In the early first century, a Jewish carpenter developed a following. Just like modern movements, new fads that become popular create a bandwagon affect as people want to be part of something special. While traveling with his 12 disciples, Jesus encountered several individuals who wanted to join his ministry. According to Luke 10:1, rumors of an additional 72 disciples drew large crowds hoping to make it through the interview process. The end of Luke 9 details three candidates who were rejected by Jesus, unaware of the intense commitment that was necessary.
And it occurred that as they were going along the road, a man said to Him, Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. 58 And Jesus told him, Foxes have lurking holes and the birds of the air have roosts and nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, Luke 9:57-58.
In a letter to the church of Corinth, Paul uses similar words to describe his life as an apostle. Based upon the passage below, Paul is pouring out his heart about the toll the ministry has taken on his life. Perhaps, some people in Corinth were relying on their background as philosophers, thinking that anyone could become an apostle. Just as Jesus bluntly rejected potential disciples years earlier, the apostle Paul goes into “a so you think this is easy mode.” Paul highlights being homeless, hungry and persecuted. Like a grand finale, Paul states that if you want to be an apostle for Christ, you have to be willing to become like the scum of the earth.
To this hour we have gone both hungry and thirsty; we [habitually] wear but one undergarment [and shiver in the cold]; we are roughly knocked about and wander around homeless. And we still toil unto weariness [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When men revile us [wound us with an accursed sting], we bless them. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure it. When we are slandered and defamed, we [try to] answer softly and bring comfort. We have been made and are now the rubbish and filth of the world [the offscouring of all things, the scum of the earth], 1 Corinthians 4:11-13.
If you do a search on the internet for the scum of the earth, the apostle Paul is credited as the first to use this idiom. Upon receiving this letter, I’m sure there wasn’t a long line in Corinth to sign up to become an apostle. If you skip ahead to 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, not everyone is cut out to be an apostle or disciple. These special roles are designed for individuals blessed with specific gifts or called to follow Jesus as a missionary. Although some gifts are more glorified than others, Paul compares the body of Christ to a united group with many parts. The sooner you discover your place, the more effective your church will become. While no one wants to feel like the scum of the earth, sometimes you have to meet people where they are before leading souls to Jesus. If we are the body, it’s time to go where the lost have wandered off. This is the biblical context of the scum of the earth.
by Jay Mankus