A thousand guesses at this question might provide a thousand different answers with not one of them correct. The right answer is the very antithesis of our expectation. This "filth of the world" is neither of men nor of devils.
It is not bad, but good--nay, not even good--but the very best. Neither is it material, but spiritual; neither is it of Satan, but of God. It is not only a saint, but the saintliest of saints, the Kohinoor of all gems.
"We apostles," Paul says, "are the filth of the world." Then he adds insult to injury, heightens the infamy, and deepens the humiliation by adding "[and we apostles are] the offscouring of all things."
NOTHING TO LOSE
Any man who has so assessed himself "filth of the earth" has no ambitions--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! He is already dead--so no one can kill him.
In such a state of mind and spirit, can we wonder that the apostles turned the world upside down? Let the ambitious saint ponder this apostolic attitude to the world. Let the popular unscarred evangelist living in "Hollywood style" think upon his ways.
Who then hurt Paul far more than his 195 stripes, his three stonings and his triple shipwrecks could ever hurt him? The contentious, carnal, critical, Corinthian crowd. This church was split by carnality--and cash! Some had rocketted to fame and become the merchant princes of the city.
So Paul says, "Ye have reigned as kings without us." "We are fools; we are despised; we both hunger and thirst and are naked" (v. 10). The blessed compensation is in verse 9, "We [apostles] are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men."
It was not hard for Paul to claim after all this that he was "less than the least." Then, Paul pointed all this truth against those whose faith had lost its focus. These Corinthians were full, but not free. (A man escaped from his cell is not free who still drags his chain.)
Paul is not grieved that they have super-abundance and he nothing. He groans that their wealth has brought weakness of soul. They have comfort, but no cross; they are rich, but not reproached for Christ's sake. He does not say they are not Christ's, but that they are seeking a thornless path to heaven.
He declares, "I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." If they were actually reigning, then Christ would have come, the millennium would have been there, and, Paul adds, "We would be reigning with you."
But who wants to be thus dishonored, despised, devalued? Such truth is revolutionary and upsetting to our corrupted Christian teaching. Can we delight in being esteemed fools? Is it easy to see our names cast about as an evil thing?
Today plenty of people are rich by making others poor, but Paul says he was "poor, yet making many rich." Thanks be unto God! The bag of Simon Magus still gets no attention from the Holy Ghost! If we have not yet been taught how to esteem "the mammon of unrighteousness," how shall we be entrusted with the true riches"?
And so Paul, bankrupt materially and socially, was bracketed with the choice few who are listed "as the 'filth of the world.'" Certainly this helped him understand that, as filth, he would be trodden under foot by men. Even though he could answer the philosophers, Stoics and Epicurians on Mars Hill, yet for Christ's sake he was willingly rated a "fool." To Jesus, the world's antagonism was fundamental and perpetual.
A MINISTRY OF WEAKNESS
Brethren, is this our choice? What irks us more than to be classified with unlearned and ignorant men?--though an unlearned and ignorant man wrote "the Revelation," which still baffles the learned.
We are suffering today from a plague of ministers who are more concerned that their heads should be filled than that their hearts be fired. If a preacher leans toward headiness, let him spend his years of schooling before he enters the pulpit. Once he gets there, he is in it for life.
Added degrees will not matter, because 24 hours a day are not sufficient for him to bear the names of his flock before the Great Shepherd, or fulfill the parallel responsibility of preparing their soul-food. The fact, then, is that spiritual things are spiritually (not psychologically) discerned.
Neither God nor His judgments have changed. By His prerogative, there are still things withheld from the prudent and "revealed unto babes." And babes, brethren, have no colossal intellects! The church of this hour boasts an all-time high in the IQ of its ministry. But hold on a minute before we triumph in the flesh. We are also having an all-time low in spiritual births, for the devil shudders not, Brother Apollos, at your verbal Niagaras!
The line of demarcation from the world is distinct, deliberate and discredited. John Bunyan's pilgrims passing through Vanity Fair were a spectacle. In dress, speech, interest and sense of values, they differed from the worldlings. Is this so in our lives today?
During World War II a British general said, "We must teach our men to hate, for what men hate they will fight." We have heard much (though not half enough) about perfect love, but we also need to know how to "be angry and sin not." The Spiritfilled believer will hate iniquity, injustice and impurity, and he will militate against all of them. Because Paul hated the world, the world hated Paul. We, too, need this disposition of opposition.
Henry Stanley wrote of "darkest Africa," and Gen. William Booth wrote of "darkest England" amidst crushing opposition. The former saw the tall, impenetrable forest, with its lurking leopards, subtle snakes and denizens of the darkness. Booth saw the English streets as God saw them--the lurking lust, the sewers of sin, the greed of gambling, the peril of prostitution--and he raised an army for God to fight them.
Our front streets are now mission fields. Forget culture, for a well-mannered, nicely groomed and soft-spoken lady may be as far from God as the Mau Mau mother with her grass skirt. Our cities are alive with impurity.
