Yesterday we saw that the Corinthian church seemed to be thriving – at least in worldly terms. But we find, given his tone, that Paul is being sarcastic. He is saying, “You already have what you want. You have become rich. You have become kings and you have done it all without us. Good for you! I wish that you really had become kings so that we might become kings with you.”
He is saying to them, “You think you are kings, but you are not reigning. You are a slave to the values of your world. You look at us and you say, ‘Look at those poor slaves.’ But we are free because we are following Christ. It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored; we are dishonored! To this very hour, we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated.”
There are three words he uses to describe himself and the apostles. First he says they are a “spectacle.” Then he points out that they are “fools,” and, finally, he mentions the fact that they are “dishonored,” or impoverished. Not only that; he also says they were put in that position by God. It is God’s doing, because they are his servants. That is what he has chosen to do with them. “We are fools, yes, but we are fools for Christ,” he says. “We are impoverished and dishonored; but why? For the sake of the Gospel, which is a treasure above any earthly wealth.”
So who would you rather be? The Corinthians with their wealth? But their wealth is passing away. Or would you rather be the apostles who have nothing? They suffer abuse now, but they hold the treasure of the Gospel, and through their service to Jesus Christ they are laying up an immortal treasure in the world beyond.
This is why Paul ends the chapter as he does. In verse 16 he says, “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” Why? Because Paul is imitating Christ. Paul is experiencing some of the very suffering that Christ experienced. Christ laid aside the glories of heaven and the prerogatives of the Godhead in order to become like man and to die, and not just any death, but the death on a cross. Paul says, “That is the One I follow. Because I follow him, I say to you, ‘Imitate me.’ ” A man has to be walking close to Jesus Christ to be able to say that. And that is what Paul was doing. Paul was walking close to Jesus Christ. So, he was able to say it. It is here in the pages of the Word of God with the seal of the Holy Spirit upon it.
In conclusion I have two points of application. First, if God gave the Corinthians people like Paul to imitate, we should look for such people today. They are those who know what it means to walk with God, to live for Jesus Christ, in spite of all the poverty and slander that the world can bring. Look for people like that and imitate them.
Secondly, by the grace of God, try to be a person like that yourself. You may not be like that yet. You may not be able to say, “Imitate me,” because you know in your heart you are not imitating Christ. Try to become like Christ so that, as the years go by, the people in the church who know you will say that they want to be like you because you are somebody who knows God. It is evident in all that you do. If we do this now, by the grace of God, we will have a generation after ours that follows Christ, and the church will not be divided, and the power of the Gospel will be evident in our world.