A Public Spectacle

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
(1 Corinthians 4:10-13)

The apostles, according to Paul, were treated like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. For the sake of Christ, they were treated worse than garbage. They were not winning any popularity contests, for sure! What did they endure for Christ? Can we picture the humiliation, rejection and mistreatment they lived through for the cause of Christ?

That makes me uncomfortable. What makes me even more uncomfortable is that Jesus told us to rejoice and consider ourselves blessed when we are treated that way.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:10-12)

I was reading Isaiah 20 recently. Isaiah was asked to walk around naked and barefoot for 3 years as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia (Isaiah 20). Whatever that specifically meant for Isaiah, commentators have debated, but I can gather from chapter 20 that it meant shame and public humiliation for Isaiah. It was a sign, prophecy and warning of the shame and public humiliation that those two evil nations would experience. Isaiah was allowed to be shamed and humiliated for God’s glory and righteous cause.

Paul wrote in his next letter to the Corinthians that he had learned to be “content” with such things as insults and persecutions for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 12:10). He knew that through such trials Christ’s strength, not Paul’s strength, would work in him.

Are we willing to become a public spectacle for Christ’s sake? Please don’t think that I’m saying we should go around and intentionally try to bring attention to ourselves and make a scene. But when we live and stand for Jesus, the insults and humiliation will naturally come (2 Timothy 3:12). Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hates the light.

When you walk away from sin, your friends and family will notice. Those closest to you may mock you and insult you for your stand. Don’t cave in because you want to fit in. Lovingly stand for Jesus.

The apostle Peter must have struggled with this desire to cave in and make nice with others. It is a natural human instinct to avoid pain. Peter did it when Jesus was on trial (Mark 14:66-72), and he did it later in life when the Jews put pressure on him to shun the Gentiles (Galatians 2). Peter knew the temptation to avoid mistreatment and persecution, but as a mature older man in Christ he said the following things about the treatment you will receive as a Christian and how to behave and think when it happens.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
(1 Peter 2:12)

…having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
(1 Peter 3:16-17)

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
(1 Peter 4:3-5)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
(1 Peter 4:14-16)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
(1 Peter 4:19)

The house of him who had his sandal removed

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’
(Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

If a man died childless, then his family line was certain to die out. God made provision in the Law of Moses for the nearest relative to marry the childless widow and raise up a child in the name of the dead husband.

This was part of God’s provision and mercy upon families. God wanted the people of Israel to be able to maintain their family line. He also ensured through the Law that each family would have a piece of property on which to perpetually raise their family and provide food and income for their families.

Another provision of this law shows how important this was to God. If a man would not perform his duty to redeem his family and raise up a son in the name of his dead brother (relative), then he was to be publicly disgraced and humiliated. You can see in the above passage in Deuteronomy how that occurred. The widow, in the public square, would take off this man’s sandal and spit in his face.

The man who would not take his role to care for his relatives would forever live with that stigma. His name would forever be ruined and his reputation sullied. That’s how important this was to God. In fact, one of Judah’s sons was struck dead by God because he refused to fulfill this obligation (Genesis 38).

God takes providing for our families and next of kin as serious business, doesn’t He?

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
(1 Timothy 5:8)

Certainly, God doesn’t want us to do this as a grudging obligation, but to do so with joy. It should be a privilege and an honor to fulfill this role. We should consider ourselves blessed to be able to take care of those closest to us. The apostle Paul demonstrated this attitude as a spiritual father, and he “most gladly spent” to provide for the needs of his relatives in the faith, and that is the attitude we all must have in our hearts (2 Cor. 12:14-15; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).