In the second portion of chapter 4, beginning in verse 8, Paul makes an ironic contrast. He compares what the ministry has been like for him and Peter with what the Corinthians obviously thought it meant to succeed spiritually. What does he say about those in the Corinthian church? He says they are satisfied. “You have all you want. You have become kings.” They are ripe, rich, and reigning. That is their status, and no doubt they were quite satisfied to be that way. That is what they wanted. They thought that was good.
Then there are the apostles. What does he say about them? He says, “We’ve been made a spectacle.” The Greek word for “spectacle” is the word from which we get our word theatre. It referred to the captives that came behind the returning army. When the army was victorious and captured a place, they brought back all the captives. The captives came at the end of the train – bedraggled, dreadful, discouraged, fearful people. Some of them were going to be sold as slaves. Some of them would be sent to the amphitheater. In Paul’s time, they would become sport for the multitudes as they were killed by the gladiators and the animals. Paul says that they had been made spectacles, not only to the Romans, but to to the whole universe – to angels as well as to men. When people looked at the apostles, they would say, “Look at those pitiful wretches that are being brought along behind the train as captives.”
Then, in verse 10 Paul says, “We are fools.” What he is really saying is, “The world is looking at us and saying, ‘Have you ever seen such stupid people as these apostles?’ ” They were not uneducated men. Apollos was a great orator. But instead of falling back on those things, Paul, Apollos, and all the apostles went around from village to village talking about a rabbi from Judea. They were not very well received. Paul spells it out at great length. He says, “We are dishonored. We go hungry and thirsty. We are in rags. We are brutally treated. We are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. We are cursed. We are persecuted. We are slandered. We have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”
Do you think he was exaggerating? In the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians he spells out in great detail all the things that he went through for the sake of the Gospel: he was beaten and persecuted and endured many hardships. And, undoubtedly, that is not all that happened to Paul. When you look at the words that Paul uses and you compare them with the book of Acts, you find stories to go with every one of the hardships he mentions. Considering them together, you find that Paul is not exaggerating at all.
Now, think what a contrast that is. On the one hand you have the Corinthians who had a nice church, with nice people who had nice homes and who came nicely dressed. They believed that if they put God first, he would make them prosper. On the other hand there were the apostles who were hungry and sick. They were beaten, and slandered, and hounded from place to place. Paul himself was stoned three times, even left for dead on one occasion.
Now here is the big question. You say, “Look, those two groups of people – the Corinthians and the apostles – who would you rather be?” You know what the answer is supposed to be. But I am not asking you what the answer is supposed to be. I am asking you – who would you rather be? You look at your heart and say, “Would I rather be like Paul? Would I rather be hungry? Would I rather be slandered, abused, persecuted, hated, hounded from place to place? Or would I rather be like the Corinthians? They are nice people. They have nice homes.” I ask, who would you rather be? I think if we look at our hearts we say, “I think I’d rather be one of the Corinthians.”