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Paul teaches us to endure persecution

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Today’s bible study is 1 Corinthians 4:12: We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it.

This verse is the very essence of true apostleship and, perhaps, definitions of what all Christians strive to become. It is the disciple of Christ who works have with his or her hands. It is the apostle who blesses when he or she is cursed and endures it when persecuted.

While we all seem to fill the bill on these ideals some of the time, few of us have had to endure the cursing, persecution and suffering that Jesus himself endured for us. And, in each of our own small ways, we can try to be followers of Christ whenever we are beset with these hardships and suffering.

The fourth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth specifically speaks to the ministry of the apostles. It is not the beginning of a new topic, but rather a summation and a conclusion by Paul of his understanding of apostolic Christian ministry. The Corinthians had exalted ministers who impressed them with wisdom. Paul himself did not measure up well by these standards, according to theologians M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock.

Authentic ministry participates in this foolishness, as does authentic Christian life. Being a disciple of Jesus is not a means to enhancing self-esteem and gaining the respect of others. Here Paul used sarcasm and irony, contrasting his view of ministry with theirs. As the opposition to Paul in Corinth intensified, so did Paul’s sarcastic style.

In the words, ‘When reviled, we bless,’ we see the authentic embodiment of Jesus’ own loving response to those who reject him beneath Paul’s sarcasm.

Manual labor was looked down upon by many in Paul’s world, especially by the traveling philosopher teachers honored by the Corinthians. They resented Paul’s refusal to accept money from them so he would not have to work.

We surely can read beneath Paul’s sarcasm and know that we are neither the trash nor the scum. We are children of God, followers or Jesus, and believers in the word. As we stumble down the paths of our own spiritual journeys, let us know that we are not alone when we are denounced or reviled. We are in the company of Paul and Jesus. We are taking our place among the followers of our gracious and eternal God.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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