For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 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 4:9-13 ESV)
Christ is victorious! He has conquered sin, death, the grave, and Satan. On the cross, our Lord Jesus destroyed the works of the devil and sealed his ultimate destruction—this is why Christ came to earth (1 John 3:8). The child of God has been delivered from the power of sin and the fear of death. He is no longer a slave and under the control of this hellish fiend (Hebrews 2:14).
In the process of taking away Satan’s temporary and limited power, God has also publicly humiliated and ridiculed him and his cohorts. The Lord has “put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ].”
God continues, even to this day, in the victory celebration by using His dear children, His trophies of grace, to remind Satan that he is defeated and that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and is able to rescue the weakest and most wretched unbelieving offender. Listen as Jonathan Edwards speaks to us about this triumphing:
God tries the graces of his people by persecutions, that the truth and power of his grace in them may appear to his own glory, both before men, angels, and devils. One end is that by such a discovery of the truth and strength of their faith and love, he may as it were triumph over Satan; and make him to see what a victory is obtained over him by so rescuing those souls that were once his captives from his power; and convince him of the real success of his design of redeeming and sanctifying souls … [though Satan] thought he had utterly ruined mankind, and put them past the possibility of cure. For this end God tried Job. God glorified in Job as a perfect and an upright man, that did good and eschewed evil [Job 1:8]. Satan [doesn’t] own the truth of it, but charges that Job was a hypocrite, and his service mercenary. But God tries Job with grievous affliction for Satan’s conviction. So it is in the church in general, their trials being for Satan’s conviction….
The apostle Paul, and the other apostles, knew what it was like to be a “spectacle to the world, to angels and to men” as we read here in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul and the apostles suffered under the most extreme conditions often with no apparent reason or resolution of circumstances to ease their minds. It was an honor for Paul to be a “fool for Christ’s sake.” And Paul, in his tongue-in-cheek way, rebukes the believers at Corinth for only desiring the riches of Christ and the benefits of the cross and for being unwilling to embrace the cross and an opportunity to glorify God: “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.”
The Church of Jesus Christ today has followed in the steps of the Corinthians one hundred times over. A prosperity gospel is preached throughout the United States. Poor, sick, “unsuccessful” Christians are mocked and held in contempt by those who feel as if God’s true blessing rests on them. This is no gospel at all, but a perversion of the truth to satisfy their sinful desires.
The truth of the gospel teaches that the believer is commanded to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Him]. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV). This is the only path for the child of God. There is NO OTHER WAY to enter the kingdom. Paul, after having just been stoned and left for dead, “returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22 ESV).
It is time to return to our suffering Servant-Savior. Peter perfectly sums up our calling, our profession, when he writes: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV). Sometimes this even involves God placing us on display, “a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men,” that He may celebrate His victory over Satan.