The Filth of the World & Offscouring of all Things
The above expressions certainly do not conjure up pleasant pictures in our minds. There is nothing attractive about “filth.” Something that is filthy is disgusting and foul to our senses. It repulses us and we do not want to be near it, or associated with it. There is a vileness to filth that makes us not want to come in contact with it. Filthy things are unsightly or have an unpleasant odor to them that makes them repugnant to us and they are anything but attractive and pleasing to be around. The same holds true for “offscourings.” The “offscourings,” or scums that form when dirty things are cleaned, are not agreeable to us. We see nothing desirable in them. Instead, they are the scummy defiled residues of the cleaning process, and we reject them and throw them out as refuse. They are the dross and dregs that have no use to us and we cast them away.
When it comes to describing something as extremely undesirable and repugnant we would be hard pressed to come up with two more fitting expressions than that of “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things.” And upon finding them in the Bible our first reaction would probably be to think that they referred to the sinful, unrighteous, and wicked practices of ungodly men. Such practices surely could be described as “filthy” and as “offscourings” in the eyes of God’s Holiness and Righteousness. But though this is so, amazingly “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things” are not referring to ungodly men and their wicked deeds. Instead, the two expressions are used by the apostle Paul to describe himself and those with him in the ministry.
“…we (Paul and those with him) are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”(I Corinthians 4:13)
In describing himself as such, Paul is not referring to his fleshly nature or anything like that. Rather, he is referring to how he is looked upon and how he is received by society in connection with his ministry of God’s grace to this world. Instead of being welcomed by the world as the apostle of God and favorably treated by it, he is looked upon as “filth” and treated as “offscouring.” Instead of being embraced and received with delight, he is treated with contempt and aversion. As he more fully describes it,…
“Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it;
Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” (I Corinthians 4:11-13)
“Reviled”; “persecuted”; “defamed”; suffering physical hardships and abuse! What a reception for the apostle of the Gentiles; for the messenger of the gospel of God’s grace to this world. Of all the seemingly incongruous things, this tops them all. If there should be anyone who should be welcomed by this world and lovingly embraced by it, it should be the apostle of God who has a message of grace to it. But this is not so. Instead, he is as “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things.”
This is truly amazing! Aah, but now there’s the rub, as we say. And in it is a lesson the Corinthian saints desperately needed to learn, and that we need to learn too.
Though it would seem that nothing would be more welcome to this world than a message of God’s grace, and that no one would be more favorably received than those who proclaim it, the exact opposite is the case. In truth, for the most part, the message of God’s grace will be resented by the world and the messengers of it will be disdainfully treated. Paul understood this, not only from experience but by being informed of it by God. And he prefaced his remarks to the Corinthians about being as “the filth of the world” with an explanation of this truth.
“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” (I Corinthians 4: 9)
Paul explains this truth with an illustrative analogy. He parallels what God has done in sending him forth, with the situation surrounding the gladiators who were set forth in the arena last. The “last” gladiators didn’t have a chance, so to speak. They were sent in after the crowds had become drunken and bloodthirsty, and after the lions had become extremely riled and frenzied. They were “appointed to death.” The drunken crowds would cry out for their death, and the lions would vent upon them all their savage aggravation. Thusly would they suffer in the “spectacle” of the arena, being set forth “last.”
This is what Paul recognized was true with him in connection with God sending him forth with the gospel of the dispensation of God’s grace. The Lord sent him forth into this world already ‘drunken in its rejection of God,’ and already at a feverish pitch of ungodliness. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Paul also knew how the revelation of the “mystery of Christ” would be received. In view of the revelation of “the mystery of Christ” being the “hidden wisdom of God” (see I Cor. 2:6-8), Paul knew that as he was sent forth into the arena of this world he would face the infuriated rage of Satan as he vented his hatred upon the “mystery of the gospel.” A welcome reception would not be Paul’s lot, and he knew it. He would not receive a loving embrace from society at all. For he carried and heralded a message of grace from God that for the most part would be esteemed “foolishness” and “offensive” to men on account of its grace (see I Cor. 1:18-31; Gal. 5:11; 6:12), and that would be hated and vehemently opposed by Satan especially on account of its manifestation of the “wisdom of God.” Little wonder, therefore, that Paul describes from the beginning of his ministry right on up until the time he penned these words to the Corinthians, that he was being “reviled,” “persecuted,” “defamed,” and the rest. Little wonder he says, “we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” This is what is to be expected, and not a warm welcome. God has not sent forth the gospel of His grace into the world because the world wanted it, longed for it, or deserved it. Rather, He has sent it forth in spite of the world’s negative attitude toward Him and its worthiness to receive His wrath.
