Students of the New Testament recognize that our Lord’s apostles were not perfect. Like all of us, they struggled to keep their desires under control. For instance, Paul admitted about himself, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
No, we are not about to deify and worship mere mortals, which is what the apostles were (Acts 10:25,26). Yet, the apostles demonstrated some admirable traits, traits that you and I should learn and attempt to apply in our lives. Specifically, we have in mind the message of 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, a passage in which the pronoun “we” refers to “the apostles” (4:9). What do we see in their lives?
(11) To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. (12) And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we endure; (13) being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
No one could accuse those brothers in the Lord of living “a life of ease” or “taking the easy way out.” What can we learn from the lives of such persistent and persevering servants of the Christ?
- Not every faithful servant of the Lord is going to be exceedingly rich in the material goods of this world. It is deception when modern-day religious teachers promote the idea that anyone who follows Jesus will receive great material riches. The apostles certainly were not “upper class” people. In terms of their material status, they experienced hunger and thirst, were poorly clothed, and homeless (4:11). God supplied their needs (Matthew 6:32,33), and they learned to be content with what they had (Philippians 4:11-13). Lord, help us to develop such a mental state, to appreciate our blessings, and to cease complaining about trivial matters.
- In order to serve in the Kingdom, they labored with their own hands (4:12). Paul spoke of his “labor and toil . . . laboring night and day” in order not to be a burden to the brethren (1 Thessalonians 2:9). In some instances, churches supplied Paul’s financial support (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). At other times, he worked with his hands to make tents (Acts 18:3). There may have been times when his income came in two forms – from a secular job and financial compensation provided by the church. Regardless of whether or not humans notice our efforts, we all need to work in whatever way we can to advance the Lord’s Cause, using our hands for His glory.
- Those men practiced what they preached. They taught others to bless those who abused them (Romans 12:14), and that is what they themselves did (4:12). A life that shines with consistency catches people’s attention (Matthew 5:16), while failing to live in harmony with the message that we proclaim is a sure way to close doors.
- Not every person is going to appreciate our convictions and the efforts which we make in God’s service. What happened to the apostles? They were beaten, reviled, persecuted, and defamed (4:12,13). They were treated as the filth of the world and offscouring of all things (4:13). The word “filth” comes from a Greek word which means “the most abject and despicable men” [Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of N.T. Words, word no. 4027], defined also as “the scum or rubbish of humanity” [Vine’s Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words]. That was the general view which the first-century world had of the apostles and their lives! They were counted as offscouring, “that which is wiped off . . . used especially of condemned criminals of the lowest classes, who were sacrificed as expiatory sacrifices . . . because of their degraded life” [Vine, word no. 4067]. The apostles were more concerned about the crown of life than receiving the praises of men!
- Those men remained steadfast, despite the challenges which they faced constantly. There were physical challenges (thirsty and hungry). There were mental challenges (hated and homeless). There were painful challenges (beaten and persecuted). Despite such circumstances, all of which were out of their control, they remained loyal to their Master. Unwanted and unappreciated, the apostles pressed on. They did much more than just hang on for dear life and survive: they survived and thrived!
Those were men of faith. They showed courage. They persevered. Why? Because they were committed to their Lord. He was their life (Philippians 1:21), and for Him they gladly toiled. They were convinced that what they were doing was God’s will and that doing such was worth dying for! Men might ruin their health and crush their fleshly bodies, but no one could take their soul or destroy their relationship with God (Matthew 10:28).
The world is a better place because of the lives and work of Jesus’ apostles. We did not know them personally, but we can learn from them and make it a point to imitate their worthy qualities.
— Roger D. Campbell
“How foolish to modify or adapt the gospel to make it palatable and acceptable to sectarian spirits or worldly minds! Man is to be adjusted to God, not God to man, for He is unchangeable”[comments on 1 Corinthians 3:19 by J.W. McGarvey & P.Y. Pendleton; www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/mcgarvey/tcgr/TCGR313.HTM]