In 4:9 Paul says, “For, I think, God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as doomed to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” It is significant that here Paul says “I think.” This means that Paul was not fully assured. This is not a matter of humility; it is a matter of speaking according to the principle of incarnation. Paul does not say here, “Thus saith the Lord.” Neither does he declare, “Brothers and sisters, don’t you know that I am speaking in the spirit?” In today’s Pentecostalism there is a practice of declaring, “Thus saith the Lord.” However, such a practice is not according to the New Testament principle.
In this chapter Paul speaks soberly, yet in a very intimate way. He was rebuking, instructing, correcting, adjusting, and disciplining the believers, but he was doing all this in a very intimate manner. Then at a certain point he inserted the words “I think.” I believe that Paul knew that his speaking was truly of God. Nevertheless, he said “I think” because he knew that the New Testament principle is the principle of incarnation. According to this principle, God speaks in our speaking. God and man become one. When man is mingled with God in doing a certain thing, that is simultaneously both God’s doing and man’s doing. Because the words “I think” illustrate this principle, I regard their insertion in verse 9 as very precious. How meaningful it is that God may speak in our speaking! The clause “I think” indicates that Paul was speaking. Nevertheless, in keeping with the principle of incarnation, Paul’s speaking was God’s speaking. Because Paul and God were one, when Paul spoke, God spoke also. This is the significance of the words “I think” used in this verse.
In verse 9 Paul uses the phrase “last of all.” This expression, commonly understood at the time, refers to the last part of the performance in the amphitheater. According to ancient custom, when criminals fought with wild beasts in the amphitheater for the entertainment of the populace, the criminals were exhibited last of all. The last act, the last show, was that of condemned criminals fighting with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people. The phrase “last of all” refers to this. In verse 9 Paul uses this expression metaphorically to convey the thought that God has set forth the apostles last of all, as if they were the lowest criminals condemned to death, to be entertainment for the people.
In Greek the word rendered “spectacle” is the word for theater. It refers to a show, a display, made in a theatrical way as entertainment. Thus, Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “You are already filled. You have become rich, and you have reigned without us. I would that you really did reign as kings so that we could reign with you. For, I think, God has set forth us the apostles last, as doomed to death.”
When Paul says, “I would that you really did reign,” he indicates that the Corinthian believers were not actually reigning as kings. On the contrary, they were in a dream. The fact that they were not yet kings is proved by Paul’s word about the apostles being set forth last of all. Paul seems to be saying, “God has not made us kings in this age. Rather, He has set us forth as if we were criminals doomed to death, to fight with beasts.” This metaphor presents a vivid picture of the apostles’ situation. Far from reigning as kings, they were as criminals doomed to fight with wild beasts for people’s entertainment. Today this is also our destiny in the sight of man. However, in the sight of God, our destiny is to enjoy Christ. We who enjoy Christ have become as criminals in the sight of man for their enjoyment. But in the sight of God Christ is our destiny for our enjoyment. Many have ridiculed us and mocked us. But while they mock us for their entertainment, we are enjoying Christ. This shows that we have two destinies. Our destiny in the sight of God is to have Christ for our enjoyment. Our destiny in the sight of man is to be regarded as criminals condemned to death for others’ entertainment. If we are faithful to the Lord, as Paul was, this will be our destiny before men. We shall be set forth last of all, and we shall be made a spectacle both to angels and to men.
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