Humbly Dealing with Hostility
Corinthian culture was driven by success. It was financially prosperous (more slaves lived there than free people – their manual work brought in the money). It was a proud centre for ideas and culture. Even though people responded to the gospel, putting their trust in Jesus, they brought their old habits with them into the church importing worldly arrogance and despising godly humility. They believed that thinking was morally superior to labouring, manual work was unspiritual and that suffering was a mark of failure.
So Paul's servant-hearted approach was scorned. They did not understand that Jesus refused to assert Himself and taught His followers should not seek acclaim or prosperity (Jeremiah 45:5). Instead, they should live humbly, enjoy manual work (1 Thessalonians 4:11), give to those in need and forgive the people who had insulted them (Matthew 6:15). That was the way Paul lived, and he wanted them to follow his example so that the church would be seen as different from the world as Jesus is different from the devil.
Jesus blessed people who cursed Him, and responded kindly when He was slandered. Although He was persecuted to death, He endured the suffering and even forgave His torturers. It was Jesus who inspired and taught Paul to develop a radically different series of reaction-patterns (Galatians 1:15-18). So, the apostle was not crushed when he was treated like garbage on a rubbish tip. He was glad to be treated in the same way as His Master: confident although despised.
Whatever we were before we trusted Jesus, we have come to a new Father and a new family with new values. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), confident that the Lord eternally loves us: therefore, whatever other people think means nothing (1 Corinthians 4:3). The Word and Spirit teach us that physical work is not demeaning; insults against Jesus are not personal to us. The people who persecute us need to be saved and we may be best placed to share the gospel with them (1 Corinthians 9:22). For the gospel's sake, Paul was willing to endure anything … are you?
© Dr Paul Adams