To this very hour we [apostles] go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world — right up to this moment. (1 Cor 4:11-13)
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. (1Cor 4:20)
It’s not an appealing picture; not something you’d put on the front of a missionary brochure. In the world’s eyes, you would have to consider yourself nothing before you could sign up for this.
In this instance, the world would be right. The person God can most fully use is the one who has surrendered themselves most completely, who has emptied themselves of themselves so they can be filled with His purposes, His direction, and His power. They can be used in ways that stagger the imagination to advance the kingdom of God here on earth.
This kingdom is not a philosophy or a wish-list. It can’t be built by strictly human plans, agendas, or striving.
The kingdom of God is not a matter of ideas or intentions. It’s about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our character and motivations, our allegiances and aspirations so that they line up with God’s. It’s the power that forms and reforms our actions, and our responses to the actions of others.
It’s a power that can lift us up above our own little kingdoms of comfortable predictability, and into the uncharted realm of God’s purposes for us.
Citizenship here requires us to relinquish our previous allegiances to other rulers, and especially to self-rule. Trying to keep a foot in both kingdoms will keep us continually off-balance. It will make us anxious and unsatisfied in the world, and hamper our development and effectiveness in God’s kingdom.
As Paul so graphically outlines, success in God’s kingdom here can look radically different from human definitions. Who in the world would aspire to become the scum of the earth? Who would set out to become homeless, hungry, ragged and reviled? Who would choose to be abased and abused? More important, who would be able to respond to such treatment with love?
And, empowered by His Spirit, Paul and the other apostles were able to follow His example. Not one of them could have done it under their own steam. They did it because they were eager to become SCUM: Surrendered to His Spirit, Connected with His Spirit; Undergirded by His Spirit, and Moved through the power of His Spirit. This SCUM produces piety, not pity. This is the sum of the SCUM we need if we are to become a fully participating citizen of the kingdom of God in this world. Unlike earthly garbage, this SCUM is beautiful, fragrant, and fruitful evidence of Christ as King in our lives.
God doesn’t call every one of us to this apostolic level of hardship. He does call each of us to be wholly surrendered to His lordship. To do this we need to stay connected with Him, listening for His voice, seeking and moving according to His will. We can do all this when we are undergirded by His power through that same Spirit. We can do all this when we understand our status as his children, and begin to grasp just how much He longs for our ultimate good:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:14,15)
Children of God; loved, growing, and glowing with His radiance as we reach out to share our salvation with others — that’s some SCUM!