As previously mentioned, it is important for us to notice that Paul hasn’t said all of this to the Corinthians, or to us, for no reason at all. On the contrary, what Paul understood and appreciated about being “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things” was something that the Corinthian saints, and we today, likewise need to understand.
Like the “speckled bird” of Jeremiah 12:9, which “all the birds round about are against,” the Corinthians did not want to be unpopular. To experience what Paul did was disagreeable to them. They wanted their Christianity to have social acceptance; to have the plaudits of society and not its scorn. Accordingly, as the opening chapters of I Corinthians make evident, their stand for the truth of God was weak, while their catering to what men esteemed was strong. And, hence, they stood in sharp contrast to Paul, just as he declares.
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.” (I Corinthians 4:10)
These are not words of commendation to these Corinthian saints. They are words of reproof. They were not “wise,” “strong,” and “honourable” in a good sense. Instead, they were looked upon as such by the world because they seasoned the word of God with “wisdom of words” and made it palatable; they gloried in the energy of the flesh; and they judged and operated after the outward appearance. In all of this, and more, they made their Christianity socially acceptable and removed from it that which would be distasteful and that for which they may suffer the effects of men’s disapproval. And in doing this they even went to the point of distancing themselves from Paul so as not to be associated with the shame of being “reviled,” “persecuted,” and “defamed.” They didn’t want to be treated like “filth” and “offscouring.” They didn’t want to be treated by society the way it treated Paul. But in all this they were wrong — very wrong. And when we do similar things we are just as wrong.
The proclamation of God’s word does not need to be accompanied by any apologies from us. It doesn’t have to be re-packaged by us so that its “foolishness of preaching” and “offense of the cross” are eliminated, or so that the ‘tradition-shaking-effects’ of its “right division” will be lessened. What it does need is to be staunchly stood for and clearly proclaimed by us, knowing full well what that may mean. We ought to be ones who are ‘esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches’ than this world’s approbation. As ones whose hearts will be tried by God and not by this world, we should be as Paul declared to the Corinthians and to others,…
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” (II Corinthians 2:17)
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness.” (I Thessalonians 2:4-5)
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
In the light of all of this, consider just a few of the many times in our epistles that Paul exhorts us to both expect and put up with the effects of being as “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things.”
“For as THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” (II Corinthians 1:5)
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, BUT ALSO TO SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Philippians 1:29-30)
“That no man should be moved BY THESE AFFLICTIONS: for yourselves know that WE ARE APPOINTED THEREUNTO. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should SUFFER TRIBULATION; even as it came to pass, and ye know.” (I Thessalonians 3:3-4)
“For therefore we both labour and SUFFER REPROACH, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” (I Timothy 4:10)
“Thou therefore ENDURE HARDNESS, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:3)
Being made as “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things” should not surprise us. It should be expected by us. It is the common lot of faithful heralds of the gospel of God’s grace and “the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery.” In accordance with this Paul warned the Corinthians about distancing themselves anymore from the afflictions of the gospel and he exhorted them to follow him.
“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you…Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” (I Corinthians 4:14-16)
Let us keep in mind that being as “the filth of the world” and “the offscouring of all things” is only the unimportant opinion of the world, whose fashion will be done away. It is not, however, the opinion of God. To the Lord we are “unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” And that’s the only opinion that ought to mean anything to us. — K.R. Blades