I Corinthians 4:10-12
“We are fools for Christ … 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” (NIV)
It seems to me that anyone who has any compassion of heart would be moved by those words of Paul. He is describing the experience of many, if not most of the Christians of his day and certainly himself. This, he was saying, ridicule and rejection, is our spiritual heritage. Bonhoeffer, the German martyr, called “suffering … the badge of the true Christian.”
Paul knew constant rejection and ridicule, and reviling—that is the spiritual heritage passed on to us from those who came before us. Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12, NIV)
The House of Lords at Westminster is a very interesting place. It’s an important part of the British legislative body. How do you get into the House of Lords—do you know?
The House of Commons is an elected body, by the people. But the House of Lords is totally different. It’s only by invitation. First, if you have an important position in the church, like a bishop, you might be invited. But most people are people of great wealth and notable heritage. So it’s your money or your family, your prestigious heritage, that gets you into the House of Lords in Britain. Sometimes the Queen or King extends the invitation. Certainly, the monarch always formalizes the appointment. The official statement says this is done to “ensure the highest standards of propriety.” So it’s primarily based on one’s heritage, one’s pedigree, one’s standing before others.
Well, that’s totally another world, but what is our heritage, our spiritual heritage? To emphasize again, Paul describes it fully in these two verses, and he concludes we are “the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” The Amplified Bible gives us other useful Greek words, “the rubbish and filth of the world [the offscouring of all things—the scum of the earth].” That is, I declare, our spiritual heritage!
When we first went to what was then the Soviet Union and we went to many Baptist churches, we would see people, some elderly, some uneducated, some crippled and disabled—we thought, this would be considered the scum of the Soviet society, the offscouring. All these people must be looked upon as worthless and rejects. But, we felt a heart desire to identify with them—to stand with them saying, “These are my people!”
There is a certain advantage of that, mind you—let me quote Leonard Ravenhill, “Any man who has so assessed himself ‘filth of the earth’ has no ambition—and so has nothing to be jealous about. He has no reputation—and so has nothing to fight about. He has no possessions—and therefore nothing to worry about. He has no ‘rights’—so therefore he cannot suffer any wrongs. Blessed state!”
A Romanian Baptist pastor was arrested by the Romanian version of the KGB. They threatened to kill him. He replied, “You can’t, for I am already dead! And if you kill me, you will hurt yourself for you will make a hero out of me and people by the thousands will come out of the woodwork to take my place. So killing me would be the most stupid thing you could do. So, do as you choose, but remember I am already dead, so you cannot take my life—Jesus already has it, all you will get is this body—do you want that?” It’s easy to understand how those kinds of people “turn the world upside down.”
“God does not do what false Christianity makes out,” said Oswald Chambers, “keep a man immune from trouble.” Think of Paul, more than 195 whip scars, three stonings, and three shipwrecks, scarred and marred for Jesus’ sake—his greatest honor was dishonor. Surely rejection and persecution is one of the most authentic signs of a person’s authenticity before God. Who was more lovely and more innocent than Jesus Christ—yet who was more despised and persecuted? The world is still the world—what in the natural human heart has changed?
Christ alive within Paul and a host of uncounted martyrs made them as willing to die at the close of day as to dine. One Scottish preacher was condemned to die by hanging. He stood at the steps to the scaffold, the noose hanging above, and said, “The Lord knows I have less fear and confusion of mind than I did when I entered a pulpit to preach!”
Let us never, ever forget that is our spiritual heritage!
I will never be able to adequately thank God for a special honor that came early in my life as a man seeking to serve God. I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland. Very often I had to walk by Greyfriars Churchyard on my way home from class. Sometimes I would stop and go into the churchyard to pray; often I read a special monument standing there. Let me quote only part of it. In ancient Scottish expression it reads:
“Halt, passenger; take heed what do you see: This tomb doth show for what some men did die; Here lies interred the dust of those who …were found constant and steadfast, zealous and witnessing … of Christ the King … And in Edinburgh about one hundred noblemen, gentlemen, ministers and others, noble martyrs for Jesus Christ. The most of them lie here.”
Over and again in that Scottish churchyard I would think—“This is my spiritual heritage.” In the Bible there is the scarlet thread, in human history there is the trail of blood—that is our spiritual heritage, the trail of blood.
The great man of Christian missions Stephen Neil wrote a classic, The History of Christianity. He noted, “Undoubtedly Christians under the Roman Empire had no legal rights to existence, and were liable to the utmost stringency of the law … Every Christian knew that sooner or later he might have to testify of his faith at the cost of his life.”
Augustine summarized the historical growth of the Christian faith saying, “The martyrs were bound, imprisoned, scourged, racked, burnt, rent, butchered—and they multiplied.” Add to that the Matthew Henry statement “God sometimes raises up many faithful ministers out of the ashes of one.”
With total composure Justin Martyr said to the powers that be of his day, “You may kill us, but you can never hurt us.” Now, how do you explain it? Consider this: just like a blazing torch, sometimes the blowing wind makes it burn brighter and even the flame bigger; so do the winds of persecution.
So, our heritage is that we believe that the grace of God does not exempt any of us from trouble and trial, problems or persecutions. Ancient Christians openly said that they expected to live in the midst of being reviled and mistreated. Thomas Watson speaks for all Puritans of the 16th century saying, “While there is a devil and a wicked man in the world, never expect a charter of exemption from trouble.” One said wittingly, “We are ever with people who enjoy reviling us and never without God when they do.” They overcame it!
The Bible says God sends us into the world as sheep among wolves. Those Christians used this opposition from the world as an opportunity to bear witness of their crucified Lord and show faithfulness to Him. They “took up their cross and followed Him.” To them the cross showed them how far ungodly men would go to show hatred of God, but the cross shows how far God will go to show His love. They took all that to their hearts and found strength in it. And they lived a crucified life.
And the work of the Holy Spirit is to show that all that this is our spiritual heritage. Let these words speak to your heart:
O, for a faith that will not shrink,
Tho’ pressed by every foe,
That will not tremble on the brink,
Of any earthly woe!
A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without;
That when in danger knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.
Lord, give me such a faith as this;
And then when persecutions come,
I know while in the fiery midst,
I’ll soon hear Your welcome and well done.