulating murderers”. However, just as it was in the Apostle Paul’s day, the twenty first century places the ministers of God’s word in the dreadful category of the scorned and despised. Nevertheless, the keen eye of spirituality will joyfully notice that God’s men are not dragged into the arena of scorn like unbroken beasts, rather, God’s men and women walk into the coliseum of scorn as those who are willingly about to die for their king. The Apostle Paul was such a man, and in 1 Corinthians 4:7-13, one discovers a rather sobering picture of the exhibit of God’s ministers.
In 1 Corinthians 4:7-13, the Apostle Paul is addressing the church of Corinth, and is specifically following up on his most recent discussion concerning the futility of favoritism. The Corinthian believers were bent towards a tendency to elevate specific men to a level of prominence. Furthermore, the infiltrating cancer of pride seems to be the root of what could be considered “rotten fruit” in the Church of Corinth. So then, after making use of three penetrating questions, Paul speaks words which are dripping with sarcasm to make a rather poignant point.
1 Corinthians 4:8 states the following, “You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.” He continues in verse 9 by stating “For, I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.”
Paul is drawing the poison of pride and rot of self-righteousness to the surface with the tool of his words. Those of Corinth were very big in there own eyes, and were under the delusion that they needed nothing. Yet, when viewing God men, the Corinthians viewed them as nothing better than a spectacle for entertainment. Warren Wiersbe describes it this way,“When Paul called himself and other apostles “a spectacle unto the world” (1 Cor. 4:9), he was using an image familiar to people in the Roman Empire. The government kept the people pacified by presenting entertainments in the different cities. The amphitheaters would be filled with citizens, eager to see men compete in the games and prisoners fight with the beasts. (In fact, the Greek word translated spectacle gives us our English word “theater.”) The Coliseum at Rome became the center for these “entertainments.” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wiersbe, Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill, 1996)
The plight of God’s minister’s continues to grow darker as the Apostle proceeds. In verse 10 Paul states,“We are fools for Christ’s sake, we are weak, and we are without honor”. Before He is finished, Paul will describe the life of one who is poor, badly treated, hard working and persecuted. In short, God's men and women are nothing more than the scum of the earth in the eyes of those who misunderstand.The picture is rather depressing for those who fail to see the masterpiece behind the broken glass. Throughout this description of God’s ministers, Paul has weaved the self-delusion of the “good life” that the Corinthians no doubt considered themselves to possess. Nevertheless, the masterpiece is found behind the brokenness when one gives special attention to the message such a “spectacle” sends forth.
Paul does not mean that the Corinthians were actually wise, but that they thought they had wisdom which he himself could not claim. In their own estimation, as those who had arrived, the Corinthian’s were living out the belief that their perspective of life in Christ was both sensible and advantageous. In their own self-saturated view, Paul and the others were a weak and feeble expression of Christian living. On the other hand, the Corinthians saw themselves as strong, powerful, mighty and able to stand on their own.
There was a time when Paul too gloried in his own perceived strengths; but then he met Jesus and discovered that what he thought were assets were really liabilities (Phil. 3). It was through his own personal suffering that Paul was shocked into the reality that the only strength worthy of boasting in was that which is discovered only in our times of utter weakness. In this context, when Paul refers to the Corinthians as “distinguished”, he is essentially painting a picture of a people who are decked out in sequins and glitter for the purpose of show. In their own estimation, the Corinthian’s were a sight to see! Nevertheless, we need not forget that their adornment was self-procured and had neither the effect of winning the hearts of men nor meriting the smile of God. In fact, it would not be too far a stretch to conclude that the glory the Corinthian’s were claiming for themselves was nothing more than stolen glory. Stolen glory is that glory that really does not belong to the person claiming it…it is the property of another. In this case, the glory they were claiming for themselves belonged to Christ and Christ alone.
Interestingly, What must be remembered here is that the honor for all those who truly serve Christ is often delayed but also accrued. God’s warriors who stand in the coliseum of scorn may not be adorned with honor while in the arena but make no mistake, someday they will see the face of the great King and he will adorn them Himself. Those who were forced to walk into the Roman Coliseum with a certainty of death and mockery were entertainment to the mob who came to satisfy their appetite for blood. However, God’s ministers walk willingly into the Coliseums of scorn, not to please the mob, not to entertain, not by force of foe, not as one without hope, not for a self-seeking cause, not with the end in mind, not with fear of man and not as men to be pitied. On the contrary, God’s ministers run into the ever-present coliseums of scorn and shame as men to be imitated, with godly fear, with an eternal perspective, for the cause of Christ, full of hope, with love for their enemies, all for the purpose of glorifying their audience of one, namely, their Heavenly Father.
Those who travel the road of faithful foolishness do so by placing their feet in the footsteps of One most worthy; Jesus Christ. Therefore, may God’s ministers be apt to travel the road that leads to the coliseums of this world. Moreover, like the Apostle Paul, let us set the example for those who are watching and listening and point to a life of foolishness that leads to a God of graciousness. It was said most appropriately by Jim Eliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose”.