A Christian, dreaming before his television night by night, has a dead brain and a bankrupt soul. He would do better to persuade God to let him quit this world if he is so out of touch with this lax, loose, licentious age that blindness of the sinner no longer tears his soul.
Every street is now a river of devilry, drink, divorce, darkness and damnation. If you are taking a stand against all this, marvel not, brethren, that the world hate you. If ye were of the world the world would love its own.
KNOWN IN HELL
Look at Paul in Ephesus (see Acts 19). Seven men were attempting to use a religious formula over a Gadara-type of victim. But slinging theological terms or even Bible verses at devil-possessed men is as ineffective as snowballing Gibraltar in the hope of removing it. One man, demon-controlled, was an easy match for these seven silly sycophants.
While the seven sons of Sceva fled into the streets, shirtless and shamed, the man filled with an unholy spirit increased his wardrobe with seven suits. And so, the seven wounded, fearful men told their own tale, for God turned their folly to the glory of Christ, so that His name was greatly feared and magnified.
Spooky spiritists were converted; Jews and Greeks were saved; at a public bonfire, cult books to the value of 50,000 pieces were burned. Surely that was making the wrath of man to praise Him!
Listen, too, to the testimony of the demon, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?" (Acts 19:15). This is the highest praise the earth or hell affords--to be classified by the enemy as one with Jesus.
But how did Paul get that way? Why did demons know Paul? Had they beaten him too, or had he beaten them?
Consider for a moment this man Paul. God and Paul were on intimate terms. Revelations were granted him. His servants were angels; at his fingertips were earthquakes. His Spirit-powered words shattered the fetters from the soul of a spirit-bound girl, whom men had snared as a fortuneteller.
In Corinth, this mighty man Paul drained a part of the Slough of Despond, and there on the devil's doorstep established a church. Later, he snatched souls from under the nose of Caesar, right from Caesar's own household. And before kings Paul was at home, for he said, "I count myself happy King Agrippa!"
Paul also stormed the intellectual capital of the world (Mars Hill) with resurrection truth and thereby routed their learning. While Paul lived, hell had no peace.
But what was Paul's armory? Where did he edge his blade? Paul more than once uses the phrase "I am persuaded," and therein lay his secret. Revealed truth held him like a vise. The Word, like the Lord was immutable. Paul's anchor was cast in the depths of God's faithfulness. His battle-ax was the Word of the Lord; his strength was faith in that Word.
So the Spirit alerted Paul to the coming strategy of the devil. Paul was not ignorant of his devices; therefore hell suffered. Even when men willed to assassinate Paul, an informer uncovered the plot, and men and demons were foiled.
DEAD AND ALIVE
Spirituality that saves men from hell and keeps men from vulgar sins is wonderful, but, I believe, elementary. When Paul went to the cross, the miracle of conversion and regeneration took place; but later, when he got on the cross, the greater miracle of identification took place. That I believe is the masterly argument of the apostle--to be dead and alive at the same time. "Ye are dead," Paul wrote to the Galatians.
Suppose we try this on ourselves first. Are we dead?--dead to blame or praise? Dead to fashion and human opinion? Dead so that we have no itch for recognition? Dead so that we do not squirm if another gets praised for a thing that we engineered? Oh sweet, sublime, satisfying experience of the indwelling Christ by the Spirit! We, too, can sing with Wesley:
Dead to the world and all its toys!
Its idle pomp and fading joys!
Jesus, my glory be!
Paul declares in good round English, "The world is crucified unto me" (see Gal. 6:14). Is this far beyond the 20th-century Christians? Golgotha witnessed many crowds who came to see the humiliation of its malefactors. There was carnival at the Cross; there was mockery at misery. But who went the next morning to view the victims?
The first callers were vultures--to peck out their eyes and strip their ribs. Then dogs ate the limbs which hung from these hapless victims. Thus distorted, and decorated with his own entrails, the felon was a fright. Even so, to Paul, the crucified world was as unattractive as that!
Well might we, too, inwardly quake and with trembling lips repeat this phrase, the world is crucified to me. Only when we are thus "dead to the world and all its toys, its idle pomp and fading joys" can we feel the freedom that Paul knew. The plain fact is that we followers of Christ respect the world and its opinions and appreciations and qualifications.
A modern critic says that we believers have gold for our god and greed for our creed. (Only those who are guilty will get mad at that quip!) On the other hand, in this year of grace, I do know some saints on both sides of the Atlantic who wear clothes that others have cast off, and so turn all their dollars and dimes (or pounds and pence) into grist for God's mill. With his strong emphasis on separation, one wonders that Paul ever got any converts at all.
This blessed man, to whom the world was crucified, was considered "mad." Moreover, Paul so presented his message that others sought his death, for their "craft was in danger!" Such blessed apostles, with their healthy disregard for the world and its men, shame us.